Ohio University trustees tap Louisville's Lori Stewart Gonzalez as its next president
After months of searching, Ohio University has officially named its next president.
Lori Stewart Gonzalez — executive vice president and provost of the University of Louisville — will serve as Ohio University's 23rd president.
Gonzalez, , who is also the first woman to lead the university, was unanimously approved by Ohio University's Board of Trustees on Wednesday afternoon during a special board session.
Higher education is at an inflection point, said Ohio University Board Chair Peggy Viehwegger, which made finding the perfect candidate for OU's next president of the utmost importance.
Viehwegger said Gonzalez stood out as a leader with "broad and deep academic experience" and brings an "authentic and open communication style" that university stakeholders said was a priority.
"I'm really honored and looking forward to meeting with you to listen carefully about the culture so that together we can raise the institution to be higher than it is," Gonzalez told those in attendance Wednesday.
Gonzalez said her priorities are threefold coming into Ohio University: student success, firm financials and taking care of its people.
But of first importance is getting to know Athens and Athens getting to know her, she said.
"One thing you'll get from me is a president that is all in," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is set to officially begin her presidency July 1.
Who is Lori Stewart Gonzalez?
Gonzalez was first hired at the University of Louisville in December 2020 as its provost and executive vice president. In April 2021, a few months into her new job as special assistant to the president that February, Gonzalez was promoted to interim president when the university's former leader, Neeli Bendapudi, unexpectedly left for the top job at Penn State University.
Before coming to the University of Louisville, Gonzalez was the vice chancellor for academic, faculty and student affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
Gonzalez received her bachelor's from the University of Kentucky in speech-pathology and audiology, a master's in communication disorders from Eastern Kentucky University and a doctorate in communication disorders from the University of Florida. She worked in the field before beginning a career in academia at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1988.
In 1991, Gonzalez returned to the University of Kentucky as an assistant professor in the communication sciences and disorders program. She spent 20 years at the university on the faculty, ultimately becoming associate dean of academic affairs. In 2005, she became dean of the College of Health Sciences, serving in that role for seven years.
She later served as provost and executive vice chancellor at Appalachian State University and as special advisor to the senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina General Administration, the state's public higher education authority.
Gonzalez ruffled feathers during her short tenure as University of Louisville's interim president.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal, she sparked controversy last January by threatening to discipline faculty who didn’t return to full-time classroom instruction. The university backed off after more than 500 faculty, staff, students, parents and community members signed a petition denouncing the decision, saying it was insensitive to those at risk of COVID.
Gonzalez told the Courier Journal at the time that the move was made out of respect for students, whose grades and mental health had struggled throughout the pandemic.
Appalachian upbringing drew Gonzalez to Ohio University
The roots of Appalachia run deep in Gonzalez's veins, she said Wednesday.
A Kentucky native, all of Gonzalez's career in academia has been at institutions located in Appalachia. Current Ohio University President Hugh Sherman said finding someone who is committed to and understands the region was a priority in selecting the school's next leader.
Gonzalez told the campus community at a forum earlier this month that her upbringing in the foothills of Appalachian Kentucky was something that drew her to Ohio University.
Ohio University and the University of Louisville are both public research universities of comparable size — about 27,600 students and 22,600 students respectively.
Although southeastern Ohio is distinct from eastern Kentucky, Gonzalez said the mission in educating its students is the same.
"It's more important that we think about how we protect our region, that we can make sure the young people have a bright future and that we help students from all around that world have a bright future by coming here," she said.
Ohio University's presidential search ends after six months
The university's board of trustees has been searching for OU's next president in earnest since September. After months of work, the search committee announced the names of its top three finalists in late February and candidates visited Athens earlier this month for campus visits and community forums.
Ohio University has been in a state of transition since May 2021 when former Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis announced he would step down.
Two weeks after Nellis' announcement, Hugh Sherman, former dean of OU's College of Business, agreed to serve as an interim president. Shortly after, he agreed to serve a two-year appointment as the university's 22nd president beginning in June 2021 while officials conducted a search for a more permanent replacement.
Although Sherman has made a number of strides in his short tenure, he made clear from the beginning that he had no intentions to be Ohio University's long-term leader.
Ohio University Board Chair Peggy Viehwegger thanked Sherman for his service to the university for coming out of retirement and getting OU on stable financial footing during this transition. Those in attendance applauded Sherman, who was at Wednesday's announcement.
Sheridan Hendrix is a higher education reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. Sign up for her Mobile Newsroom newsletter here and Extra Credit, her education newsletter, here.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio University names Lori Stewart Gonzalez as its next president