Dean Schneider to Leave Ursinus: Announcement Raises Questions for Many Faculty Members

After six years as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Mark Schneider will step down from his position on June 30, 2023. Schneider, who was appointed by former President Brock Blomberg, is known around campus for his commitment to the liberal arts, preserving Ursinus’ campus life and safety during the pandemic, helping to craft the Diversity Action Resource Team (DART), and of course, his bow ties.

Schneider’s exit is being lamented by many faculty members, some of whom fear the departure may signal a potential break from Ursinus’ commitment to the liberal arts. President Robyn Hannigan said the development “does not reflect a deviation from our core mission in any way.”

The February 22 faculty meeting where Schneider announced his departure was disappointing for many faculty. Dr. Jennifer Fleeger of the MCS department said the news was “devastating.” Dr. Robert Dawley of the Biology department recounted, “one faculty member after another [spoke] in praise of Dean Schneider . . . with each heartfelt speech followed by prolonged, deafening applause . . . I’ve never seen anything like it in my 34 years at the college.”

Some faculty members expressed concern about Ursinus’ identity as a liberal arts institution without Schneider’s presence. Dr. Sheryl Goodman of MCS explained that Schneider dedicated his time at Ursinus to “our distinctive approach to liberal education” and “recogniz[ing] how CIE has deeply affected students and faculty, creating a true intellectual community. I can’t imagine another dean having such an understanding,” Goodman said.

Dr. Beth Bailey of Biology commented, “I think we have something really special here, and I fear that without Dean Schneider’s leadership we are at risk of losing it.”

Fleeger spoke about Schneider’s dedication to Ursinus’s core curriculum, which she said
is “a set of questions and approaches that we feel harnesses intellectual curiosity and ethical thinking.” She explained, “Dean Schneider embodies that process. Academic deans often have to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, and as a result, they’re not typically universally respected by the faculty the way Dean Schneider is. He’s made hard choices and faced pushback. But it’s a testament to his intellect and compassion that he was able to listen to all our voices and attain our trust. The outpouring of support for him is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Schneider leaving, these faculty said, made them concerned about whether Hannigan’s vision for Ursinus will still honor the authentic liberal arts education to which Schneider was so dedicated. In particular, several were upset about a statement Hannigan made that Ursinus is “no different” from other liberal arts colleges. Dawley said the development, “followed by President Hannigan’s declaration … makes me fear that [Hannigan] fails to understand the kind of liberating education we offer students, and that she will not sustain our commitment to it.”

Asked to comment on the exit, Hannigan stated, “these sorts of transitions are normal as a leadership person.” She stated that she had “conversations with Mark about where the college is going under my leadership and what we need to do to get there.” She said, “this is not
a negative thing. This is a smooth transition,” and pointed out that Schneider is staying until the end of June as proof.

Hannigan said she is aware that some professors are questioning her devotion to liberal education, and that she is committed to finding another dean who is “grounded in the liberal education tradition.” She explained that the search committee for Schneider’s replacement will consist of seven to eight faculty members, two vice presidents, and two staff members. A national search service will be utilized to find candidates, and then the committee will select four or five to bring to campus and interview. After they select their top candidates, they will present their finalists to Hannigan, who will make the final selection.

As for her remark about Ursinus being “no different” from other liberal arts colleges, Hannigan said that she was talking about what liberal arts schools “believe” about themselves – not that Ursinus is no different from other schools, but that many schools believe they are distinct.

Hannigan acknowledged that “there is no question” the faculty “hold Mark in high regard.” She went on, “I am passionately committed to [the] Quest. I am committed to liberal education. This is not reflective of my intent to harm the faculty or departments. It is truly what I believe to be ultimately the best thing for the college as I look to the work we had to do for the future.”

When asked for comment, Dean Schneider said, “it will be hard to leave Ursinus, but I am committed to doing everything I can over my remaining few months as dean to make for a smooth transition in the Dean’s Office and to help position Academic Affairs and the college for success in the coming years.”

Marie Sykes