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Dr. Wendy Libby named Stetson University's ninth president
Choice expected to give Stetson national prominence
posted Nov 13, 2008 - 3:11:09pm
Stetson University has named Dr. Wendy B. Libby as its ninth president.
At the announcement ceremony today in DeLand, the school's leaders said Libby has the right academic credentials, the vision and the heart for the job.
Since 2003, Libby has been president of Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., a women's college that had been in financial decline before she took its helm.
During her tenure, Stephens' undergraduate population increased by 72 percent, and the school turned around its multi-million-dollar deficit.
Libby said it was the people of Stetson University who convinced her to come to DeLand.
She finally decided to accept the post, she said, on Nov. 4, after a full day of touring Stetson's four campuses across the state, and meeting many members of the faculty, staff and student body.
"It's always the people that really make the difference," she said.
Stetson President H. Douglas Lee and Board of Trustees Chairman Nestor de Armas said Libby's appointment will bring Stetson "instant national prominence" because of her academic credentials and accomplishments.
She will be the university's first woman president.
In his prayer to close the welcoming ceremony in Stetson's Elizabeth Hall Chapel, university Chaplain Michael Fronk said, "Go, this day, with hope, and know that God is saying, 'You go, girl!'"
In an interview afterward, Lee noted Libby made a risky move in leaving her job in the top leadership of wealthy and stable Furman University in Greenville, S.C., to assume her first college presidency at Stephens, which was in need of rescue.
"And she did, she saved that school," Lee said. "She's taken enormous risks in her life and in her career, and succeeded. Really, she's just the perfect person to come to Stetson."
Lee is credited with stabilizing Stetson University's finances during his 21-year tenure. He and other university officials are now looking to Libby to build on that stability to help Stetson reach its next level of growth.
"She is going to be able to lead us to a place that we've not been before," said Stetson Associate Dean of the School of Music Noel Painter, a member of the presidential-search team.
He and fellow search-team member Monique Forte, a professor of management in Stetson's School of Business, agreed Libby's strength goes beyond her ability to rally people around a vision.
"She's proven her ability to implement and execute a vision," Forte said.
They both agreed she will foster greater unity among Stetson's four campuses, in DeLand, Celebration, Tampa and Gulfport.
Libby, 57, was not seeking the Stetson University post. She didn't apply.
"What you learn in this presidential-search process is, your very best candidates don't apply," de Armas told members of the news media who gathered to interview him, Lee and Libby.
Rather, Stetson wooed Libby over several months after she was nominated for the job by a member of the search team.
De Armas said he was impressed by his own interview with the chairman of the Stephens College board of trustees.
"She's beloved at Stephens," he said. "She's beloved there."
Stephens officials, he said, are grateful to Libby for putting their college in a position of strength, and are prepared to face their future without her.
After Lee announced his intention to retire two years ago, the Stetson team first spent about a year researching presidential searches and structuring theirs. The search committee then nominated 75 candidates a year ago, then winnowed the list to 12, then three.
The selection of Libby was made Thursday, Nov. 6.
At noon today, Lee and De Armas introduced her to a standing-room-only audience in the Elizabeth Hall Chapel. Excitement was electric in the air, as the students, faculty and staff gave Libby a thunderous welcoming applause.
"To me, this represents the change, the future, where we're going," said Victoria Longo, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees at Stetson before going to work for the school in admissions.
De Yarmas told the crowd it was Libby's commitment to, and love for, Stetson's values that made her the top choice among the three exceptional finalists.
"She has a really strong heart," he said.
Libby earned her Doctor of Educational Administration at the University of Connecticut in 1994, her master's from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1977, and her undergraduate degree from Cornell in 1972.
De Armas credited "Stetson's outstanding reputation and faculty reputation" for helping attract Libby.
To the Stetson students, he said, "You were our ace in the hole."
Outgoing President Lee said he and his wife Margaret trusted the search committee's choice completely and enthusiastically.
Libby thanked Lee, de Armas and the Stetson University community.
"To all those who are part of her, we will work together," Libby said.
She called Stetson's faith traditions and values a "rudder in this complicated world."
Libby said she and her husband of 23 years, Dr. Richard M. Libby, a retired college president, are thrilled to become part of the Stetson family.
It was her "favorite cousin," retired attorney Martin Firestone of DeLand, who did some backstage recruiting to bring Libby to Stetson, she said.
Lee said, "Wendy, to me, is the perfect choice to lead Stetson. We pledge we will stand united to help her."
Libby will take the helm at Stetson effective in the first week of July. Doug and Margaret Lee will move from the Stetson University President's Home in late December, to a new home in DeLand.
Dr. James Beasley, Stetson's senior vice president, will assume the presidential duties as needed during the transition period, Lee said.
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