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SMC dean takes job at Wabash

Justin Tardiff | Monday, January 30, 2006

After 17 years as an administrator at an all-women’s college, Saint Mary’s vice president and dean of faculty Pat White will find himself working in a drastically different setting next fall.

White announced Saturday he has accepted the position of president at Wabash College, one of only three men’s colleges remaining in the United States, and will take over on July 1. The nationally ranked liberal arts school, located in Crawfordsville, Ind., was founded in 1832 and has an enrollment of 871 students.

“The opportunity to lead at a college of Wabash’s history and Wabash’s potential is really exciting to me and it is a great honor,” White said. “I am very lucky.”

White is the second Saint Mary’s administrator to be named president of another college in the past three weeks. Linda Timm, vice president for student affairs, was hired on Jan. 11 to head Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wis.

“Dr. White’s unanimous selection by Wabash’s Board of Trustees is a great personal achievement for him and a wonderful outgrowth of his many years of service in academic administration,” said Saint Mary’s President Carol Mooney in an e-mail to members of the College community. “His loss will be felt deeply at Saint Mary’s, but his appointment makes clear to all the superb quality of the people who work at Saint Mary’s.”

The vice president announced in August he would step down from his administrative position to take a year sabbatical and then return to the Saint Mary’s English department as a faculty member. Not long after, however, he was contacted by a search consultant working with Wabash College to replace outgoing president Andrew Ford.

After submitting an application and letters of recommendation, White went through three rounds of interviews. The first, which took place in early December in a hotel in Indianapolis, included meetings with and answering questions from the 16 members of the presidential search committee. On Jan. 6 three committee representatives visited White and his family in their home. Then, as one of three finalists, White traveled to Crawfordsville to visit the campus and meet with trustee members, faculty, students and alumni from Jan. 11-13.

White said he found Wabash students to possess many of the same characteristics as Saint Mary’s students.

“Aside from the very big difference of the student bodies … they have many similarities,” White said. “[Wabash students] are very committed to the college, they are committed to the possibility of their college, they are excited to be at Wabash.”

The students were interested in the presidential search process, White said, noting that the student newspaper The Bachelor provided detailed coverage of each of the candidates. He was ultimately endorsed by one of the paper’s opinion writers.

“I have always been a big champion of student leadership here at Saint Mary’s and I think the students recognized that,” he said.

White said he had known about Wabash and its strong reputation as a liberal arts institution for many years.

“It is an interesting story,” White said. “I have known about Wabash for a long, long time in part because one of my favorite professors when I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago [departed for] Wabash and I was very upset.”

That professor, Don Herring, still works at Wabash today.

In addition to a large endowment of $320 million, White said he sees two major differences between Saint Mary’s and Wabash.

“Wabash has a strong fraternity system and also of course a strong commitment to the liberal arts – which Saint Mary’s also has but Saint Mary’s College has a more professional program,” he said.

While enrollment at Wabash has been steady, White said the select number of high school students who actually consider a single-sex school means it will be something he plays close attention to.

The small size of Wabash was attractive to the academic, who has committed himself to educating in a liberal arts setting.

“Saint Mary’s is the biggest college I have ever worked at,” White said. “I’ve always wanted to be at a small college where I could be close to students, and where the college would be a community of learning, and where there could be a close connection between what is going on inside the classroom and what is going on outside the classroom, and in that respect Wabash is a perfect fit for me.”

While Saint Mary’s is proud of its identity as a women’s institution, the college wants to be recognized as much more than that, White said. Similarly, Wabash has an outstanding academic character that he hopes to get to know and to share with others.

“[I hope to] help articulate what’s special about the liberal arts education at Wabash,” White said. “Wabash has a Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts which is somewhat of an analogue to our CWIL [Center for Women in Intercultural Leadership].”

The Wabash Center recently received an additional $12.5 million in grants in December, and White said he looks forward to putting those resources to good use.

Before being named vice president and dean of faculty in 2002, White served as associate dean of faculty at Saint Mary’s from 1988 to 2002; first under Dorothy Feigl and then under Karen Ristau.

White was responsible for several academic milestones at Saint Mary’s, including the founding of the Center for Academic Innovation in 1993 and CWIL in 2000. His twin daughters, Katie and Molly, are currently juniors at the College.