News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 23, 2007

SMWC hires first male president

Behrs will make history as first non-nun to lead college for women

TERRE HAUTE — David G. Behrs is making history at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Not only is he the first lay president, he also is the first male president.

“My head’s spinning,” Behrs, 47, said Monday after the college announced that he would become its 15th leader. “I’m so thrilled to have been selected. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful community there.”

He will begin his new duties July 1 and succeeds Sister Joan Lescinski.

Behrs currently serves as both the associate provost for university initiatives and the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Dominican University of California, 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He has more than 22 years of experience in higher education.

While the hiring of Behrs is breaking a longstanding tradition of women presidents, all of them nuns, “Our goal was to find the candidate with the best fit,” said Mary Barrett, president of the Woods’ board of trustees. “Behrs came out as a great fit.”

A Catholic, he embraces the college’s mission and is committed to a Catholic, liberal arts education, she said. He has a strong background in enrollment management and student life.

He received “rave reviews” from those who met him, she said. When his selection was announced Monday in the college library, “There was a big burst of applause.”

He was the unanimous choice of the board of trustees and Sisters of Providence General Council, Barrett said. His appointment required the approval of the General Council.

“I think we’re looking for really big things from him to take us into the future,” Barrett said. At the top of the list will be increasing both the enrollment and the endowment.

Breaking tradition and hiring a lay, male president was a difficult decision, said Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, which sponsors the college.

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