Board of Regents choose Shipley for president

Ethan Metcalf

A candidate for the presidency of MWSU, Suzanne Shipley, now president of Shepherd University, answers questions at a forum Feb. 24. Photo by Rachel Johnson.
Sole finalist for the presidency of MWSU, Suzanne Shipley, now president of Shepherd University, answers questions at a forum Feb. 24. Photo by Rachel Johnson.

After about a three-hour closed meeting, the Board of Regents chose Suzanne Shipley, president of Shepherd University, to become the next president of Midwestern State University after University President Jesse Rogers retires in August.

Michael Bernhardt, vice chairman of the Board of Regents, said increasing retention and enrollment as well as the future of the university Master Plan were major factors in considering the candidates.

“We felt like we had an honest discussion about it and, for lack of a better word, she floated to the top,” Berhardt said. “All three candidates had stellar credentials, but the board thought that she was the best one for the future of the university.”

Shipley said in a phone interview that most of her first year would be spent getting to know the community because “people need to trust you before you take them someplace new.”

“It’s really important to get to know the community and the university so that you’re not making assumptions that you haven’t really investigated well. Every university is different, so you need to take some time to study what you’ve read about and get to know the students,” Shipley said. “You can read about things that they say are important, but you need to actually see if the students think something is important and find out why.”

Shipley said she would need time to talk to and observe students to determine which programs are important to them.

“Only then would I feel qualified to address some of the things already in the plan,” Shipley said. “Plans for me aren’t things in drawers, they’re priorities and goals and hopes that you need to move on and realize.”

Rogers said he is happy with the choice and the community will be happy with it, too.

“There’s no doubt that they will accept Dr. Shipley with open arms,” Rogers said. “She’s been in important and difficult jobs, she’s at a university today that’s very much like Midwestern State University, and I don’t have any doubt that she is going to be a student and a faculty and a community president.”

Rogers said Shipley will make a smooth transition to her new job at MSU, partly because of how similar it is to Shepherd University.

“For one thing, she knows how it is to try to make the university work, to put a budget together, which is not always easy. You have to make some very difficult decisions about setting priorities and so forth, and I believe her priorities match up with Midwestern State’s priorities very well,” Rogers said.

David Carlston, assistant psychology professor and chair of the faculty senate, was a member of the presidential search advisory committee and said Shipley stood out from other applicants.

“The advisory committee thought highly of her,” Carlston said. “Looking at her vitae and experience, she stood out.”

Carlston said the president should focus on increasing finances, partly through addressing enrollment and retention.

“There’s a number of things the next president needs to tackle, many of which are financially related and a lot of that is based on enrollment,” Carlston said. “We need to understand what we offer academically and co-curricularly to help us stand out.”

Shipley said she agrees that a comprehensive look at the university’s identity could help increase retention and enrollment rates.

“When you look at the higher education marketplace, we need to stand out. You already have that identity, but unfortunately you have to to package it like a product, and education isn’t a product. It’s a marvelous experience, it changes your life, but you still have to “sell it” to others and convince them that it’s the right experience for them,” Shipley said. “I think we can come to that very quickly.”

Shipley is expected to be hired after a 21-day period set by a state law. According to the law, the Board of Regents must name the finalists for president at least 21 days before officially hiring her.

Upon being hired, Shipley will become the first female president of Midwestern State University, and the top three administrative positions—university president, provost and business officer—will be held by women.

“This university has, I believe, always made an effort to hire the most qualified person,” Rogers said. “It turns out in this particular case, the person that they selected is a woman.”

RELATED: Rogers’ replacement announced