MOUNT PLEASANT — Iowa Wesleyan University President Steve Titus will remain as president emeritus and adviser to his successor Christine Plunkett through 2020 as the university moves forward into a presumed partnership with Saint Leo University in St. Leo, Fla.
Iowa Wesleyan’s presumed partnership with Saint Leo was announced during a news conference April 30, where Titus was hopeful for a definitive agreement to be signed by May 30.
While that date has come and gone, school officials think an agreement should be finalized before the fall semester begins. Titus hopes to see the agreement signed before he retires July 31. Plunkett will take over as president Aug. 1.
“No matter how we qualify it, people hang on to dates,” Titus said. “If we don’t meet that day, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, something’s wrong.’ We just want people to know this is new territory in higher education. This is a complex process. It’s new to all the parties involved.”
“We said from the get-go this is not a done deal, and both parties remain extremely excited and optimistic and are moving through the process,” Titus said.
Titus said he informed the board of trustees in January that he would be retiring because he “didn’t want to stand in the way of any sort of partnership.”
Titus said his decision to step down as president also stemmed from commitment to family. His daughter will be a freshman in high school this fall, and he wanted to promise her she would start and finish high school in the same place. Titus and his family will be moving to Omaha, Neb.
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“It was this balance of moving the institution through this strategic endeavor and taking care of my family,” Titus said.
Titus had a five-year contract with Iowa Wesleyan that ended during summer 2018. He renewed his contract for the 2018-19 academic year, and said he is committed to the university through 2020 as president emeritus and an adviser to Plunkett. His new role will be “part time and as needed,” Titus said.
However, the role of president of Iowa Wesleyan will eventually cease to exist, Titus said.
Plunkett plans to act as president of Iowa Wesleyan for 12 to 18 months as the university integrates with a presumed partner. She has served as vice president for finance and treasurer of the university since 2015. She ultimately plans to return to New England, where she has a lot of family.
Plunkett said that while there no longer will be a president of Iowa Wesleyan, there will be an administrator. She thinks that whoever is appointed as administrator will not necessarily be someone brought in by their presumed partner.
“Saint Leo’s has indicated very much they want us to be autonomous,” Plunkett said. “I don’t see them having an interest in bringing their people in the way you might imagine when companies have acquisitions or mergers. It’s not really like that, but I think it’s too far down the road to know.”
Titus said it still is yet to be determined whether Iowa Wesleyan will continue to have a board of trustees.
“We’ll have more information once we get past the definitive agreement. We’ll have some clarity,” he said.
Plunkett said Iowa Wesleyan’s presumptive partnership with Saint Leo will continue the mission of serving international students and first-generation college students.
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Plunkett said that Saint Leo officials also have spoken about how they don’t have a football program, but come across a lot of students who are interested in attending Saint Leo and football.
“If this all comes through, they can say, ‘We have a campus for you where you can go play football in the Midwest,’” Plunkett said. “It’s the same with academic programs. They don’t have a nursing program, but we have a lot of strength in that. I think there will be a lot of ways to cross over between campuses.”
Plunkett said she is fortunate that Titus has done the “heavy lifting” for the past six years, and she is prepared to pick up where he leaves off and help implement the presumptive partnership.
The early pieces of the partnership were “smooth sailing,” as Titus and the president of Saint Leo worked together to move forward, Plunkett said. Now, they wait on attorneys, two boards of trustees and two different accrediting agencies.
“We’re continuing to work through the nature of the agreement and fully expect that it’s going to go smoothly and well,” Plunkett said. “All we can say is it’s continuing, and we will keep everyone updated through the summer as it proceeds.”