In the spring of 2015, the Wells College Board of Trustees named Dr. Jonathan C. Gibralter the 19th President of Wells College. Dr. Gibralter's appointment followed an extensive national search, recommendation by the 12-person search committee, and unanimous vote of the College's Board of Trustees, Board Chair Carrie A. Bolton '92 announced. His tenure began July 1, 2015.
"Dr. Gibralter brings strong leadership that includes a deep understanding of the current climate for higher education and the undergraduate experience, a demonstrated commitment to environmental sustainability, the creativity and courage to pursue innovative solutions, and financial acumen. As we look at the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, Wells College will benefit tremendously from his leadership," said Ms. Bolton.
Dr. Gibralter served as president of Frostburg State University in western Maryland. He began his career in higher education with the State University of New York system. Following appointments as a faculty member, academic program director and associate dean for the school of liberal arts at Morrisville, he served as dean of academic affairs, campus dean, and interim president in the community college ranks, ultimately assuming the presidency of Farmingdale State College.
Dr. Gibralter also serves as co-chair of the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) President's Working Group to Address Harmful Student Drinking. One of the institutes that comprise the National Institute of Health (NIH), the NIAAA is the largest funder of alcohol research in the country. Dr. Gibralter appears regularly in the national media, including recent segments on the PBS NewsHour and NPR's All Things Considered, as a leading voice on preventing dangerous college-age drinking and related harms.
An experienced president and accomplished scholar who has "turned around" two colleges facing serious enrollment and financial challenges, his efforts were lauded by University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, "Dr. Gibralter has led Frostburg State University to new heights, achieving improved retention and graduation rates, greater success in private fundraising, and effective collaboration with the community colleges in western Maryland." Among Dr. Gibralter's notable accomplishments during his tenure at Frostburg are:
Prior to joining Frostburg in 2006, Dr. Gibralter served as president of Farmingdale State University where his efforts were also directed toward stemming declining enrollment and gaining a financial foothold. His ability to navigate funding opportunities in New York State led to funding for a number of projects, including $20 million from New York State for construction of a 50,000-square-foot bioscience incubator facility and $2.5 million through the New York Senate Ge*NY*sis program for the purchase of laboratory equipment, as well as $2.7 million to purchase a new fleet of aircraft for the professional pilot program. In addition, he secured funding for a new student center, a new College of Business building, a child care center and a complete overhaul of the university's athletic facilities including a new stadium. At Farmingdale, he initiated a major gifts campaign and developed a comprehensive strategic plan, as well as a marketing and enrollment plan and a student retention program, resulting in the highest increase in applications and enrollment in the SUNY system for that period while simultaneously increasing admissions selectivity (which persists today as Farmingdale is one of the fastest growing SUNY campuses).
"While clearly Dr. Gibralter's credentials and accomplishments are impressive, I also want to stress that he was among many strong candidates vying for our presidency. Much credit is due the search committee, a collaborative effort of Trustees, faculty, staff and students. We embarked on a broad national search and generated nearly 100 qualified prospects, which we vetted and narrowed to the top 20 before inviting a diverse group of nine compelling, talented, qualified nominees to a series of off-campus interviews. From there our top three candidates traveled to Aurora and visited with the campus community – in small interview settings as well as campus-wide forums. We couldn't be more delighted that Dr. Gibralter emerged as our top choice – and that we are his," noted Board Vice Chair Marie Chapman Carroll '75, chair of the search committee.
No stranger to the region, Dr. Gibralter earned his B.A. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1978, a master's degree in Counseling Psychology from New York University in 1982, and a doctorate in Human Development from Syracuse University in 1996. In addition, during his tenure as president at Frostburg State, he earned an MBA from the University of Maryland, University College.
Dr. Gibralter said of his appointment, "Wells College today is in an advantageous position to once again enjoy the prestige it has held for generations. I am incredibly honored to be Wells College's president, and look forward to building on the capacity for innovation President de Witt has fostered.
"While I understand the unique enrollment and financial pressures that liberal arts colleges face, I believe in my heart of hearts that the liberal arts must remain at the core even as we continue to develop new programmatic offerings to remain appealing and relevant. I see the potential to build on the College's academic program to generate a strong national reputation while securing sustainable financial well-being. Positive partnerships with Wells College's Board, faculty, staff, students and alumni must be at the forefront of these efforts because enduring change, I have always believed, requires trust and meaningful relationships. As we plan for such a future, it will be important to listen carefully to those cultural imperatives that cannot be lost while also moving into a future of fiscal strength and viability."
Provost and Dean of the College Cindy Speaker endorsed the Board's selection in noting, "Wells College needs a president who understands that colleges and their faculty must continually assess and innovate to improve their curricular offerings to best educate their students for the lives they lead today and in the future and in order to remain competitive and relevant. Fortunately, Dr. Gibralter approaches that from the perspective of an accomplished academic and understands the critical importance of the liberal arts and sciences as the foundation for an education preparing students for personal and professional success in today's complex environment."
Trustee Betty Rodriguez Vislosky '78, president of the College's alumni association, was a member of the search committee. "Dr. Gibralter recognizes the significant relationship our alumnae and alumni have with their alma mater and the degree to which we serve as a unique resource. I look forward to working with him as we approach the College's sesquicentennial celebration."
Dr. Gibralter joins Wells following the interim appointment of President Thomas E. J. de Witt in 2013. President Emeritus of Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, at Wells Dr. de Witt has laid the groundwork for an exciting future. "Tom de Witt ushered in a new era," according to Ms. Bolton. "Under his leadership, in less than two years Wells has developed a dozen new academic programs, completed three major capital projects, and developed campus-generated initiatives ranging from improvements to student residences, to faculty-student research and on-campus practitioner residencies, to the newly established Center for Sustainability and the Environment, to the creation of a more modern and collegiate feel across campus. His leadership has sparked a renewed sense of campus energy and enthusiasm, impacting both retention and recruitment."
Prior to Dr. de Witt, Wells College was led by the College's first and long-time alumna president, Lisa Marsh Ryerson '81, who served from 1995 to 2013. Under her leadership, the College made the successful transition to coeducation, increased enrollment, strengthened the academic program and expanded opportunities for students and revitalized College properties in the village of Aurora for which she was recognized as President Emerita. Ms. Marsh Ryerson now serves as president of the AARP Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"It has been incredibly inspiring to be led first by a Wells College graduate, and now by such an agent of change. Students have always had a strong voice and have accepted serious responsibility at Wells. Serving on the search committee for our next president has been a natural extension of that – and I am so glad we found Dr. Gibralter! I expect he will be just as strong an advocate for Wells students as we've always had," summarized Jamyra Young '15, Collegiate Cabinet president and student representative to the search committee.
"Early on in my career, I visited the campus and remember feeling I had fallen upon a very special place that deeply valued the education of her students – and was fortunate enough to be in such a pristine environment," Dr. Gibralter shared in closing. "Laurie and I very much look forward to joining the Wells College community. We raised our children in Syracuse and have long-time connections to upstate New York, so Wells College and the village of Aurora already feel like home. We simply love the area and can't wait to return."
The College engaged the services of AGB Search in Washington, D.C., a firm focused exclusively on higher education leadership, as consultants throughout the search process.