(Updated) The UConn Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Monday to name Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer of Georgia’s University System, to succeed Michael Hogan as the university’s president.
Herbst will replace Interim President Philip Austin, who has served since Hogan unexpectedly left the university in June to take a job as president of the University of Illinois. Herbst will be the first female president in UConn’s history and the school’s 15th president overall.
At a news conference following Monday’s vote, Herbst said she was impressed by the condition of the university and said the state already had “fearlessly invested in higher education,” making it the envy of the nation. “When I told professional colleagues across the country, I first heard an audible gasp and then a delighted shout, ‘UConn,’” she added.
In her remarks, Herbst made three promises of the university. The first—to be open and welcoming to all.
“This university belongs to the people of Connecticut and we want your ideas, we want your support, we want your counseling, we want your critique so we can serve you better,” she said.
Herbst’s second promise was to make careful use of the funding the university receives.
“We will be incredibly careful stewards of the precious state and federal dollars mindful of our responsibilities,” she said. “We will be a return on investment and we will do our part in this state’s economic recovery.
Her last promise was to the parents of UConn students.
“Finally, most importantly, we will take the best possible care of your sons and daughters, whom you entrust to us at the university. They are the future we’ll watch t hem and nurture them and help them to become model citizens of this state and this nation,” she said.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell remarked that UConn women were making history for two different reasons this week, referring to Herbst’s appointment and the women’s basketball team’s 88th consecutive win.
“As you’ve just heard she will be the first woman to run the University of Connecticut,” Rell said. “I just whispered to her and said that someday we won’t have to say that we are among the first anymore — it will be a given.”
Retiring state Sen. Marry Ann Handley, who chaired the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, welcomed Herbst for her teaching background. Aside from serving as executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer in Georgia, Herbst’s biography also notes that she currently teaches a course on public policy at Georgia Tech with a focus on public opinion, mass media, and the nature of U.S. policymaking.
“It will be good to have a woman president, considering that slightly more than half of UConn’s students are female,” Handley said. “And Dr. Herbst has a strong academic background. I’m very happy to see that, as opposed to someone who only has experience in higher education management.”
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, who along with Rell interviewed the three finalists for the position, said that he believes Herbst will help to make the university a major player in the state’s economic development.
“Even her political science background leads me to believe she will be a great partner in economic development,” he said.
But Malloy also refused to take funding cuts to the university off the table as he works to find a solution to next year’s $3.67 billion budget deficit.
“I’ve said it before, we’re in an ugly situation. We can’t cut our way out of it, we can’t tax our way out of it, so we have to find a third solution,” he said.
But Malloy said that under Herbst, he hopes the university will be an investment that begins to show more returns for the state.
And Herbst said she plans to do just that by saving money where possible, boosting the research mission by hiring and attracting faculty when possible, and getting faculty to do more with technology transfer from inventions and ideas to marketable products and data.
Larry McHugh, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said that Herbst “hit a homerun with the committee.”
But that doesn’t mean she was the only one considered. McHugh said the search committee began with a pool of about 120 applicants, which included five sitting presidents from other universities. Over a long seven month period that number was narrowed to 57 contenders, then to 17 and 10, until only the three finalists were left, he said.
In the end it was Herbst’s vision, energy, and enthusiasm that set her apart, McHugh said. Her in-depth knowledge of higher education, an ability to get along with many different groups of people, and her extensive list of publications also helped with the choice, he said.
Austin, who said he wasn’t on the search committee because he thought it would be inappropriate as he was acting president, said he had admiration and respect for Herbst.
“I will always be there for her, but you can only have one president at a time,” he said.
Prior to her appointment Herbst was researching mass media, public opinion, and public policy in the United States at the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy where she is also a professor, according to her biography on the school’s site.
Her most recent research has focused on civility in modern politics and she released a book on the topic in August, titled “Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics.” But Herbst has been widely published on other topics like public expression, opinion polling, and mass media.
Herbst has held positions at several different universities including a short stint as acting president of the University of Albany. In her role as Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer in the Georgia university system, Herbst oversees all of the state’s 35 public higher education institutions.
She will begin her tenure as president on July 15, though she said she plans to be back and forth throughout the spring. Herbst said she is planning on living on campus.
When asked if she was planning to stick around longer than the school’s last president, Herbst said, “this is my dream job. I hope to stay for a long time.”
Herbst will be paid an annual salary of $500,000 a year, $145,000 of which will be paid by the UConn Foundation. She and her family will live in a home on the Storrs campus known as Oak Hill, which was built in 1940 to be the president’s residence on campus. Her salary is less than Hogan’s 2007 starting salary of $550,000, according to McHugh.