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The Search to Begin (Again) at UConn for Next President

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It has been more than six months since the most recent President of the University of Connecticut resigned.  And just a week since his interim replacement, who took over on July 1, announced that he too was headed elsewhere, next month.

As the search for the flagship university’s next President gets underway, the revolving door that is UConn remains on the move.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn Health’s chief executive officer since 2014 and a highly respected leader with strong medical, academic, and business credentials, was selected to serve as UConn’s interim president in last May. He was the first physician and the first person of color to lead the University, albeit for less than a year.

At that time, the University indicated that it planned to undertake a search for President Katsouleas’ permanent replacement, but “does not plan to start that process in the near term and will decide later about its timing.” As recently as November, the Hartford Business Journal reported that “the university’s board isn’t thinking much about replacing him.”

Now, it’s search time. UConn Board Chair Daniel Toscano announced days ago that a national search for president will begin immediately, with the goal of naming UConn’s next president by this fall. 

In keeping with University bylaws, Toscano, as board chair, will serve as chair of the search committee. The board expects to name the Advisory Search Committee for President, as well as its smaller steering committee, in the coming weeks. The committee will be composed of faculty, staff, alumni, and students.  Toscano has pledged to hold listening sessions with faculty, staff, and students regarding their ambitions for the University and what is most important to them when it comes to the University’s next president.

The UConn Board of Trustees will meet next week (Jan. 26) and expects to appoint the university’s Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Radenka Maric, interim president effective Feb. 1.  Maric has served as Vice President for Research since 2017 and oversees the University’s $375 million research enterprise at the main campus in Storrs, the UConn Health campus in Farmington, the School of Law in Hartford, and four regional campuses around the state.

All of this is, to many observers, a case of déjà vu all over again. 

Just over a decade ago, in May 2010, the New York Times headline said succinctly, “Quick Exit by President of UConn.”  The story went on to describe the circumstances surrounding “when the University of Connecticut’s president, Michael J. Hogan, abruptly packed his bags” and departed, less than three years into his tenure.

As the Times noted, the state’s Governor at the time showed her displeasure.

“’Mike Hogan has done a solid job during his brief tenure at UConn,’ Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in a frosty statement. She added: ‘We had assumed President Hogan’s commitment to UConn was a long-term one; it should have been.’”

Dr. Hogan had replaced Phillip E. Austin, who had served 11 years as president, in September 2007. His tenure as president of UConn was said to be the shortest for a president there since 1930.  Not for long.

Fast forward to 2021.  Another president, another unanticipated rapid departure - even faster than last time.  The headline on The UConn Blog on May 13, 2021:  “UConn President Thomas Katsouleas resigns abruptly.”

Katsouleas had succeeded Susan Herbst in leading the University less than two years prior, in August 2019.  His resignation letter, written in March 2021, became effective on June 30.  Sources told the CT Mirror that his relationship with UConn’s Board of Trustees had deteriorated.

“It wasn’t a perfect fit with the board there. That’s all,” Governor Ned Lamont told the Hartford Courant. “It wasn’t a perfect fit, but that’s OK.”

Hogan left the state for a leadership position at the University of Illinois. (It should be noted that he lasted only 20 months in that position.)  Katsouleas opted to use a clause in his contract that allows him to remain at UConn.  He is to be a tenured faculty member and join the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  His predecessor, Herbst, did much the same, and has been teaching at UConn’s Stamford campus as a Professor of Political Science, after her nearly nine years as UConn’s president, nearly quadruple the tenure of her successor.

“I look forward to working with the Board of Trustees to find a suitable replacement who shares their vision of growth, and building on its reputation as one of the top public institutions of higher learning in the country,” Lamont said when Katsouleas’ departure from the presidency was announced this Spring.

In 2018, a 44-member Advisory Search Committee for President was formed, a search firm was hired, and the months-long process ended with the selection of Katsouleas.

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