UConn names first woman president

Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia, was named Monday the University of Connecticut’s next president – the first woman to hold the job since the university was founded nearly 130 years ago.

herbst, susan, 12-20-10

Incoming UConn president Susan Herbst at the announcement of her appointment, with Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and Gov. M. Jodi Rell

At a news conference following her appointment, Herbst called UConn’s presidency her “dream job.”

UConn “is the envy of the nation… All eyes are on this state,” she said. She particularly cited the $1.4 billion in state funding UConn has received since 1996 for facilities improvement.

Although the position is not a gubernatorial appointment, Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and outgoing Gov. M. Jodi Rell helped select Herbst. Malloy said she is the “best person” for the job.

Those who selected her called her enthusiastic, funny, and the obvious choice.

“The first thing I told everyone after the first time I met her was, ‘I am a fan. We need her at UConn,'” said Jack Clausen, chairman of the faculty and staff organization at UConn and member of the search committee.

The decision to name Herbst as UConn’s next president comes almost seven months after former President Michael Hogan surprised university and state officials by announcing he was leaving after just three years.

When asked how long she intends to stay at UConn, Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh wrapped his arm around Herbst’s shoulder and said, “She better stick around.”

Laughing at the gesture, Herbst promised to stay for the long haul.

Also unlike Hogan, Herbst is planning to live in the official president’s residence at UConn. Hogan had refused, saying that despite a recent $1 million renovation, the building had mold that aggravated his wife’s allergies. UConn rented him another house for $49,000 a year.

Herbst’s base salary will be $500,000.

Herbst comes to UConn from a much larger institution. The University System of Georgia has 311,000 students–10 times UConn’s enrollment–and a $6.3 billion budget compared with UConn’s $1.03 billion budget.

In addition to her administrative work at USG, Herbst is a professor of public policy at Georgia Tech, where her research has focused on public opinion, mass media, and the nature of policy-making in the United States. She had written extensively on political interactions-experience that may be useful as she tries to protect the $233 million UConn receives from the state each year.

“Civility and incivility are both timeless strategic rhetorical weapons. Some people are better at using these tools than others, to achieve their goals,” she wrote in an article in Inside Higher Education in Oct. 2009.

Malloy said he plans to work closely with Herbst and that UConn is a priority for his administration.

“I don’t doubt that we will be able to support this university at a level that is appropriate,” he said, but stopped short of promising the university would be guarded from cuts in state funding. The state is facing a deficit as much as $3.67 billion.

Herbst and her two brothers grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, where her father was an engineer and mother was an elementary school teacher. Her brother Jeffrey Herbst is currently the president of Colgate University in New York.

“It seems I am always two steps behind him,” she joked after the press conference.

Her husband, Doug Hughes, is a marketing consultant. They have two high school-age children.

Herbst has also been professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University; dean of liberal arts at Temple University, and provost at the State University of New York in Albany.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke University, a doctorate in communication theory from the University of Southern California.

When she starts work July 15, Herbst will join a small pool of women presidents nationwide. The American Council on Education, an association of university presidents and chancellors, reports that just 14 percent of doctorate-granting universities and 23 percent of all colleges in 2006 had a women president.

Officials from UConn said the applicant pool for the job was very diverse and contained numerous women.

But Clausen said while he is glad the university finally named a woman, he’s not sure it matters.

“I just want someone that can lead this university. I have no doubt she can and will do just that,” he said.