Dean to Take Position at Illinois College

March 29, 2016

After seven years and after seeing through several major initiatives at Mary Baldwin University, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Catharine O’Connell will step down from her post this summer to become provost and dean of the college at Illinois College (IC) in Jacksonville, Illinois.OConnell_web

“Dr. O’Connell’s tenure here has coincided with an era of increasing external pressures for many colleges and universities including Mary Baldwin,” said President Pamela Fox, in a statement to the Mary Baldwin community last week. “From the beginning, she has risen to the challenge and led the faculty through several periods of difficult change and restructuring. Because of her work, Mary Baldwin is considerably stronger.”

While at Mary Baldwin, O’Connell has been instrumental in advancing the institution in numerous significant ways, including partnering with faculty in successful searches to bring more than 20 new tenure-track faculty who are deeply committed to the institutional mission and to students; engaging in academic program development in areas of high student interest, including majors in criminal justice, liberal arts and education studies, and health sciences.

She has helped the Spencer Center become integrated into the academic life of the institution, and was personally engaged in the Claudia Bernardi Permeable Borders project. She guided the evolution of the education discipline from an array of separate policies and programs to an integrated College of Education, and supported the development of new offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Mary Baldwin Trustee Sue Whitlock ’67, who has served on a number of committees that O’Connell has chaired, said she has observed the dean’s thoughtfulness and skill as she approached even the thorniest issues.

“After stating the pros and cons, she fairly evaluates the issue and calmly states possible consequences for each view,” Whitlock said. “As an institution we have been extremely fortunate to have someone of Kate’s temperament as a dean.”

In addition to her administrative duties, O’Connell also taught regularly, including team teaching the American Studies senior seminar for the past five years. Along with faculty, the dean revised the general education curriculum; and she helped evolve the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs to provide the majority of instruction online, with the majority taught by full-time Mary Baldwin faculty rather than adjuncts.

Sarah Flanagan, Mary Baldwin trustee and vice president for government relations and policy development at National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has worked closely with O’Connell.

“Kate has served as academic dean during a transformative time for Mary Baldwin,” Flanagan said. “Her advice to the board has always been honest and straightforward. She has a rare talent for being able to translate for the board the key pressure points for faculty and to help us delineate the appropriate lines between board and faculty governance. Kate has played an essential role in the positive transition from Mary Baldwin University to Mary Baldwin University.”

O’Connell also has been a staunch champion of Division III athletics and our scholar athletes and took on the leadership of the student affairs arena after the death of Dean of Students and Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management and Administration Brenda Bryant in 2012.

In a letter to the campus community, O’Connell noted that her new position at Illinois College is “a compelling opportunity both professionally and personally. The strategic goals of IC are ones that align well with my experience and academic values. My husband Matt and I are also excited about returning to his native Midwest. While I look forward to the next step in my professional journey, it is difficult to leave this extraordinary place.

“It has indeed been a privilege to serve Mary Baldwin University these past seven years. I was initially drawn to the visible commitment of faculty and staff to students and their learning; over the years my respect and admiration for this dedication has only intensified as I have had the opportunity to work closely with so many of you. I have been fortunate to get to know many Mary Baldwin students; witnessing their success — and perhaps contributing to it in some small measure — has been an honor.”

Mary Baldwin will enlist help from The Registry, a prominent executive leadership firm specializing in higher education, to identify a highly experienced interim provost for 2016-17. The firm has a collective of more than 600 retired presidents, provosts, and executive staff-level individuals.

“An experienced individual will be key to our important transitions next year in academic affairs as we implement the new four-college structure,” Fox said. “We will constitute a small search committee of faculty and staff in the very near future.”