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New president tasked with taking Millersville into future

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John M. Anderson, president of Millersville University, assumed duties April 1. Photo/Submitted
John M. Anderson, president of Millersville University, assumed duties April 1. Photo/Submitted

Millersville University is at a crossroads: It has a new president, and leaders have charged him with transforming the university to meet the future.

John M. Anderson assumed his presidential duties April 1 and has been busy meeting people, biking around campus and jumping into the transformation project.

A former chemistry and physics professor, Anderson came to MU after five years as president of Alfred State College, a New York state institution that is about half the size of Millersville and focused on STEM. During his time there, Alfred lost nearly a third of its state funding but saw enrollment grow by 22 percent.

Anderson sat down with the Business Journal last week to talk about where MU is headed.

Q: What is your first priority at Millersville?

A: Preparing for a university-wide strategic planning process. There's been a great deal of work done recently by a variety of groups representing all of the university in what have been referred to as transformation teams. They should be concluding their work the end of this semester and preparing final reports over the summer.

Recently the senior leadership of the campus had a little mini retreat and talked about strategic enrollment planning and developed a lot of questions about the future of the university in the context of a lot of shifting sand in terms of the markets that are out there; the emerging market in higher education, primarily the adult student market; the innovations in technology to be able to deliver your academic program in different modalities; the whole issue of access and affordability.

In the fall we'll prepare the committees, take up the reports and prepare a very focused discussion of where the university is going to be going so we can create some vision and excitement about Millersville in the next five to 10 years.

We will no longer use the moniker "regional university." We are a comprehensive university, and we're going to expand our reputation beyond the region.

Looking back, what was the single most important thing you did at Alfred?

We created what I think will be a hallmark and a model in higher education, a student leadership institute. At Alfred, we had over 90 student groups. We challenged them to develop a proposal of how they would use their group, whether it was the nursing club or the Tae Kwon Do club or whatever it was, to develop a civic engagement project that would have certain learning outcomes associated with it. The 14 best proposals got leadership suites in the new $33.5 million student leadership center that will open this fall.

They get a two-year lease, and at the end of the first year they are assessed. If they are on track to make progress, they are allowed to continue; if they aren't, they can possibly lose their lease and another club come in.

Is that something you would be interested in replicating here?

I have to be very careful of not saying, "Well, this is what we did." MU has its own character and culture and it's great, so I'm here to understand that. Anything I can add to make it better, improve it, I certainly will, so yes, we'll be having those conversations, but it may not work here. There's already a great civic engagement initiative here through the Civic & Community Engagement & Research Project.

One of the big questions that your predecessor said you would face is how big MU should be. What are your thoughts on that?

Number is a very, very complicated equation. Traditional, transfer, adult, online, graduate — the number of students could stay the same but who they are change totally. We could keep the physical plant the same size but double size online. We're doing a $180 million residence hall replacement project, but how fast we put those up can be adjusted based on how many we need.

We'll have a lot better idea of what's happening as time goes on.

Any ideas yet of how you might be planning to engage the business community here?

It's multiple strategies.

We just started an entrepreneurial minor that is funded, partially, by a local businessman, Pete Slaugh. I have had conversations with Pete about how that's going to work. I can see an art major taking that — a music major, a computer science major — and learning from a local business and finding it helpful in a career.

Maybe a business incubator. I was surprised that we didn't have one with the size of the university and size of the business community. The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry is 3 miles down the road. We've been talking to them about how we can work together.

An owner concerned about the future of her local business came to us recently — the students are looking at her business, trying to help her. It's a couple hundred employees on the line.

We're an asset to the business world. We're thinking and talking through how can we accent that and help our students get the experience that will replicate what they will face once they graduate.

About John M. Anderson

Age: 61

Family: Wife, Vivien, and two grown daughters

Education: Ph.D. in education, Cornell University; master’s in physics, SUNY Geneseo; bachelor’s in physics, SUNY Brockport; associate in math and science, Westchester Community College

Hobbies: Playing guitar and fly fishing

What he wants the community to know about him: “I’m a frustrated musician but will never give up trying, and I don’t take myself too seriously.”

“I am a firm believer that public higher education is the ultimate equalizer in society.”

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