Embattled Stockton president, citing health, leaving immediately

Showboat-College
Stockton University president Herman Saatkamp stands in front of the Showboat Casino, once the proposed home of the Island Campus, in Atlantic City, N.J. ( Edward Lea / The Press of Atlantic City via AP )

In the latest whiplash-inducing turn of events at Stockton University, its outgoing president said Tuesday he is stepping down immediately rather than four months from now, as the school initially announced.

Herman J. Saatkamp Jr., amid controversy over his stymied attempt to locate a Stockton campus in the former Showboat casino in Atlantic City, announced last week that he would step down some time after Aug. 31. On Tuesday, he announced he was taking an immediate medical leave.

Harvey Kesselman, the university's provost, will become acting president.

"It has become increasingly evident recently that I need to deal with these health issues more immediately," Saatkamp said Tuesday in a news release. His April 22 resignation letter also had referenced "past and present health considerations" as one of his reasons for stepping down.

"It saddens me to have to leave this abruptly," Saatkamp said Tuesday, according to the news release, issued by the university.

The Stockton University board of trustees released a separate statement Tuesday accepting Saatkamp's decision to go on medical leave and saying Kesselman will serve until July 1, when he will leave to become president of the University of Southern Maine, a move he announced months ago.

Kesselman has long been associated with Stockton, from his days as an undergraduate student in the school's inaugural class, when he attended classes at the former Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City in 1971.

Over the last 35 years at Stockton, he has served as provost, dean of the education school, vice president for student affairs, and director of institutional research. Stockton is to hold a reception Wednesday afternoon in Kesselman's honor, the university said.

At the event, Kesselman will discuss Stockton's transition plan following Saatkamp's departure, the university said.

Kesselman is establishing three task forces, according to the trustees' statement, focused on shared governance, the search for an interim president, and "Atlantic City initiatives." The three committees will have representation from the trustees, administration, faculty, and staff, according to the statement.

The issue of shared governance has come to the fore in recent months, with Stockton faculty and staff alleging a lack of transparency in major university decisions.

Faculty and staff voted last week to condemn Saatkamp, with the majority declaring "no confidence" in him.

Stockton purchased the former Showboat casino property in December, planning to convert it into an Atlantic City "island campus" for thousands of students and effectively doubling its physical space. The move, faculty members said, was made without their input.

Last month, however, Stockton announced that the parent company of the Trump Taj Mahal casino next door to Showboat was seeking to block the conversion of the property, using a 1988 legal covenant to challenge the creation of the campus. Taj officials said they were concerned about drawing underage students to its gambling floors.

Florida developer Glenn Straub has since struck a purchase agreement with Stockton, under which the university has three months to try to resolve the legal issue or sell the building to him for $26 million.

Stockton bought the Showboat property for $18 million; the $26 million selling price includes costs of maintenance and renovation, school officials said.

The university has determined it will not be able to open the "island campus" this fall, a university spokeswoman said.


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