As universities navigate the impact of the coronavirus on their budgets and enrollment, Austin Peay State University has been handed an additional challenge to overcome. APSU President Alisa White announced Thursday morning that she will leave Clarksville this summer for a new position in Texas. An interim president has not yet been named.
Pending her confirmation by the Texas State University System Board of Regents, White will become president of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, just over an hour north of Houston. She and her husband, Elliott, are “excited about the opportunity to serve another student-focused institution and to live near our children and grandchildren,” White wrote in a letter to the campus community, but noted, “we will miss Austin Peay.”
Bill Persinger, executive director of public relations and marketing at APSU, says an interim president will most likely serve during the upcoming academic year while the search process takes place. The board of trustees has not yet established search guidelines for a new president, he says, but it will likely be a national open search, and internal candidates are viable as well.
In an email to faculty, staff, and students, chair of APSU’s board of trustees Mike O’Malley wrote that while White’s resignation “leaves us with a temporary void,” the university has a “solid team” to lead during this transition as they search for the university’s 11th president.
And it’s a significant transition that Austin Peay is facing. Rex Gandy, APSU’s former provost, also recently stepped down from the university. He announced his retirement last November and officially left in May. An interim provost is currently in place, and Gandy’s successor, Maria Cronley, will begin officially serving as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs in July.
That means two new people at the top of APSU’s leadership, as the university also figures out how to operate during a global pandemic. In-person classes on the Clarksville campus were suspended in March and moved fully online. At least one staff member and one student received positive COVID19 test results. Employees slowly began returning to campus this last week through a phased process that began June 15.
Courses will return to campus for the fall semester. A list of coronavirus guidelines posted on APSU’s website states that employees, students, and visitors will be required to wear a mask in places where social distancing is difficult, “such as classrooms, food service venues (pick up service), and customer service offices.” Persinger says classes will go back to online-only after the Thanksgiving break. If the coronavirus “ramps back up” before then, he says, there is the possibility that the university will return to fully online courses earlier.
Experts have already been exploring what long-term effects the coronavirus will have on higher education, especially financially. Persinger says APSU is bracing for that impact and will have to work to reduce budgets. Losing a president during the pandemic “certainly makes it more challenging” for the university to move forward, but APSU is in good standing financially and the leadership team that is in place has strong standards that have prepared them for situations like these, he says.
“We’ve made a lot of progress under Dr. White’s leadership,” he adds, noting that during her six-year tenure, the university reached an enrollment of 11,000 students and began offering doctoral degrees. “She’s been a great asset not only to Austin Peay but the community as well.”
So as the search begins, he says, “finding somebody who can help continue to grow the university and its community connections is going to be really important.”