Hobart and William Smith Colleges president Mark Gearan plans to step down from his post to become president in residence at Harvard University.
Gearan said Wednesday he will conclude the 2016-17 academic year at Hobart and William Smith, marking 18 years with the colleges.
“It has been an enormous privilege to work with so many dedicated friends and colleagues to advance the colleges with greater access, opportunity and outcomes for our students,” Gearan wrote in a letter to the community.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished together and feel blessed to have worked and lived in this wonderful campus community and in the city of Geneva.”
His appointment at Harvard starts in fall 2017. In his new role, Gearan will work with graduate students and faculty at the Graduate School of Education. A large part of the position involves an annual seminar that includes presidents from two- and four-year colleges and universities nationwide.
“It will allow me the chance to work with graduate students and new presidents, and also give me time to think through my next step—how I can make a difference,” Gearan said in an interview Wednesday.
Gearan has led the colleges through unprecedented growth, with the Campaign for the Colleges, raising more than $205 million to support facilities, endowment and annual giving.
The student population has increased by 28 percent to nearly 2,400. The number of full-time faculty has jumped 34 percent to 225 and six buildings have been added to the campus, including the new $30 million Gearan Center for the Performing Arts, which was named in his honor.
Gearan also has made it a priority to invest in community engagement. In 2012, Hobart and William Smith established a 10-year, $1.7 million commitment to the city of Geneva that assists in balancing its budget.
He said his partnership with Geneva is one of his proudest accomplishments and an example of the way he can share what he has learned here with his new constituents at Harvard.
"This is such an important time in higher education," Gearan said. "How do we continue to prepare students for the time of change they will live and work in? How can we make education accessible to them without the burden of debt? It is an issue both the public and private higher education institutions face.”
He noted that colleges often are a major economic driver in their communities, frequently the largest employer. There is much good colleges can do, he said, and pointed to how Hobart and William Smith helped Geneva advocate for a downtown revitalization grant from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.
“We partnered on a proposal with the city manager and Geneva won $10 million,” Gearan said. “You’ll see more partnerships like these as colleges see the vital role they can play in their communities.”
Gearan, 59, began his Hobart and William Smith tenure as one of the youngest college presidents in the nation.
Before that, he had been director of the Peace Corps and White House senior staff member. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, Gearan served as assistant to the president, director of communications and deputy chief of staff.
Gearan said he is looking forward to his remaining time at Hobart and William Smith, as well as his days ahead at Harvard, where he will have some time for reflection.
He said possible future options include more work in higher education, public service or the nonprofit sector.
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