The Board of Trustees announced the retirement of President Paul Hennigan, effective in the summer of 2021, in an email to the university community on the morning of Monday, Oct. 5.
“I am honored to have worked with so many talented people affiliated with Point Park over the past 20 years,” Hennigan said in a statement to the Board of Trustees. “Together we have built so much that has influenced the lives of so many. The summer of 2021 will be a perfect time for new leadership at Point Park. Hopefully, the world will be out of the worst of the pandemic and it will be good for a new leader with new ideas and new energy to work with the University community to develop the next vision and strategic plan for Point Park University. It should be an exciting opportunity for the University to help define a new era for higher education.”
“We know this year will present significant pandemic-related challenges for higher education and our University,” Chairman of the Board, Joe Greco, said in the email. “The Board is confident in Dr. Hennigan’s ability to continue to lead the University during this difficult time.”
The announcement of Hennigan’s departure follows after the current Provost, John Pearson, announced in February of the Spring 2020 semester he would be departing from the university. Both Hennigan and Pearson are set to retire in the summer of 2021.
“Our two top leaders vacating at the same time will present challenges, but it also can be an exciting opportunity,” Matt Pascal, the head of the faculty assembly, said.
Student Government Association (SGA) President Dennis McDermott is part of the search committee for the new provost and said that he hopes that students can be just as involved, if not more so, in the hiring process for a new president. He said the news of Hennigan’s retirement did come as a surprise, but that he expects the university to smoothly handle the transition of two major administrative positions.
“Of course it’s a concern. I mean I don’t anticipate any department of the university or any leg or branch or any part of university not being concerned about the president and the provost both being vacant in the positions, but I wouldn’t even go as far to say ‘vacant’ because John Pearson will continue to fill his position until we have hired someone new,” McDermott said. “That transition, that is going to be like zero days without a provost is my understanding of the situation. And I don’t anticipate Paul Hennigan completely washing his hands of the university at this point. He’s definitely going to help out with the transition, I would imagine.”
The Board of Trustees stated that Hennigan has agreed to consult with the board on “a number of strategic initiatives, including the presidential transition, community relations, alumni engagement and fundraising,” following his retirement.
According to the Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee of the Board has selected the search firm WittKieffer as its search consultant as it looks to find a new university president in time for the Fall 2021 semester.
WittKieffer describes itself on its website as “a global executive search firm with 50 years of experience serving organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life,” and as “industry experts skilled at creating tailored solutions that suit each of our clients, and our depth of experience includes work with both market leaders and market disruptors.”
“Personally, I feel as though this is a great change for the University,” Frank Smith, a sophomore broadcast production and media management major, said. “I mean this in no disrespect to President Hennigan. A change of presidency could potentially help students and administration build a better relationship with one another. I just hope the Board of Trustees can find a candidate that understands and listens to our students and finds someone to lead Point Park in a better and more inclusive direction.”
Since the summer, McDermott has been routinely meeting with President Hennigan. According to McDermott, Hennigan has been very helpful in providing resources when needed and resolving pertinent issues.
McDermott noted that the relationship that had been built between himself and President Hennigan would be lost with his departure from the university, but McDermott is optimistic about the university finding a candidate that will address student concerns.
“I would just really like them to be student-centered, and that’s all I can really ask for,” McDermott said. “Just having the student body’s interests in mind, having diversity and inclusion at the forefront of their thoughts and just kind of recovering from the financial situation we’re in right now at Point Park. And I’m sure all of those are at the forefront of the university’s mind in the new hiring process.”
Alumnus Ian Brady, a mass communication major who graduated in 2019, also expressed his desire for a new president to address diversity and inclusion, finances and to be more “in touch” with students. Brady is vocal with his criticism of how President Hennigan has led the university. He has sent multiple emails to the administration citing “embarrassment” he has felt with their actions under Hennigan’s leadership.
“I am hopeful that they use him leaving as an opportunity to reevaluate the way a university president best functions,” Brady said.
Brady stated that he would like to see a president be more “in touch” with the student body.
“I felt like while I was there, Paul Hennigan was so out of touch and making so much money, and I don’t have the actual figure, but I am to understand that it was at one point over $400,000, and that blows my mind,” Brady said.
According to Point Park’s 990 Tax Form from 2018, President Hennigan’s “reportable compensation from the organization” was $547,859, with an “estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations” of $158,064. Based on the information provided in the 990 form, in total, Hennigan was compensated $705,923 in 2018.
“To his defense, this is something that I think is broadly an issue with university presidents,” Brady said. “They are the top tier, eating cheese, drinking wine and sending emails that somebody else wrote from them, and so it’s like, I can certainly lay blame on him for not breaking that mold, but the mold did exist, it has existed, so my hope is we come out of it, and we’re going to need somebody, I think especially willing to listen to students’ concerns.”
“Financially, I think that’s the number one thing that’s going to be on the minds of the university, and I think a big part of that, which hopefully the university will consider, is the students are the number one contributors to those finances,” McDermott said. “They really need to appeal to and hear the…concerns and what the students would like to see implemented, otherwise I could always see that financial situation worsening. Universities across the country are experiencing decreased enrollment, decreased on-campus living. They really need to come and get our students right now during this pandemic and provide something to make them feel it’s going to be safe, they can feel Point Park University is the right place to be. So we can’t even begin to recover from this pandemic, you need the students there before you can even start the recovery.”
“I don’t think Paul Hennigan was not only not solving the problem, I think he was actively ignoring it,” Brady said. “And for him it’s not a problem obviously because he’s not paying it, but also because he’s making an exuberant—like a sinful amount of money every year. And so it’s like, in his mind…he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a student paying this type of money or a parent paying this type of money because even this type of money to him is such [a] small amount.”
President Hennigan was unable to provide further comment at this time.