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:
- ENROLLMENT: At the outset of Dr. Gibralter’s presidency, enrollment was at the university’s lowest point and the region’s demography was at odds with growth. With a renewed emphasis on marketing, branding and raising the university’s profile, and the use of data analytics to increase the pool the university now has achieved its highest headcount enrollment, including the largest ever group of international students and continued growth in enrollments at the masters and doctoral levels with a dramatic expansion in on-line learning. The university’s focus on improved retention and graduation rates led to the development of an Academic Success Center, as well as elimination of the achievement gap between low income and African American and white students who now graduate at an equivalent rate. In addition, the school moved advising and support for all first-year students (which included 47% first-generation students) into an Academic Support and Advisement Center, helping to ensure successful transitions to students’ major advisors improving retention and graduation rates for all students.
- PLANNING: Using data to connect planning with resource allocation, Dr. Gibralter instituted a university-wide strategic planning committee to develop an annually updated strategic plan, which includes attention to increasing enrollment, expanding programmatic offerings and improving the quality of academic and residential facilities; it is monitored by the President’s Advisory Council for Institutional Effectiveness.
- FUNDRAISING: After restructuring the advancement functions and building a culture of philanthropy, the university executed the most successful comprehensive campaign in its history which surpassed its goal two years ahead of schedule. In doing so, the university established a reliable annual fund revenue stream of over $2 million.
- CURRICULAR DEVELOPMENT: In response to market research data and with an eye toward programs designed to meet the demands of the job market, Dr. Gibralter has led the development of a dozen new academic programs, including expanded graduate offerings and the first applied doctoral program. In addition, Dr. Gibralter and the faculty launched a course redesign initiative intended to remove classroom-based impediments to students’ persistence, analyzing gateway courses to better meet the remediation and educational needs of students. Since 2006, the university increased first-year to sophomore retention from 67% to 78%, and six-year graduation rates from 42% to 49%.
- SUSTAINABILITY: Dr. Gibralter aligned the university with the issues of climate change and sustainability. He was a charter signatory and member of the 2011-2012 steering committee of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, received the Climate Leadership Award, and opened a Sustainable Energy Research Facility in the business center park at the university (the only off-grid center for research and development of renewable technologies in the region).
- FISCAL MANAGEMENT: At Frostburg, Dr. Gibralter is recognized as a hands-on budget manager with strong fiscal acumen. In developing a more viable foundation of financial stability he has diversified revenue streams by increasing grants and sponsored research opportunities, growing enrollment, and developing a steady and predictable source of philanthropy, while holding tuition increases to a minimum and closely monitoring spending and hiring practices.
- CAMPUS IMPROVEMENTS: Matching construction priorities with academic, co-curricular and community needs, Dr. Gibralter secured the funding and built a Center for Communications and Information Technology ($70 million); renovated the student center ($21 million); improved the Allegany Business Center Park at the university, including a 50,000 square foot business incubator ($2.5 million); athletic stadium improvements ($5 million); and residence hall renovations ($7 million).
- STUDENT LIFE: With student safety as his guiding principle, Dr. Gibralter has led efforts to address the issue of high-risk drinking by developing a community-based, multi-faceted approach with his administration and key off-campus constituents. He serves as the co-chair of the College Presidents Working Group of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and is a member of the governing board of the Maryland High Risk Drinking Consortium. He was honored with a $50,0000 national Presidential Leadership Award from Outside the Classroom, The Gordie Foundation and a group of seven major higher education organizations for his leadership in fighting dangerous drinking with which he created an endowment to fund alcohol education programs. As a result of his advocacy efforts, Frostburg has reduced high-risk drinking by 25% over five years and received additional funding from the NCAA.
- TOWN/GOWN COMMUNITY BUILDING: Dr. Gibralter holds frequent campus and community dialogues and has initiated annual days of “caring and sharing” where students work in the community. The university works closely with law enforcement and city officials, and received a number of collaborative grants/funding. In addition, Dr. Gibralter serves on several community boards in support of Frostburg, and in 2012 the Allegany Chamber of Commerce honored him for his “long standing dedication to the community.”
- INSTITUTIONAL VISIBILITY: A nationally-recognized expert and “thought leader” on issues of sustainability and efforts to curb binge drinking and promote responsible behavior on college campuses, Dr. Gibralter is regularly sought out by the media as an effective leader on these efforts, and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and conferences, and has provided expert testimony for the Department of Education and Congress. Dr. Gibralter is the Maryland delegate to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Council of State Representatives and serves on its sustainability and professional development committees.
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.