CHESTERTOWN — Wayne B. Powell, credited with turning around a financially strapped small, private liberal arts institution during a 14-year tenure at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, has been named the interim president of Washington College.
Powell’s hiring was announced in a news release Monday, culminating what was described as a comprehensive process that involved faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the Board of Visitors and Governors.
ABG Search, which specializes in all aspects of executive search exclusively for higher education institutions, assisted in the search. The firm is a subsidiary of the Association of Governing Boards, of which Washington College is a member.
Powell’s interim appointment is expected to last 18 to 24 months, according to the news release.
His first day is Sept. 1.
“It is a privilege to be able to work with the academic community at Washington College with its long and distinguished record of excellence,” Powell, 69, said in a prepared written statement. He added, “I look forward to serving with the many constituencies of the College as we jointly address the challenges and opportunities of this unusual and difficult time.”
Powell succeeds Kurt Landgraf, whose three-year contract at the end of June and was not renewed by the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors.
The board is looking to Powell to replicate some of his successes at Lenoir-Rhyne, where he balanced the budget every year after inheriting a deficit that ran for five years, according to his curriculum vitae.
During Powell’s tenure (2002-17), endowment grew from $39 million to nearly $100 million, and there was a change in cash flow of plus $3.2 million in four years, according to his CV.
Also, the student count increased from 1,400 to more than 2,500.
Steve Golding ’72, chairman of Washington’s Board of Visitors and Governors, issued this statement: “Over his tenure at Lenoir-Rhyne, Dr. Powell demonstrated strong financial management capabilities by turning deficit budgets into annual positive cashflows; the capacity to successfully fundraise by growing the University’s endowment by 120%; and an ability to attract and recruit future generations of students by building effective enrollment management operations that increased the size of Lenoir-Rhyne’s student body by almost 80%.”
At Lenoir-Rhyne, Powell is credited with taking a creative approach to growing enrollment, interweaving the foundations of the liberal arts with professional experiences that prepared well-rounded students for the job market.
During his tenure, Lenoir-Rhyne merged with the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, established graduate centers in Asheville and Columbia, N.C., and added online and distance learning programs. In addition to more than 50 majors offered on the main Hickory, N.C. campus, Lenoir-Rhyne now supports nearly 30 graduate programs in health sciences, human services, business administration and theological studies, according to the news release.
Powell had served for two years as vice president and dean of academic affairs at the small faith-based college before stepping into the role of president in 2002.
He is currently president emeritus.
As dean, he reorganized the administrative structure and conducted a college-wide curriculum review. He also launched and secured funding for a campus-wide diversity initiative that has since grown into the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute, which offers corporate training for professionals who want to advance equity in their communities.
A third-generation college professor, Powell earned a B.S. from Texas Lutheran College, an M.S. from Texas A&M and a Ph.D. from Tulane University — all in mathematics.
He and wife Joyce have three grown children, including a daughter who is a university professor.
Powell began his teaching career at the University of Kansas, then moved on to Oklahoma State University where he directed the graduate studies program in mathematics. As dean and associate dean of Oklahoma’s Graduate College from 1991 to 2000, Powell co-founded a coalition of educators dedicated to enhancing opportunities for minority high school students interested in science and mathematics, securing more than $1 million in funding for program development.
Heading toward retirement from Lenoir-Rhyne, Powell was praised by his peers as “a change agent” and “one of a kind,” according to the Hickory Daily Record.
In that same Dec. 11, 2016 article, Powell described himself as “a problem solver and someone who’s analytical.” His leadership style, he said, was marked by “a lot of patience and a lot of compassion, with a little vision and a sense of humor” thrown in.
In a July 9 letter expressing his interest in the position of interim president at Washington, Powell told the Board of Visitors and Governors that issues related to enrollment and financial management need to be addressed in order for the college to be adequately positioned for success in the future.
He also talked about the challenges posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that shuttered Washington College in March and led college officials last week to continue all-online instruction through the fall semester.
“I firmly believe that an open, engaged discussion among various constituents — faculty, students, community, alumni, and board members — can produce a plan to address the current issues with specific attention to the COVID-19 crisis and all the unknowns it presents,” Powell wrote in the letter. “We should be aware that given the uncertainties of the times, any plan must be flexible and quickly adjusted as the impact of the virus becomes more well defined.”
In the letter, Powell told the board that he believed the role of an interim president is to guide the various constituencies in developing a uniform agenda for achieving excellence. He said the interim president can and should provide insights from past experiences, serve as an independent and objective reviewer of ideas and dreams, and, most importantly, provide leadership.
According to the July 9 letter to the board, Powell’s goal as interim president would be “to lead the Washington College community in finding the wisdom and ideas that you already possess and to bring them to reality.”