Illinois Wesleyan University President Eric Jensen has announced his retirement after serving in the role less than four years.
Jensen’s last day in office is Friday.
"My contract was coming up and we have a new board chair (Timothy Szerlong)," Jensen explained. "We had a real chance to make a purposeful choice about the next few years. These are going to be the exciting years."
Szerlong said Jensen, 63, decided it would be best for the university to have a “continuity of leadership” and a single “face” of the university as it implements a new strategic plan.
"I certainly think that some of the work that we will be doing has at least a five-year look in terms of building some new things, activating those new things and creating new opportunities," Szerlong said. “Upon careful reflection, Eric felt he would not be able to make that commitment."
Jensen indicated while his tenure may have been relativelty short-lived, he suspects that could become the trend in higher education.
"I think it's because it's a very difficult environment that colleges and universities face," Jensen said. "It's a conversation I will have with other presidents about the day-to-day difficulties that are involved with running a modern university."
IWU added five new majors and six new minors during Jensen's presidency as ways to boost enrollment. It also added a new Esports program and McLean County scholarship program which guarantees county residents $27,000 in scholarships annually.
Enrollment grew sharply during the 2018-19 school year, adding about 540 new students, after a steep decline in new students the year before. Jensen said early projections indicate IWU will likely end up with close to 470 incoming students, which would mirror the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years.
Szerlong credited Jensen's efforts to expand student diversity on campus. Domestic diversity increased 72 percent during Jensen's tenure, while the 2018-19 class was the most diverse in school history.
"(He) created a more inclusive environment, bringing on a more diverse student body. We made some real progress and headway in that regard," Szerlong said.
The university has also been navigating some financial challenges as it recently trimmed $1.1 million from its budget through a series of maneuvers, including an early retirement incentive for faculty and staff.
Jensen’s predecessor, former IWU President Richard Wilson, will serve as acting president while the university conducts a national search for his replacement.
The university plans to name an interim president to serve for the 2019-20 academic year. Szerlong said the university hopes to name a permanent successor by next summer to begin serving during the 2020-21 academic year.
Szerlong explained the university will be looking for an educator with a track record of leadership and someone who can be a "thoughtful agent of continuing change, continuing to drive growth for the university."
Szerlong, of Lake Forest, was elected chair of the IWU Board of Trustees on Wednesday. He’s been on the board since 2011.
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