Transylvania University hires a new president

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Seamus Carey, a dean at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., was named the 26th president of Transylvania University on Monday.

Carey, who leads the College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart, will start July 1. He succeeds Owen Williams, who joined Transylvania in 2010 but received a vote of no confidence from the faculty last summer.

"Dr. Carey was chosen from a strong pool of candidates because of his dedication to the liberal arts and his academic and administrative experience, first as a philosophy professor and most recently as dean," said William T. Young Jr., chairman of Transylvania's board of trustees.

Carey was selected by the board after a week of campus forums during which four finalists met with the Transylvania community. Faculty, students, staff and alumni were invited to question each candidate and offer observations in an online survey.

The other three finalists were former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson; Michelle Johnston, senior vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala.; and Thomas Minar, vice president of development and alumni relations at American University in Washington, D.C.

"I am honored to receive this appointment," Carey said in a news release from Transy. "I look forward to joining the Transylvania community."

The news release said that, as dean at Sacred Heart, Carey designed a performing-arts minor and the Great Challenges curriculum of interdisciplinary minors: civic engagement; civil society and the common good; ecology and the global community; equality, wealth and philanthropy; and scientific literacy for the 21st century.

He also developed a four-year faculty hiring plan that created 15 faculty positions, financed by increased retention of first-year students.

Transylvania, a liberal arts college of 1,100 students in downtown Lexington, was founded in 1780. In 2010, Williams was chosen to replace Charles Shearer, who had led the school for 27 years.

Williams, a former Wall Street banker who returned to school for a doctorate in history, brought an ambitious agenda to Transy, including a larger, more diverse student body and property acquisition, such as new playing fields that recently opened on Fourth Street. Transy also recently announced plans to build two new dormitories on campus.

Williams, however, had problems interacting with faculty, who complained about his leadership style. After he rejected a faculty recommendation for a professor's tenure, the faculty voted 68-7 to express no confidence in Williams' leadership. The next day, the board of trustees held a unanimous vote of confidence for the president.

In June, Williams announced he would leave at the end of this academic year, and the board convened a search committee.

Carey will come from a much larger school than Transy. At Sacred Heart, he supervises 121 full-time faculty, 18 department chairs and eight graduate program directors. Sacred Heart has 3,600 undergraduate and 650 graduate students, and an annual budget of $25,825,000.

Responding to emailed questions from the Herald-Leader, Carey said Monday that he would use his transition period when he arrives in July to learn as much as he can about the school and the current strategic plan.

"I like much of what is in the strategic plan," he wrote. "It seems like a good place to start conversations about what should be done."

Carey said he needed to learn more about the problems of the past four years.

"I need to learn more about what has transpired," he said. "I will do a lot of listening before making decisions. Again, the transition period should help in this regard."

Carey lives with his wife, Noreen, and three children in Pelham Manor, N.Y.

Gary Cox, president of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, said Carey was well-qualified to take Transy's helm.

"His educational background and experience are very compatible with Transylvania's history and mission," Cox said.

Transy professor Ben Hawkins said he was pleased to hear a new president had been named.

"I think everyone here is eager to establish a positive working relationship with Dr. Carey in order to continue to move Transylvania forward," he said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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