Elizabeth Paul ready to lead Nazareth to new heights

When Elizabeth L. Paul talks about Nazareth College, it’s clear that the future Nazareth president has done her homework.

She says she’s fascinated by its founding by nuns as a school for women, and its evolution to a non-denominational, co-educational liberal arts college that also includes a fair number of professional training programs. All this in an educational landscape that has proven to be quite challenging for smaller liberal-arts-oriented colleges.

Elizabeth L. Paul
Elizabeth L. Paul

Nazareth seems to be thriving nonetheless.

“It’s exciting to find an institution that is very thoughtful.  Not just on the here and now,” Paul said, but plotting a future in which it is defining its own destiny, rather than being paralyzed by the fear that has gripped many higher educational institutions where enrollments are declining.

“The ways they have continually evolved the academic program are really smart,” Paul said, citing Nazareth’s strength in health and human services programs, emphasis on business and leadership programs, “cutting-edge music education” and other programs. “They’re always thinking about what’s next,” Paul said in a phone interview from Columbus, Ohio.

What’s next for Nazareth is Paul, 56, who will become its 10th president on July 1, succeeding Daan Braveman, who held the job for 15 years.

Paul starts at Nazareth after completing four years as the president of Capital University in Columbus. Her tenure at Capital has been eventful and at least a little contentious in the last year. Last June the faculty issued a vote of no confidence in her, which they said was prompted by her financial decision-making and lack of communication with the faculty.

“I would say that I was brought to Capital when Capital thought it was in a position of strength, and it was ready to reach and grow and lift, to open itself to new community partnerships and move from a position of strength,” Paul said. “As I dug into things here, I discovered there was not the financial health they thought. It changed what I could do as a leader.”

Still, she says she is leaving the institution in a better position financially and with the largest freshman class it has ever had. Under her leadership, Capital and the Lutheran seminary from which it was separated in 1959 have been reunited, a goal that had been contemplated for more than a decade.

Paul said she really enjoyed living in Columbus, but her time in the Midwest was also something of an anomaly, as her personal and professional lives have mostly been tied to the East Coast, from Florida to Boston.  Reared in Essex, Conn., Paul moved to the Miami area when she was 10 years old as her father followed a housing boom through his job as an accountant for a construction company. Her family eventually moved back to Connecticut, and Paul earned both bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at Boston University.

Her first job was at The College at New Jersey, where she met her husband, William Ball, a political scientist. The couple have two daughters, 23 and 21.

During Paul’s 17 years in New Jersey, she was a professor and vice-provost. In 2009, she took a job at Stetson University Florida and was senior academic officer there for seven years.

“I’m ready for different challenges, ready to get in an institution that finds reaching and stretching in its DNA,” Paul said. “It’s what uses my leadership in the best possible way.”

It is too soon for her to have specific plans. While she and Ball have driven around the area to consider where they might live, at this point she can only say they expect they’ll live in the southeast quadrant of the county.

Ball’s plans aren’t settled either. Although he’s a political scientist, his interests lie in community development and he’s currently teaching a course on virtual reality, she said. “I believe he’s a frustrated engineer.”  She suspects he will work in the nonprofit community.

As for Nazareth’s goals, Paul talks about amplifying some initiatives the college has already established, but also reaching out in some new ways.

“I really believe in community as a classroom,” whether locally or globally, she said. Nazareth has already developed community relationships and strong international and global programs, Paul said, but added “I believe there are more levels we can take that work.”

She suggested forging new partnerships in ongoing efforts to address community issues and challenges. One result will be to “provide students with some of the most powerful educational experiences they’ll ever have, and influence the type of citizen we’ll have.”

Paul also noted a growing need for the skill-set liberal arts education provides, even in students who are already entrenched in the business world.

“A lot of businesses are recognizing that their professional development has been very narrowly skill based, and what they need is people who can think – think of problems creatively and different.” Paul said. “The goal of a liberal arts education is to free us from narrow ways of thinking.”

Nazareth’s role in this development may be in creating lifelong learning opportunities, she suggested.

“What are some opportunities for us to partner in new and different ways to support business development in Rochester now?” she asked. Businesses are looking for help with mind-set and critical thinking. “How can we be a partner with that kind of learning and development?”

Starting in July, she may find out.

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