For a Campus That Balked at a Plunge Into Online Learning, a New Chief (CHE)

For a Campus That Balked at a Plunge Into Online Learning, a New Chief (CHE)

MARCH 27, 2016
Renaissance President

A university whose last president plunged it into online learning, and met with some reluctance, will be led next by an administrator who is a scholar of English Renaissance literature. Mary A. Papazian, who has led Southern Connecticut State University since 2012, will become president of San Jose State University on July 1.

While she was content at Southern Connecticut, Ms. Papazian says, the position in San Jose appealed to her for professional and personal reasons. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she went to the University of California in that city for baccalaureate through doctoral degrees. “I had hoped,” she said in late February, “to get back there before anything happened to my parents, but unfortunately I lost my mother two weeks ago, so it’s all a little bittersweet.”

In Connecticut, Ms. Papazian has won praise for projects involving student success, town-gown relations, and expansion of educational offerings, especially in such technical areas as cybersecurity. Her new campus, in Silicon Valley, serves about 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and is the oldest public institution of higher education in California.

She succeeds an interim president, Susan W. Martin, who in August replaced Mohammad H. Qayoumi. Now an infrastructure and technology adviser to the president of Afghanistan, Mr. Qayoumi antagonized faculty members by pushing faster than they liked on such changes as increased online delivery of courses.

Ms. Papazian is the editor of two books, the first about the poet John Donne, who navigated the treacherous waters of religious factionalism during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. She says she often cites to colleagues Donne’s sermon on advice found in the Gospel of Matthew: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

“It’s very apt,” she says. “We should be in this work for all the right reasons — it’s a great mission, it can be transformative — but we also recognize that we do live in a political environment, and you have to be thoughtful about that. Higher education has a particular culture around shared governance that requires patience to ensure inclusion, while at the same time you hope to move forward the broader campus community and the external partners.” — Peter Monaghan