University of Oregon names provost Phillips as interim president to succeed Schill

Huston-Tillotson hires Southern University leader Melva Williams as president, replacing the retired Pierce Burnette.

The official start date for the fall semester at the University of Oregon isn’t until late September, but its Board of Trustees did not want the look of a vacancy in the president’s chair after the departure of Michael Schill to Northwestern last week.

So it unanimously voted to install Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips as interim president, relying on a man who “has been the steward of the university’s academic mission” for more than a decade to guide them during the transition period as it searches for a permanent leader. He starts Thursday.

“[Patrick] brings decades of experience and leadership as well as deep connections to the university and our community,” said Ginevra Ralph, chair of Oregon’s Board of Trustees. “We are confident he, along with the vice presidents and deans of the schools and colleges, will allow the university to not lose any of its momentum building upon our academic and research impact and our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and student success. The university is very fortunate to have such a strong, visionary leader who can maintain the upward trajectory of this institution.”

Phillips, a well-respected biologist and head of that Oregon department, had been an adviser to Schill among many other roles, including director of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution and inaugural executive director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The board noted his penchant to bring together stakeholders from across various teams on campus and in the public sphere, where he has helped shepherd $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

“I could not be more firmly committed to this role as interim president, and will invest all of my energy to help define how we could best serve our broader role as a university in the state that is completely authentic to the University of Oregon,” Phillips said.

More from UB: Northwestern turns to University of Oregon’s Schill as next president

In his first move as interim leader, he temporarily shifted Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Janet Woodruff-Borden into the role he served. The Board has not set a timeframe for how long the search will take, though it is slated to begin discussions Sept. 15.

“Although this is a time of change, it is also a time of great excitement for our university,” Ralph said. “The university will continue to bring to life our academic and research initiatives, further the success and support of our students, and cement our place as one of the top research universities in the country. We are excited for our entire university community to be part of these efforts and the incredible opportunities that will come from them.”

Schill had been president at Oregon for seven years before the opening surfaced at Northwestern, a position he took immediately after its choice for next president, Rebecca Blank, was diagnosed with cancer and had to resign. Schill had been instrumental in leading Oregon to unprecedented heights, including stretching its endowment to $1.3 billion and raising graduation rates by 10 points. He believes strongly in his interim successor.

“I know you have made a great choice in Patrick in the interim president,” Schill added. “Patrick has been a major partner in almost everything I’ve done since we’ve moved through my presidency.”

Huston-Tillotson has a new leader

Melva Williams

Melva Williams, former vice chancellor in the Southern University system, has been named the new president of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. She replaces Colette Pierce Burnette, who retired in late June after seven years.

Williams brings a long list of credentials in higher education, including chief of staff and vice president of academic and student affairs for the Southern University system, associate dean at Centenary College of Louisiana and program director at Grambling State University, where she earned her bachelor’s and masters degrees. She hopes to grow and improve graduation and retention rates at this historically black liberal arts university, the first higher ed institution in Texas, which enrolls around 1,000.

“I am honored and energized to serve as HT’s second female president,” Williams said.  “The trust of the Board of Trustees and the HT Presidential Search Committee is very much appreciated, and I look forward to advancing an aggressive agenda that will ensure HT’s continued success.”

Among her other accomplishments, Williams has been a lecturer, speaker and senior director of programming for the Clinton Presidential Center. She is also co-founder of the Higher Education Leadership Foundation.

Williams earned a doctorate in higher education from Jackson State University (Mississippi) and a master’s in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Grambling State University (Louisiana).

Around the nation: Anne Blackhurst, president at Minnesota State University at Moorhead, announced she will retire next June after eight years. A leader who helped put together a $60 million capital campaign, she was a staunch supporter of the institution and its tradition, so much so that she has worn red in some fashion every day since taking the position in 2014.

“Few things are as important to me as our mission of preparing students for their futures. Stepping away from MSUM—and the Dragon family—will not be easy,” Blackhurst said. “But I firmly believe it’s a leader’s responsibility to know when the time is right for someone new to take the lead. After eight years as MSUM’s president, and an especially challenging year for me personally, I’ve made the difficult decision to retire.”

A former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, she helped boost by double digits MSU-Moorhead’s graduation rates, including those of students of color. Prior to the positions at Moorhead, she held several leadership roles at Mankato, including dean of graduate studies and research and chair of the department of counseling and student personnel.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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