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Presidential Prodigies

A new breed of campus leader

Ask higher education insiders about the traditional pathway to the Presidency and they will tell you it goes through academics – typically stepping up from the role of Chief Academic Officer.  

Times have changed and new roads to the Presidency are emerging. According to the American Council of Education’s American College President Study 2017, 16 percent of college presidents came directly from senior executive positions other than academic administration (i.e. advancement/development, business/administration, and student affairs), and significantly, 15 percent came from outside higher education. Indeed, we are now witnessing a new breed of presidential leaders who come from business, government, and fundraising, rather than from the center of academia.  

Adams State

Our first stop on the Presidential Prodigies expedition is at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, where  Beverlee McClure succeeded a president who served for a long period following service in academic and administrative positions. Unlike many presidential peers,  McClure has a unique professional and business background in accounting, commerce, fundraising, and government. On her appointment as president, the former Adams State University Board Chairman put it this way;  McClure has a “unique combination of professional experience that will be valuable in leading Adams State University to even greater success.”

A self-made business and professional woman,  McClure shares that higher education is her first love – developed while in college where she first earned an Associate’s degree from Grayson Community College, next a Bachelor of Business Administration from Texas A&M University-Commerce, then a Master of Business Administration from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, and finally a Doctor of Education from the University of Texas at Austin.  

After serving as a corporate accountant at R.J.R. Nabisco Foods,  McClure began her higher education career at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and transitioned to the St. Augustine Campus at St. Johns River Community College in Florida. Thereafter,  McClure was selected as president at Clovis Community College in New Mexico. Prior to her arrival at Adams State University,  McClure served as president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, and significantly, as the first Cabinet Secretary of Higher Education in the State of New Mexico.   

Mount Wachusett Community College

Our second stop takes us to Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC), where  James Vander Hooven succeeded an administrator who previously served as dean and vice president at other community colleges and as president of MWCC for thirty years.

While completing his doctoral degree,  Vander Hooven served as vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Lakes Region Community College, where his responsibilities included Workforce Development.  Vander Hooven’s first COO appointment came next at Tohono O’odham Community College, an institution that uniquely “serves the residents of the Tohono O’odham Nation” in Arizona, where he built strong programs in STEM, developmental education, and occupational fields of study. Prior to MWCC,  Vander Hooven served as vice president for Enrollment Management at Landmark College, a private college in Vermont where he spearheaded the Landmark College Works program that focused “on helping students gain professional skills through campus employment, while making connections between work and academics.” With these diverse experiences behind him,  Vander Hooven provides a fresh perspective in moving MWCC forward in new bold directions.   

Salem State

The third stop on our presidential journey is Salem State University, situated in the North Shore Seaport City of Salem, Massachusetts. President John Keenan succeeded a seasoned academic administrator, who had a distinguished career that included serving as Provost at Suffolk University and vice provost at Northeastern University.  

Unlike his predecessor, Keenan came not from academia. Rather, Keenan’s background is rooted in the civic life of the City of Salem. A lifelong resident of Salem, after graduating from Harvard and Suffolk Law, Keenan served Salem in a number of positions including as Assistant District Attorney, Assistant City Solicitor, City Solicitor, and importantly, as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 2005 to 2014. In the Legislature, Representative Keenan was a compelling advocate for building the new Salem Courthouse, construction of the MBTA garage, and replacing the Salem Harbor Power Station. Importantly, Keenan was a champion in the House for elevating Salem State to University status. Prior to his selection as the 14th president, Keenan served as general counsel and vice president for Administration at Salem State.

Quinsigamond Community College

Our fourth stop takes us to Worcester, Massachusetts, where we find Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) and  Luis Pedraja, who succeeded a longtime administrator from within the Massachusetts Community College system.  

Pedraja immigrated to the United States from Cuba and was the first in his family to attend college – educated as a theologian receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Stetson University, a Master of Divinity in Theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and finally, a Doctor of Philosophy focused on Philosophical Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Virginia. Following the completion of his Ph.D.,  Pedraja joined the University of Puget Sound; moved on to Southern Methodist University; and then to the Memphis Theological Seminary, where he served as Dean and vice president of Academic Affairs. Then in 2004,  Pedraja began a seven year stint as vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This executive level position in accreditation was followed by a return to campus at Antioch University Los Angeles, and later at Peralta Community College District.  Pedraja brings a wealth of accreditation, assessment, compliance, and accountability to QCC.

Boston Architectural College

Our fifth and final stop finds us in the heart of Boston, at its prominent college of architecture and design – Boston Architectural College (BAC). Glen LeRoy, FAIA, FAICP, is the seventh BAC president, where he inspires a culture of practice-based design learning that is driven by a new vision and ingenuity. Unlike others, LeRoy’s preparation for the college Presidency is a dynamic mix of bold leadership, professional experience, and scholarly credentials. What is unique is an academic career punctuated by 15 years outside academia as a highly successful architectural and urban design expert with significant practice experience in Kansas City, Lawrence, Phoenix, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Tampa.   

LeRoy’s higher education experience led him down the path of Dean of the College of Architecture and Design at Lawrence Technological University – the traditional rise to a Presidency ends there. With graduate degrees from Tulane University and the University of Pennsylvania, LeRoy actually lives and breathes what BAC teaches and that is what distinguishes him from the rest.  

LeRoy put it best when he says: “I came to my position as president of the Boston Architectural College with an equal balance of experience in both the academy and professional design practice. I worked my way up the academic ladder of tenure, professorship, and deanship at two universities. I was also a principal in a major national, multi-disciplinary design firm. These two career streams correlate well at the BAC, one of America’s most practice-oriented schools of architecture and design.”

These profiled leaders have different backgrounds, experience, and alternative pathways to presidential appointments. Empowered as the next generation of presidential leaders – they offer a rich diversity of experience that will serve them and the institutions that they lead well in the coming decades.  

—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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