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PC hires former professor, administrator as next president

Anita Olson Gustafson

A former professor and administrator at Presbyterian College is set to return to the school as its 20th president.

The PC Board of Trustees announced Tuesday morning that Anita Olson Gustafson has been named PC’s 20th and first female president. Gustafson will officially take office on Aug. 1. She succeeds Matthew vandenBerg, who departs PC July 1 to take over as president of Ohio Wesleyan University.

I am excited and honored to be returning to Presbyterian College as its next president,” Gustafson said in a release from the college. “PC is a special place, and I am eager to connect with faculty, staff, alumni and friends. I look forward to working with the entire PC community to implement the strategic plan and continue to move the college forward.”

Gustafson spent nearly 20 years at PC as a professor and administrator before leaving in 2016 for Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, where she is currently the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of history.

The hire was greeted by overwhelming support and excitement on PC’s social media pages.

Wonderful news! I love that a former professor is now leading the way,” wrote PC alumnus Paige Ellisor-Catoe.

What a fantastic and inspired choice,” wrote alum Wilson Kennedy. “Congratulations are in order to the search committee.”

At Mercer, Gustafson managed the university’s largest academic undergraduate college with nearly 2000 students and 40 academic programs. As dean, she collaborated consistently with the provost and deans from 11 other university programs, including the Schools of Law, Business, Engineering, Education, Theology, Professional Advancement, Music, Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, and Health Professions.

In 2018, she worked with faculty to develop and implement a strategic plan for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and has continued to monitor its progress in subsequent years.

Gustafson also oversaw all academic programming and worked with the provost, department chairs, and program directors at Mercer to manage budget targets.

During her earlier tenure at PC, Gustafson served as interim provost from 2010-2012, interim dean of academic programs from 2005-2007, and history department chair from 2000-2004 while also teaching history. She held a number of faculty leadership roles at PC as well, including chair of the Senior Faculty Council and chair of the PC Launch Program for Vocation, Leadership, and Service.

It is my honor to welcome Dr. Gustafson on behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire PC community,” said Ruth Roper, chair of the Board of Trustees. “She is a highly distinguished leader who not only has the experience and vision to lead PC in its next chapter but roots that already run deep here in Laurens County and amongst the entire PC community. I look forward to being part of this exciting transition.” 

Prior to her role at Mercer, Gustafson served on the faculty and administration at PC for nearly two decades. She will be the first female president in the college’s history.

Gustafson is a strong advocate for the transformational and practical value of a liberal arts education. She focuses her leadership on building community and working together across disciplinary boundaries, the release from PC read. Her teaching and scholarly interests include American immigration history, Swedish immigration and the history of American women.

Her hire ends a six-month-long search for the 20th president in PC’s 143-year history.

In the last six months, our search committee has been dialed in on the needs of our college, considering input from each other and the entire PC community,” said alumnus Brad Bryant, the chair of the presidential search committee. “The result of their dedication and comprehensive work is an outstanding incoming president who will make history as the first woman president. I look forward to helping welcome Anita back to Clinton in August.”

The committee worked with the executive search firm CarterBaldwin to identify and recommend a candidate.

Gustafson earned her doctorate and master’s degrees in history from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She holds a bachelor’s degree with majors in economics and Swedish and a minor in history from North Park University in Chicago. She and her husband, Charles, have one son, Karl, who is a graduate student in global sustainability at the University of Helsinki, Finland. 

Chaplain and dean of spiritual life Rev. Buz Wilcoxon will serve as the acting president starting July 1 until Gustafson assumes her new post on Aug. 1.

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