With a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees, Jayne Marie Comstock was elected as the 10th president of Winthrop University Friday afternoon.
The Board, who went into executive session for a little over 30 minutes, returned to the Gold Room at 12:25 p.m. to make their announcement to the Winthrop community and press.
Before going into executive session, the board heard from four faculty members who expressed concerns about Comstock. While none of the faculty members expressed adamant concerns or endorsements for the other candidates, they did urge the board to be cautious in their decision.
Dr. Christopher Van Aller, a political science professor at Winthrop, was one of the four faculty members who addressed the board.
“I’m very concerned about the issue of academic freedom,” Van Aller said. “It’s very important that any criticism of the university administration is allowed to be aired and fully dealt with.” Van Aller, who has been at Winthrop for 22 years, thought that the board should recognize that there were other choices and shouldn’t rush a decision.
“I hope as we go through the years with the new administration there’s no pattern of intimidation of faculty or students as far as there’s criticism of the university,” said Van Aller.
Rachael Lilly, a junior elementary education major, said that she is also concerned about the new president because of the negative press that she has already gotten. She said that she does not want Comstock to turn the university into a joke with the national media.
“If one candidate stands out so negative already that says a lot about her character,” said Lilly.
Lilly is a transfer student who said that she came to Winthrop because of the national legacy that the university has already garnered. She said that she is most concerned about the continuing of the national reputation of the education program.
Lilly said that she saw a lot of negative social media immediately following the news that the board had voted in Comstock. “The fact that so many faculty members came to the board of trustees meeting and spoke out says a lot about how the Winthrop community feels,” Lilly said.
After the board returned from executive session and nominated Comstock for the presidency position, James Williamson Jr., the alumni representative to the board, said that all of the people who contacted him in regards to the search were in support of Comstock.
Andrea Agness graduated in May 2012 but still stays up to date with Winthrop current events. “I don’t know if I had reservations until the media got wind of the lawsuit,” Agness said in an email. “It was very concerning to see professors that I enjoyed having during college express their concerns about Comstock. I think that may be one of the hardest things for me right now.”
“Whatever our future is as a University, it’s going to come down to a lot of community support from the City and County, which I feel was a focus of DiGiorgio and should be for our new president,” said Agness in an email.
Agness was extremely involved on campus during her time at Winthrop. She served in two executive positions within her sorority, worked as a sports producer in the mass communication department and even contributed to The Johnsonian on occasion.
After the decision was announced, Comstock was called via Skype to be offered the presidential position by Winthrop Board Chair Dalton Floyd.
“So I am now authorized to officially offer you the opportunity to become the next president of Winthrop University. Do you accept?” Floyd asked.
Comstock replied by saying “’Yes. I am so very pleased to have been selected as the next president of Winthrop.”
Comstock, 55, said she is convinced that “building upon the great progress of President DiGiorgio, that the university can move to even greater accomplishments in the future.”
Currently on sabbatical from Butler University as a communications professor where she also served as provost and president for academic affairs, Comstock is also the director of the Executive Leadership Group for the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.
According to a university press release, Comstock is expected to schedule a return trip to Rock Hill in the near future to formalize the presidential agreement, once the S.C. Agency Head Salary Commission approves a salary for her. The board has recommended a state salary of $169,970, the release stated.
“Dr. Comstock over time simply emerged from the process as the best all-around candidate,“ Floyd said. “We were told from the outset by our search consultant that Winthrop would be viewed as a tremendous opportunity for someone with presidential aspirations, and that is exactly how we arrived at this day. This is a good match for Winthrop and a good match for her.”
The press release stated Comstock’s selection as president has led her to prepare for a family move to the on-campus President’s House. Her husband Larry A. Williamson and their 9-year-old Chesapeake retriever will accompany her.
“We should give the new president the benefit of the doubt,” Van Aller said. “Hopefully she learned that suing a blogger is not the way to do business.”