Finger Lakes Times published an Aug. 17 article, “Gearan to Leave HWS after ’16-’17: Longest-serving president in Colleges’ history will return to Harvard, his alma mater.” Along with President Mark D. Gearan’s plans for the future, the Finger Lakes Times’ story covered his journey from a former director of the Peace Corps to his current status as a HWS president.
The full text of the article can be found below:
GENEVA – Mark Gearan said his move from Hobart and William Smith Colleges to Harvard next year is a chance to figure out “what’s next” in a career that has spanned academics, politics and public service.
The longest-serving president in HWS history is heading back to his alma mater, where he will serve in a special role as “president in residence.”
No, Gearan said, that’s not the next step before becoming president of the venerable Ivy League institution. He said he will be spending the fall semester of 2017 at Harvard working on issues involving higher education while pondering his next career move.
And Gearan, with ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, isn’t ruling anything out in the event there is another Clinton in the White House.
“I’ve always been drawn to the importance of public service,” he said, adding “I learned long ago to never say no to a job you’ve never been offered.”
Still, leaving the Colleges wasn’t an easy decision, the 59-year-old Gearan noted. He informed the Board of Trustees of his 2017 departure in a conference call Tuesday morning.
“This is a special place on every level,” said the HWS leader, noting that his two daughters were raised in Geneva, with one a senior at Geneva High this fall.
When he concludes his presidency in 2017, he will have served for 18 years, leading HWS through a period of unprecedented growth, as well as a time of far greater civic engagement for the school – much of it led by Gearan himself.
He noted his work with Geneva 2020, an effort to improve district academic performance and graduation rates – they’re “making tremendous progress,” he said – and other community endeavors.
He has been involved in a number of other community projects as well during his 16 years in the city, and the Colleges have taken a far more active role in addressing city issues, including education and poverty.
“In many ways, Geneva will always be home for us,” he said.
Gearan said this is a good time for him to depart, as HWS, considered among the top liberal-arts institutions in the nation, is in good shape, with outstanding staff, faculty and a “strong, vibrant campus community.”
“There’s a lot of energy at Hobart and William Smith,” he added.
At the time of his appointment in 1999, Gearan, a popular and approachable figure on campus and in the community, was one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. However, his background did not fit the traditional academic track that most college leaders take. Much of his experience was in government and Democratic politics, including working on the campaigns of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, vice presidential candidate Al Gore and President Bill Clinton. He later worked in the Clinton White House in roles including deputy chief of staff and director of communications and strategic planning.
Clinton later named him director of the Peace Corps. He left that job in 1999 to become president of HWS.
Gearan credited the Colleges with “taking a chance” on a guy who didn’t go the traditional route, noting he’s “got a JD (juris doctor), not a PhD.”
The “unconventional choice,” as he termed it, has racked up a long list of accomplishments in his tenure.
The Colleges said that under Gearan’s leadership, Hobart and William Smith have expanded their academic reach, improved their finances and transformed the physical campus, adding and expanding facilities while also increasing access and opportunity for students with an expansion of financial aid.
Thomas S. Bozzuto, chairman of the HWS Board of Trustees, said Gearan’s impact is obvious.
“By every measure, Hobart and William Smith is a better place today because of Mark’s vision and principled leadership,” he said. “I have had the pleasure of working closely with him for the past 17 years and have seen first-hand the unwavering commitment and affection he has for the Colleges, for our students, alums and parents and for our talented faculty and staff. Mark is an extraordinary leader whose legacy will be measured in the continued advancement of the Colleges. He has sparked a momentum that will echo for generations. He will be deeply missed.”
Bozzuto said a committee of trustees, faculty, staff and students will be created to search for the next president, with help from a professional firm. Details on the committee and firm are forthcoming.
Gearan said his goal is to assure an “orderly transition” to the next HWS president, and he’s confident they will find a high-caliber replacement.
“This is a great job for someone,” he said.
In his new job at Harvard University as the president in residence, Gearan will work on issues facing higher education and the next generation of leaders at the Graduate School of Education.
Judith Block McLaughlin, educational chair of the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents and the Harvard Seminar for Experienced Presidents and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Gearan is a great fit at the university.
“The presidents who have served as ‘president-in-residence’ have been exemplars of extraordinarily successful leadership, and Mark Gearan certainly falls within this category,” she said.
Bozzuto said Gearan is a tough act to follow, but believes that the accomplishments under his leadership have elevated Hobart and William Smith’s national stature.
He said he is “confident that we will have a deep and talented pool of applicants.”
Bozzuto said Gearan’s announcement prior to the coming academic year gives the Board of Trustees “ample time to ensure a thoughtful and well-planned national search and an orderly transition to the next president.”
A native of Gardner, Mass., Gearan earned a bachelor of arts degree in government, cum laude, from Harvard and his law degree from Georgetown University.
He lives on campus with his wife, Mary Herlihy Gearan. They have two daughters, Madeleine and Kathleen.