Less than two weeks after a decisive victory in the Republican primary for Nebraska’s open U.S. Senate seat, Midland University President Ben Sasse has announced he will step down at the end of the year as the university’s top administrator.
Sasse submitted his letter of resignation to Midland’s Board of Directors at its May 16 meeting, said Board Chairman Gary Perkins.
Regardless of whether or not Sasse wins the senate seat, he will move on from Midland after Dec. 31.
Sasse said he decided to submit his resignation now rather than wait until after November’s general election in order to provide an orderly transition for Midland University.
“What I came to do on the turnaround project has been accomplished. Obviously there may be different plans in the works for me after November," Sasse said. “There’s nothing presumptuous on my side about what happens in November, but whatever happens I don’t want Midland to be left in a situation where it has only six weeks to plan for a leadership change when college searches usually take a good six months.”
Sasse, whose grandfather, Elmer Sasse, spent 33 years at Midland mostly as its vice president of finance, said his deep ties to the university made his decision to resign all the more difficult.
“I’ve loved these five years. The five years we’ve had at Midland have been so special, and the ability to work with our faculty and alumni and staff to rebuild the university has been incredibly gratifying,” he said. “It’s very hard to think about moving on, but I’m excited about Midland’s future. I think its brightest days are ahead of it.”
Sasse arrived at Midland to find a university on the brink of bankruptcy, focused more on survival than creating growth.
During his time at Midland, the university experienced rapid growth from 590 students to about 1,300 students. Sasse successfully oversaw a number of pro-growth projects during his tenure, including the acquisition of the former Dana College campus in Blair, increased academic rigor, a rapid expansion of its athletic department and Midland’s four-year graduation guarantee.
Sasse, a Fremont native, returned to his hometown in 2009 to become then Midland Lutheran College’s president-elect. Following a rebranding of the college as Midland University, Sasse was officially installed as Midland’s 15th president in December 2010.
Prior to returning to Fremont, Sasse served in the Bush Administration, first as chief of staff for the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and then as assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services.
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After graduating from Fremont High School, Sasse attended Harvard, Oxford and St. John’s before earning a Ph.D. from Yale. In addition to teaching at the University of Texas, Sasse also served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
Perkins said the board is in the process of hiring an outside search firm to help the university select its next president. The committee will search nationwide for an individual capable of continuing to advance the university.
“Filling Ben’s shoes is going to be a difficult one, but we’re going to look for someone who can engage all of the stakeholders: the students, the faculty, the community donors – so we’re going to look at someone who has some of the same traits that Ben has,” Perkins said. “Someone who can represent the university very well among its constituencies.
“Ben has brought kind of a different talent to higher education, and that’s what I would consider an entrepreneurial type of flavor, and we certainly don’t want to lose that at a time when we’re seeing higher education go through the evolution with the changes in using media for educational purposes,” he added. “We want to be sure that we have someone who is very energetic, we want someone who is also very visionary for how to position us for the future.”
Ideally, Perkins said,the board will have a candidate hired before the end of the year, but no later than the end of next summer.
As university officials continue to work on capitalizing on the acquisition of the former Dana College campus, Perkins said it’s not unreasonable to anticipate Sasse’s departure might slow that process.
“I would say that with this change in leadership it’s probably fairly reasonable to think that there may be a little bit of a slowdown in that process, or a little bit of taking a break here until we get new leadership on board to really continue to advance that,” he said. “The board’s commitment is to find the right person to continue that positive momentum and continue to have the university thrive.”
In his time at Midland, Perkins said Sasse was able to create a unique culture of commitment to student involvement and supporting student success in learning.
“Ben really came to Midland probably at one of its darkest hours in at least the immediate history of the university,” he said. “I think that we really experienced a lot of great years since he’s arrived. I think Ben has helped us really move the institution to a new model of how to support and provide guidance to fulfill what he helped us put in place – and that’s a four-year graduation guarantee.
“I think people will look back and they’ll view Ben’s time as an exciting time, a time of very positive change and I’m very hopeful that in a decade people will say that it was only the beginning of a very bright future that set Midland University on the right path for success in the future.”