West Chester U.'s president to step down

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Greg R. Weisenstein is joined by his wife, Sandra, at West Chester University. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/Staff Photographer)

Greg R. Weisenstein, who presided over a 20 percent enrollment increase during his seven-year tenure as president of West Chester University, says he will retire as of March 31.

Weisenstein, 68, was choked with emotion as he announced his departure to 650 faculty, staff, and students at the annual State of the University address. The audience stood and applauded.

He said in an interview this week that he plans to "pursue some other opportunities," perhaps in higher education.

"It's a good time for a presidential transition," he said, noting the school's growth and improvement in college rankings. "Sandra [his wife] and I have been thinking about this for some time. We wanted the time to be right for the university and for us."

The announcement comes about three months after the state system's Board of Governors voted to extend Weisenstein's contract through June 2018. The university expects to launch a search for a replacement.

Under his watch, West Chester, with 16,600 students, has become the largest - and one of the most competitive - universities in the 14-school state system of higher education.

The university's incoming freshmen have had the highest average SAT score of any state system school, this year about 1100 in reading and math, Weisenstein said. This fall, more than 14,000 students applied for a freshman class of 2,395. Incoming freshmen had an average GPA of 3.6.

The school also has added doctoral degrees, begun offering programs in Center City Philadelphia, increased full-time tenured faculty by 23 percent, and reached two-thirds of its $50 million fund-raising goal. The university has built new residence halls and athletic fields and upgraded a dozen buildings.

"In the time he's been on board, he's kind of let the secret out about West Chester University, of its greatness," said Thomas Fillippo, a meat processing-plant owner from Malvern who chairs the Council of Trustees.

Weisenstein also has had to contend with controversy, including a lawsuit filed by its former chief budgeting officer, alleging the school falsely reported deficits to get more state funding.

Because the university accumulated savings, it had to borrow less, and that means savings in financing costs - $50 million over the next 25 years, he estimated.

West Chester also took some heat in 2014 when officials said they were interested in exploring the possibility of withdrawing from the cash-strapped state system. That's no longer a consideration, Weisenstein said, noting the system's willingness to grant universities more autonomy.

"I don't see us any time in the future under anybody else's leadership considering moving out of the state system," he said.

And, the school had been under pressure - as have many universities - to improve its response to complaints of sexual assault and harassment. This fall, it rolled out Green Dot Etc., a violence-prevention program that encourages bystanders to intervene.

"He did a fair job of steering us through difficult times," said Mark Rimple, a music professor and president of the faculty union, noting declining state funding and pressure to keep tuition costs down. "But it's probably time to move on."

The university under Weisenstein's watch has added partnerships and increased global ties: The school said it has cooperative agreements with more than a dozen foreign universities and partnerships with more than 100 corporations.

Last month, he led a group of state university presidents on a trip to Cuba, looking to foster student and faculty exchanges, research collaboration, and other partnerships.

Weisenstein said he hopes the effort will bring more Cubans to West Chester and allow West Chester students to study there.

ssnyder@phillynews.com

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