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Students react to departure of ‘in tune’ leader
Libby: New job is ‘capstone’ of career.

It took Stephens College President Wendy Libby about four months to come to terms with the prospect of leaving the private women’s college that is "so deeply entrenched" in the hearts of her and her husband, Richard, she said this morning.

Libby

Yesterday, Libby was named the first female president of Stetson University, a private co-educational college in Florida. Libby said she didn’t seek out a new job, but when she was approached by Stetson in June by a search committee, she had to consider it.

"I’m really excited at this opportunity," she said. "This really is a capstone presidency for my career. It took me quite a number of months to even think about the possibility of leaving Stephens and Columbia. Sometime in October, though, it became clear to me that if I were fortunate enough to get the offer, I should take it. Stephens has a very, very strong senior team and is well-positioned to be successful and strong."

The board of trustees at Stetson unanimously approved Libby’s appointment, and she will start her presidency there on July 1.

Libby’s term as Stephens president began in 2003, when the college faced a $3.8 million operating deficit and lagging enrollment figures. During her first months in office, Stephens launched a strategic planning initiative to restructure academic programs, increase enrollment and donations to the college, restore campus facilities and secure financial stability.

During Libby’s tenure, undergraduate residential enrollment has increased by 72 percent to 754 students, and the graduate and continuing studies course enrollment figures have increased by 150 percent. A financial model established in conjunction with the Renaissance Plan has helped reduce Stephens’ deficit, said Amy Gipson, vice president of marketing and public relations.

Stephens College faculty, staff and students found out about Libby’s departure yesterday morning. Some students said Libby’s ability to reach out to students will be her most-missed asset. Senior Kristin Parran said Libby is "very in tune" with students on campus and makes extra effort to connect with each of them.

Senior Kat Thomas, who also is the Student Government Association president, said Libby’s departure will be hard for students to accept because so many students have made connections with her.

"I’m really sad, but at the same time, I realized we can’t make a claim on a person," she said. "One of the things we learn here is that women have the right to go and be what they want to be with their career choices. It will be hard at first, but I think the student body will come around and realize this is good for her."

Campus officials will meet next week to plan a search committee to find Libby’s replacement, board of trustees Chairwoman George Ann Harding said. She hopes a replacement will be found by the time Libby departs in June.

Deb Duren, vice president of student services, sat on the search committee that selected Libby. She said most of the members of that committee are still on campus and will be an asset to the search because search ideas and goals already have been established.

"Wendy’s the third president that I’ve worked for, and she was stellar," she said. "There’s been no one that would compare to her in any way, shape or form. This is definitely a loss" for Stephens, "but she leaves the university well-positioned for the future."

Libby said she will miss being at a college that believes in the mission of a "women’s focused education."

"The faculty and staff at Stephens have been so resilient as we have moved through really tough times into being successful and recognized for our excellence," she said. "Those people who were flexible enough to rethink themselves and the institution are the ones that have really made us successful."


Reach Jenna Youngs at (573) 815-1733 or jyoungs@columbiatribune.com.


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