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July 26, 2016

Students and faculty at Brandeis, Wellesley College, Massachusetts Bay Community College and Lesley University will welcome new leaders to campus for this upcoming school year. These soon-to-be college presidents will serve their schools during a time of nationwide racial tensions, increasingly competitive higher education markets, and a palpable anxiety about the fate of private liberal arts colleges and state-funded universities.

A fresh face on campus, however, may remind others what it means to be a higher education institution - these presidents certainly hope so.

As four new presidents in the Boston area prepare to lead their schools, WGBH’s On Campus desk takes a look back at other presidential debuts.

Up and Coming

Wellesley College  Paula Johnson (July 2016-present)

Paula Johnson, new president of Wellesley College, sits with students back in Feb. 2016. (Courtesy of Wellesley College)

New president of Wellesley College, Doctor Paula Johnson, will leave the medical field to serve as the first African American president of the four-year private institution. Johnson, former chief medical resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, created the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. Her expertise in medicine will not be lost - she plans on bringing a focus on women’s health to Wellesley.

“I’ve spent my life improving the health of women, educating students at all levels - in the undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate levels - and really thinking about the field that combines medicine and social sciences, which is so rooted in what I view as the liberal arts. Moving forward, taking the presidential role was such a natural next step.”

Read about Johnson's Debut: New Wellesley President Brings Focus On Women's Health

Lesley University  Jeff Weiss (July 2016-present)

Jeff Weiss takes over Lesley University on July 1, 2016. (Courtesy of Lesley University)

Jeff Weiss, a former faculty member of West Point Academy and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, will lead Lesley University. As the co-founder of Vantage Partners, Weiss has worked with various organizations across disciplines to improve health care systems, and he hopes that his consulting background will help him manage diverse relationships on campus.

“At West Point we teach people to be critical thinkers, we teach people to engage diverse perspectives, to appreciate diverse perspectives, to be able to make good decisions, to negotiate, to collaborate, and so forth. Each of those aspects, I think, are critical to the development of future leaders -- not just military leaders and government leaders, but leaders in design, leaders in education, leaders in science, and leaders in business."

Read about Weiss' Debut: Lesley University's New President brings Military Background to Higher Education

Brandeis University  Ron Liebowitz (July 2016-present)

Ronald Leibowitz will leave his position as the president of Middlebury College to lead Brandeis University. (Brett Simison/Middlebury College)

Brandeis University was founded in 1948 as a school for an underserved Jewish population. During his term, new president Ron Liebowitz wants to reflect on how the school became a national model for ethnic and religious pluralism. Liebowitz, former president of Middlebury College hopes to foster discussions about diversity while still maintaining a welcoming campus.

“Socioeconomic diversity is crucial. It’s not just about race, it’s not just about ethnicity, it’s about diversity in the larger scope of things. I do think we have to look at how financial aid is given and how it’s calculated. It doesn’t appear to be rocket science, but no one has been able to solve this. The very very wealthy institutions, still to some degree, have a bipolar income distribution.”

Read about Leibowitz's Debut: Brandeis University’s New President Recommits to Diversity

Current Presidents  

Suffolk University Margaret McKenna (2015-present)


After tensions with the Suffolk University's Board of Trustees, Margaret McKenna has agreed to leave the presidency come Sept. 2017. (Courtesy of Suffolk University)

 Suffolk University’s Margaret McKenna joined her college in 2015, pledging affordability and college access for students. Suffolk has gone through five presidents in the past five years, and earlier this year the school’s Board of Trustees almost ousted McKenna over tensions over her spending decisions. McKenna has agreed to step down in September 2017, just two years after he took the job.  

“I have no interest in going into an institution and doing same old same old. That’s not who I am. The potential at Suffolk is enormous. There are very few universities in the country that are actually in a city… We are halfway between the statehouse and city hall. Right in the middle.”

Read about McKenna's Debut: At Suffolk University, New President Pledges Affordability

Franklin Pierce University Andrew Card (2015-present)

Andrew Card, president of Franklin Pierce University, served as the White House Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush. (Courtesy of Franklin Pierce University)

Before becoming the president of Franklin Pierce University, you may have recognized Andrew Card from an iconic photograph -- he’s the man who leans into President George Bush’s ear, Bush’s face aghast as Card tells him two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center. The former chief of staff never imagined he’d settle in higher education, though he said he would use his political expertise to bring pride to the small college.

I am not anxious to get in a rocking chair and talk about yesterday. I’ve got plenty of things on my resume. In fact, I haven’t been able to hold a job very long. Making a difference is what I want to do with the final years of my productive life.”

Read about Card's Debut: Ex-White House Chief of Staff Finds New Challenge in Higher Ed

Wheaton College Dennis Hanno (2014-present)

Dennis Hanno sits with the Student Government Association as Wheaton's newly elected president. (Courtesy of Wheaton College)

With suffering job placement rates for recent liberal arts graduates and rising tuition costs, small high-priced four-year liberal-arts institutions like Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts were at great risk. President Dennis Hanno, who came out of college with a focus on business, stood up for private liberal arts education at a time when everyone else was lamenting against it.

"While today some attack the value of a liberal arts education as being too deeply rooted in old technologies or not linked to specific career paths, I believe that there has never been a greater need for what we have at Wheaton."

Read about Hanno's Debut: Leading a Small Liberal Arts College in Uncertain Times


Trinity College Joanne Berger-Sweeney (2014-present)

President Joanne Berger-Sweeney was named the 22nd president of Trinity College in July 2014. (Courtesy of Wellesley College)

When Joanne Berger-Sweeney became the president of Trinity College in 2014, she also became the fourth black female president in New England. Before that, she was the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and received a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Her appointment reflected a growing trend of diversifying higher education leaders.

"It's very hard to talk about the range of options when you only see one option in front of you. I think it's critically important that the academia diversify."

Read about Berger-Sweeney's Debut: Diversity in Higher Education Flatlines

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Rafael Reif (2012-present)

Rafael Reif led MIT after former president Susan Hockfield stepped down in 2012. (Dominick Reuter/MIT)

In 2012, MIT's President Rafael Reif claimed a popular agenda item - the creation of a more accessible system of online education. In 2015, he announced a master’s program that allows students to obtain a MIT master’s degree by taking one semester of classes online for free and another on campus for $33,000. Its pilot course this year saw over 27,0000 students enrolled.

"Right now we offer the content in the classroom. For many subjects in the near future, the content will be delivered partly in the classroom ... and partly online. The online version, what we call the X version, is the one we will offer to the world."

Read about Reif's Debut: New MIT President Leads In Online Ed

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