Another top Chatham official departing

Debra Erdley
| Monday, May 12, 2014, 12:22 p.m.

Chatham University officials say shake-ups in its executive offices in the days surrounding the school's vote to admit men to its undergraduate women's college are typical seasonal job shifts — even though all are leaving sooner than the national average for such executives.

The university, which voted May 1 to become coed in part to counter rising costs and declining enrollment, on Monday announced the departure of a third senior academic officer in two weeks.

David Hassenzahl, dean of the highly touted Falk School of Sustainability, will leave July 1 after four years to become dean of the College of Natural Sciences at California State University, Chico. Chatham officials said Hassenzahl told the university in November of his intent to leave.

School officials announced on April 29 that Karol Dean, dean of the undergraduate college of women, and on Thursday that Wenying Xu, Chatham's chief academic officer, would leave to accept positions at larger schools. Both were at Chatham for two years.

Of the three departing, none served at least 6.1 years. That's what the American Council on Education found was the average term of senior academic officers at four-year colleges in the United States in a 2012 survey.

In announcing Hassenzahl's departure, Chatham said it hired Thomas Stevick as vice president of university advancement. Stevick, who held a similar position at Eastern Michigan University, is the fourth person to become Chatham's top fundraiser since 2010.

Despite the turnover in the office, Chatham spokesman Bill Campbell said the private school raised nearly $75 million of its $100 million capital campaign goal and received the largest gift in its history during that period.

He discounted assertions of some alumnae that Chatham has experienced high staff turnover.

“The end of the school year across higher ed often brings with it changes in position as faculty and staff move on to other opportunities at other institutions. Chatham is no different, in this respect, at this time of the year,” Campbell said.

Seton Hill University in Greensburg lost no senior administrators as it transitioned to coed status in 2002, Barbara Hinkle said.

Hinkle, Seton Hill registrar and vice president for administration, said the late JoAnne Boyle, who steered the school through the transition, worked hard to engage the Seton Hill community in advance of the move.

“At the time, there were no changes,” Hinkle said, adding that there have been some “natural attritions of leadership” in the past 12 years.

Campbell said most of Chatham's senior leadership team has been with the school an average of six years — a figure in line with the council study — and the average length of service for 106 full-time faculty members is about 6.5 years.

Chatham President Esther Barazzone has guided the school for 22 years, compared with the 7.1 years the 2012 study found was the average for college presidents.

Hassenzahl, who joined Chatham in 2010 and helped shepherd plans for its Eden Hall campus in Richland, a keystone of the School of Sustainability, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xu and Dean said they supported Chatham trustees' decision to admit men to the undergraduate school.

Xu called Chatham “a reputable and financially solid institution whose outstanding faculty is deeply dedicated to educating and supporting our students.”

The school is among a small number that are eliminating academic tenure. In an advertisement for Hassenzahl's replacement, Chatham said 13 of its full-time faculty members are on “capstone five-year contracts, which have been replacing tenure.”

In an email announcing Hassenzahl's departure, Barazzone wrote optimistically of the school's plans to reorganize academic units and prepare for male undergraduates in fall 2015.

“This transition is an opportunity for new ideas, directions and leadership from those already part of or who will join our community in helping chart this exciting way forward for our institution,” Barazzone said.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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