Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Mark Gearan returns to Hobart & William Smith Colleges as president

Editor’s Note from Mike Nozzolio, Chairman, LOCATE Finger Lakes:
LOCATE Finger Lakes is pleased to share this exciting news report from The Finger Lakes Times. We are incredibly happy to welcome our dear friends Mark and Mary Gearan back to Hobart & William Smith Colleges, the City of Geneva and the entire Finger Lakes region. We were blessed by Mark and Mary’s presence, saddened by their departure about 5 years ago and ecstatic that they are once again locating in the Finger Lakes. All our best wishes.

Everything old is new again. At least at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

In a surprising development on Tuesday, the Colleges announced that former President Mark Gearan will be returning to his old job at HWS ahead of the fall semester.

Gearan is taking over from Joyce Jacobsen, the Colleges’ first female leader, who resigned Monday after serving three years as president. She is joining the HWS faculty.

Gearan was president from 1999-2017 before taking a position at his alma mater, Harvard University, where he served as president in residence at the Graduate School of Education. In 2018, he was appointed director of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The HWS Board of Trustees said they are thrilled to have Gearan lead the Colleges again.

“There is no one more qualified to lead Hobart and William Smith into our next 200 years than Mark,” wrote Craig Stine and Vice Chair Cassandra Naylor Brooks in a letter to the HWS community. “He has the experience, aptitude, passion and creativity to make a tremendous difference, and is committed to our future.”

Jacobsen, a renowned economics scholar, said the decision to step down from the presidency was not acrimonious and that she had been feeling the pull toward teaching on a full-time basis for several years.

“I’ve always been a bit ambivalent as an administrator,” said Jacobsen, who noted that like many, the pandemic made her re-evaluate her life and career.

She said she will be taking a fall sabbatical to finish some projects, including another book, and will join the HWS faculty as a professor of economics in the spring semester.

Gearan said he and his wife, Mary, are happy to return to the place where they lived, raised daughters Kathleen and Madeleine and still have many friends.

“It’s very much an honor to return to a special place,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “This is a decision to follow my heart.”

Gearan admits he didn’t envision a return to the city and campus where he spent nearly two decades.

“I was very comfortable with my decision at the time (to leave),” he said. “I always thought of it as a joyful, meaningful time in my life, but lives have chapters. … This is a new chapter.”

Gearan noted that his connection with the Colleges continued even after he took a position at Harvard. Kathleen graduated from HWS in 2021, and her time there gave him a new appreciation for the quality of education the Colleges provide.

“I return with an enhanced perspective,” he said.

Gearan emphasized that he sees his second tenure at HWS as a “multi-year commitment.”

He expects to be on campus in mid-August when students return and looks forward to greeting them with his wife.

“This is unexpected, but welcomed,” Gearan said.

In a press release issued by the Colleges, Gearan lauded the work of Jacobsen, “who has led the Colleges through a very challenging time in American higher education, and who has done so with vision, intelligence and empathy.”

HWS noted that as president, Jacobsen “oversaw the three largest fundraising years in the Colleges’ history, developed a strategic vision and a plan to make that vision a reality, and successfully navigated the pandemic, allowing the Colleges to remain open for in-person instruction. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities in New York, where she chaired that organization’s Audit and Compensation Committee, and was a member of the NCAA Division III Presidents Advisory Group.”

Stine lauded Jacobsen’s contributions.

“I had a highly effective and productive partnership with Joyce and look forward to celebrating her many accomplishments,” he said. “We have been very fortunate to benefit from her leadership that resulted in record-breaking fundraising years, an impressive array of new masters and undergraduate programs, and new athletics opportunities. Joyce dedicated herself wholly to her work while also maintaining an aggressive schedule of research and writing, including teaching a class on campus in the spring. The board is pleased that she will remain in our community as a valued faculty member.”

Gearan’s 18-year tenure saw the Colleges’ endowment double, including a capital campaign that raised $205 million to improve facilities and expand academic scholarships.

Mary Gearan was active in the Geneva community during their previous service and has continued to serve on the Board of Happiness House, Finger Lakes Cerebral Palsy Association. At Harvard, she received the John R. Marquand Award recognizing excellence and dedication in the mentoring and guidance of undergraduates. The Gearans served as interim faculty deans at Winthrop House, one of 12 undergraduate houses on campus at Harvard.

Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, praised Gearan’s contributions.

“Mark Gearan is one of the finest higher education leaders in the nation,” he said. “Extraordinarily wise and unfailingly kind, Mark leads with his head and heart. Among his numerous talents is his ability to bring people of different perspectives and voices together to solve challenging problems. At Harvard, Mark and Mary were extraordinary faculty deans and community citizens. It’s a testament to Mark and Mary and the wisdom of Hobart and William Smith Colleges that the Gearans are welcomed home again.”

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