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Jensen retiring as IWU president; Wilson named acting president

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Former IWU President Richard Wilson, whom Jensen succeeded in 2015, will serve as acting president until an interim president is named later this summer, the university said.

A national search will be conducted with the intent of having a new president in place by the beginning of fall 2020.

In announcing Jensen's departure, board of trustees Chair Timothy Szerlong said, “Eric has left a lasting imprint on the university, with many significant accomplishments that have changed IWU for the better.”

In an interview Friday, Jensen said that under the terms of his multiyear contract agreed when he was hired, now was the time for a discussion of what was to come next.

“I love this place. ... I will miss the people,” Jensen said, but as he is about to turn 64, Jensen concluded he couldn't make the commitment needed to see the upcoming strategic planning process through. 

Work on that plan and its implementation is expected to take place over the next four to five years, and the board felt it was important to have someone who could “not only help us build that strategy but implement it,” Szerlong said Friday.

“Eric has done some great things,” said Szerlong, who was elected chair May 21 and has been on the board since 2011. “Eric is a real agent for change.”

Among accomplishments during Jensen's time as president were the introduction of five new majors and six new minors, increased diversity, a realigned admissions and marketing program and new branding for the university.

However, IWU, like many universities — both public and private — has been struggling with enrollment in recent years. Fall enrollment was 1,693, up from 1,649 the previous year. But as recently as 2015, overall enrollment was 1,842.

In March, the university offered a voluntary retirement incentive program and announce plans to merge some academic departments and reduce visiting faculty positions in an effort to find $1.1 million in budget savings for fiscal 2020. Jensen said Friday that 19 people voluntarily retired.

“In the world of higher education, … there is no more status quo,” said Jensen.

Szerlong said: “Any time an organization goes through changes, that raises a lot of questions in people's minds. Changes bring anxiety.”

But Szerlong said, “There's no cause for anxiety. This is a natural progression for the university. We have a great foundation and are on a good course.”

After a disappointing enrollment drop shortly after Jensen became president, the admissions and marketing program was realigned and the university had one of its largest incoming classes last fall, noted Szerlong.

That incoming class also was its most diverse.

“He has been a strong champion of diversity,” Szerlong said of Jensen. “He created strong culture of inclusion.”

Jensen said he is proud of the renewed focus on curriculum innovation with an emphasis on IWU's ability to provide education on “a personal, intimate scale.”

Praising the faculty and staff, Jensen said, “In some ways, it's what everyone else has done around me that I'm most proud of.”

He added, “I have confidence in the momentum this university has.”

Jensen has worked on partnerships with Illinois State University and Heartland Community College, including collaboration on a NexSTEM project.

“We want to continue partnership, particularly with Heartland,” said Jensen. “We see Heartland as a valuable pathway for transfers.”

Heartland President Keith Cornille asid Friday: “I am sorry to see President Jensen stepping away from Illinois Wesleyan University. Heartland and IWU have always had a very strong partnership and our transfer students have benefited from Dr. Jensen’s leadership. … We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with IWU in the future.”

ISU President Larry Dietz said: “President Jensen has been a good colleague and a strong supporter of higher education in the Bloomington-Normal area. I wish him the best in his retirement.”

Jensen said “town-gown partnerships” also are “huge,” citing the Small Business Development Center at IWU as an example.

Zach Dietmeier, vice president of marketing and communications for the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said, "We have enjoyed his presence on the EDC board of directors as he brought a thoughtful and innovative approach to improving outreach to area students through IWU’s McLean County Scholarship and collaborative STEM scholarship program with ISU and Heartland.”

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, who also is an IWU political science professor, wished Jensen well and said that as mayor, he hopes Jensen's successor is “someone who helps Wesleyan's financial base; helps with recruitment of students, which is really critical; and provides the leadership Wesleyan needs to thrive in the early 21st century.”

PHOTOS: IWU President Eric Jensen

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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

Derek Beigh contributed to this report.

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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