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Gannon president stepping down; search initiated

Published: 08/26/2022

Gannon University President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., welcomes students and their guests at First Year Arrival Day, a Gannon tradition that engages current students and employees in moving new students into their residence halls.

Gannon University President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., welcomes students and their guests at First Year Arrival Day, a Gannon tradition that engages current students and employees in moving new students into their residence halls.

Keith Taylor, Ph.D., Gannon University’s seventh president, announced Friday he will step down next June.

Highly regarded for his personal touch, Taylor announced his decision during a community meeting with staff and faculty, and in a letter to Gannon students and colleagues.

“The opening of a new academic year is always a time of transition and opportunity to take stock in our journey to this place in time and to look forward to what adventures lie ahead,” he said. “This year will be a particularly special one of transition for me as I will step down as president on June 30, 2023.”

When that happens, Taylor will have been at Gannon for 18 years – six as provost and 12 as president.

“You have inspired me to listen, learn and expand my perspectives,” he told those gathered, as he tried to explain a few of the ways the university has transformed him through the years and to share his appreciation to colleagues, the Board of Trustees, and the students whom he has shared in this Gannon community with for nearly two decades.

“It is you who make Gannon the exceptional university it has been, it is, and the one it is becoming,” he said. “Our students provide incredible energy, passion and hope that keeps us going. The faculty bring innovation, initiative and dedication to their teaching, scholarly work and their engagement with our students and communities we serve. Our staff and administration have tirelessly and selflessly shown their creativity, resilience and dedication through what has been a tumultuous time in our world. Our trustees, alumni and partners have been steadfast in their leadership and support every step along this tremendous journey.

“I could not be more proud than I am today to be part of this university,” he said.

Driving forward-thinking development of Gannon’s academic and campus infrastructure.

Taylor’s announcement comes as the university is expecting one of its largest-ever incoming classes and a record enrollment at a time when many universities are facing challenges, and as a new residence hall opens in Erie and an expansion project is completed at Gannon’s Ruskin, Fla., campus.

These achievements are only the latest in a long string for the university during Taylor’s tenure, said Most. Rev. Lawrence Persico, J.C.L., Bishop of the Diocese of Erie and chairman of Gannon’s Board of Trustees.

“Dr. Taylor has advanced the university with so many projects – some moved us by leaps and bounds,” Persico said. “I am grateful for all he’s done for Gannon, and I am confident the momentum will continue.”

Those projects amounted to about $157 million in new buildings and renovations – including North Hall, the Recreation and Wellness Center, and Nash Library in Erie – and a second campus in Ruskin, Fla.

Those projects also yielded several new academic programs. At the time of Taylor’s inauguration in November 2011, there were three doctoral, 17 master’s, 57 bachelor’s and eight associate degree programs. Today, there are six doctoral, 29 master’s, 67 bachelor’s and six associate degree programs as well as 20 cooperative professional school options.

Those projects yielded tremendous gains in philanthropy, too. During Taylor’s tenure, Gannon’s endowment doubled to a high of $83.5 million and he successfully closed the Vision 2020 campaign, which raised $67.5 million. Gannon’s current campaign, Believe. Inspire. Transform. Gannon’s Next Century, has secured $72.1 million toward its $100 million goal.

Serving our communities to advance educational, interpersonal and economic growth.

Those projects also expanded Gannon’s involvement in the community through several efforts, including Erie GAINS, Our West Bayfront, St. Joseph House and – more recently – through investing in and supporting the Erie Downtown Development Corp.

“What impresses me about Dr. Taylor is his integrity, his dedication and his drive to better the Gannon community,” Persico said. “He’s not only focused on university life – the programs and the faculty, for instance – but on the university’s role in the community. Gannon is a better partner in the community because of him.”

Taylor has distinguished himself through his willingness to engage directly with the work of the university, from handcrafting and painting the wooden storage benches now used in St. Joseph House to pulling weeds and fixing fences alongside students during several of Gannon’s annual GIVE days.

He also has engaged directly with students through his years at Gannon. Frequently he can be found wandering the university, stopping to chat with students or colleagues, having lunch in the dining hall and watching sports – particularly the wrestling teams. Each year he has accompanied students on weeklong Alternative Break Service Trips, working beside them in a range of locations, from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Ecuador.

Creating a campus environment that inspires transformation.

On campus, he has redefined the culture of the university. “Gannon family,” “humble, hungry, smart” and “transforming lives” are part of Gannon’s lexicon because of his relentless drive to differentiate the Gannon experience for students as well as employees from other schools and workplaces. The “Wildly Important Goals” and his personal belief in transparency and engagement have contributed not only to growing enrollment but also to the university being named a “Best College to Work For.”

Bishop Persico has watched this approach for more than 10 years.

“Dr. Taylor is the type of person who sets a pace and then everyone else has to follow that pace,” he said. “I found him to be a hard worker in his role as president.”

Taylor is also a friend, the Bishop said.

On a personal level, “I found him helpful when I became the chairman of the Board of Trustees (in October 2012). He has been a good mentor, a good collaborator,” Persico said.

He added, “Dr. Taylor has set the stage for the university’s next step. By his mentoring, coaching and assembling a strong team, Gannon is ready to move forward.”

The search for Gannon’s next president.

Taylor’s decision was not a surprise to the Board of Trustees. His transition coincides with the end of a seven-year presidential contract, and Taylor and board members have been discussing succession planning for several months.

A Leadership Transition Committee made up of members representing each part of the Gannon community -- students, trustees, faculty, staff and alumni -- was created earlier this year and has already been at work developing a plan to select a new president. A search firm has been retained to assist the board and the committee with this work. The committee will gather information and make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

The committee is being led by Tina Donikowski ’85, a Gannon trustee and Retired Vice President, GE Transportation Systems. She outlined the process at Friday’s community meeting.

Next week and in September, the committee will engage the Gannon community in exploring the university’s current and future needs, and will endeavor to define the desirable characteristics, traits, experience, skills and talents of an individual who would best serve to meet the needs of the university as its next president. This will be accomplished through a variety of mechanisms including a campus survey, focus groups and open campus forum sessions, as well as targeted interviews with trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni and community members.

The first step will be a survey that will be distributed by email by early September.

The results of all that work will be consolidated into a position profile and distributed to the campus community and to the Board of Trustees to serve as the foundation for the next steps in the process, she said.

This is where the Board’s previous work on succession planning will merge with the selection process.

“In October, this position profile will be used to vet Dr. Walter Iwanenko as a candidate to be Gannon’s next president,” Donikowski said. “The Board of Trustees supports him as a candidate to be considered and interviewed by the Leadership Transition Committee and the entire Gannon community to determine his fit for this critically important role.”

Iwanenko, who was hired as vice president of Academic Affairs in 2016 and who became provost in 2020, was identified by Taylor and the board as a potential successor months ago, and he has expressed an interest in the position. Iwanenko will complete the application and campus-wide interview process as would be the case in a typical search process.

The results of that interview process will be analyzed, and a recommendation of the committee will be delivered to the full Board of Trustees for their consideration by the end of October.

Should the board vote at that special meeting of the trustees be to appoint Iwanenko as Gannon’s next president beginning July 1, 2023, the community will be notified and a national search for his successor as provost and vice president for student experience will begin immediately, she explained. Otherwise, the committee will launch a national search to be completed for the board to appoint a new president still by July 1, 2023.

“This process reflects the strong planning and thoughtful decision making of Gannon’s trustees as well as the respect the trustees, and we believe the Gannon community, has for ensuring a legitimate, authentic, open and intensive process,” Donikowski said. “It also reflects intentionally and respectfully exploring a strong internal candidate in Dr. Iwanenko and moving forward as appropriate with his appointment or the further exploration of other candidates as the process may reveal.”

As for Taylor, Friday’s announcement reflects his desire to shift his attention and energy.

What’s next for President Taylor.

Taylor, 58, is not retiring, and he is not leaving Gannon entirely. He plans to take a year-long sabbatical and then will return to Gannon in a different role in support of the next president. That role is not fully defined at the moment as it will be resolved in consultation with the board, the new president and Taylor’s wife, Mary Jean.

Also intentionally unresolved is his plan for the months after stepping down. Travel, tennis, golf and spending time with his wife and their four children – three of whom live out of town – are what he’s committed to so far.

“He’s not the retiring type,” said Donikowski, who has known Taylor for many years.

He is already developing ideas for what that next role at Gannon could be. For now, though, most of his attention is on the year ahead – in part for him, but mostly for Gannon.

“We have a lot of work to do and there are many things I want to see through,” he said. “Having a smooth transition is important for the university. There are so many other priorities, too – and those start with this incoming class that just arrived and all our returning students. We must be focused on transforming their lives just as they and everyone here continue to transform mine.”


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