Chairman of Wittenberg’s Board of Directors Thomas J. Murray announced in an email sent on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at about 5 p.m. that Laurie Joyner would be leaving her post as president of Wittenberg University as of Friday, Nov. 6.
The statement – which was sent from the email account of Interim Provost Mary Jo Zembar to students, faculty and staff – did not specify a reason or terms for the departure. However, the statement did praise Joyner’s work in balancing the university’s budget. The end of Murray’s statement indicated that there is no timetable for the search for Joyner’s replacement to begin.
Junior Class President Megan Bobbitt also praised Joyner’s tenure at Wittenberg: “I think President Joyner was an incredible asset to this university in a time of financial turmoil, and her work as president should be remembered as nothing less than that. In her three years, she decreased the university’s debt by $5 million.”
Joyner has been serving as the university’s president since her election on July 1, 2012, and was the school’s first female president.
While rumors of a potential departure did surface in the faculty meeting earlier this week, according to Provost Mary Jo Zembar the senior staff was not aware of Joyner’s potential departure until just before Wednesday’s email: “We experienced it similar to you [the students],” she said.
While unexpected, Zembar expressed Joyner’s departure is part of a trend in more mobility for higher education administrators: “It’s not unusual for leadership to move on, not necessarily this abruptly or perhaps of this unanticipated, but you move through presidents; that’s part of being a faculty member . . . It’s rare for anyone to see a president for more than five to seven years. Gone are the days where somebody is here for decades.”
Joyner declined comment to the Torch, but did say in a statement to the Springfield News Sun: “I have been honored to work with talented students and caring colleagues on the faculty and staff, and have particularly enjoyed providing leadership development opportunities throughout the university community.”
Yet no media outlet has reported a reason for Joyner’s sudden departure.
Murray described the departure: “It was a collaboration between Dr. Joyner and the Board. Dr. Joyner said even when she came to the university, she thought she’d be here for five years. She had a job to do, and then the entire place would probably be ready for a different leader.
And you know, she and I even talked in the spring. We had such a good Board meeting in May and discussions, and she said, ‘wow, we landed here in three years.’ And I think the next six months just kind of played that out. It was very mutual. We have nothing but respect and appreciation. Dr. Joyner came in, showed Wittenberg a different reality from the outside, steered the ship a bit different way and now it’s time.”
Joyner’s tenure was not without controversy. Her December 2012 decisions to switch housekeeping contracts sparked protests by students and faculty. Her administrative team saw a great deal of turnover, and just this month, 53 members of the faculty sent a letter voicing concern over the recent wave of high profile departures.
Looking forward, the process to find an interim president has not yet begun, but Zembar reassured that the day-to-day operations of the university will continue uninterrupted.
“There is a vacuum, but not at a level that would affect [students] faculty or staff, and certainly not in a short period of time,” Zembar said.
Murray echoed those sentiments, and added: “I’m sure we’ll have an interim . . . this will probably be plus or minus Thanksgiving to Christmas – four to eight weeks – that I think our senior team will take that load, but then we’ll look to have an interim after that, whether that be someone the faculty recommends [or] a retired president from another university. The Board is very open to how the community wants to fill that funnel of candidates, and then we select who would come in and be that interim.”
There will be an all-campus gathering on Thursday, Nov. 12, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Weaver Chapel, with an additional video feed and overflow seating available in the HPER Center and live-streaming online for those who cannot attend.