By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University President Thomas K. Harden said Tuesday he and his wife, Cathy, have mixed feelings about his decision to leave the university to become the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay at the conclusion of the school year.
The move is still pending the approval of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, but Harden, a native of Middleton, Ohio, has already tendered his resignation from Clayton State, the University System of Georgia announced.
He will remain CSU's chief through the end of the spring semester, which culminates with the May 9 spring commencement ceremony. Harden will take over Wisconsin-Green Bay around June 1, the ninth anniversary of when he took over Clayton State.
"We have conflicting emotions about this," said Harden, about himself and his wife. "On the one hand, we really like Clayton State University. It's a fantastic institution and the people here are great, but opportunities come up sometimes that you feel you've got to accept, and this was one of those opportunities.
"The university [Wisconsin-Green Bay] expects to grow a lot in the coming years, and they are in a very exciting area," Harden added.
Wisconsin's board of regents will hold a special meeting on Jan. 16 to vote on the recommendation, said David Giroux, a spokesman for the UWS. He also said the chances are good Harden will be approved, because Clayton State's president has the approval of the UWS' president, Kevin P. Reilly, and the regents who sat on the Wisconsin-Green Bay search committee.
If approved, Harden will replace Bruce Shepard, who stepped down from the Wisconsin university in April to take over a university in Washington state. Harden does not plan to attend the meeting.
"His [Harden's] demonstrated commitment to increasing retention and graduation rates, expanding campus diversity, and building stronger connections with the larger community support and fortify our ongoing commitment to excellence," said Reilly in a statement.
Harden said the process moved "fairly quickly." He said he did not remember when he was notified by a search firm that he was being nominated for the Wisconsin-Green Bay position, but he and his wife began researching the area shortly thereafter.
Harden visited Wisconsin-Green Bay's campus and met with university officials on Dec. 10 -- a day before Clayton State's fall semester commencement ceremony, said Giroux.
Harden said he was impressed by the school's "good curriculum" and "good, strong faculty." He traveled back to Wisconsin on Dec. 19, for interviews with UWS President Reilly and members of the regents search committee in Madison, Wisc.
University System of Georgia Spokesman John Vanchella said Georgia's board of regents has not yet determined when it will address replacing Harden. He added that a presidential search can take four to eight months to complete.
Vanchella said preliminary discussions could possibly begin on Jan. 13, when the regents hold their first meeting of 2009.
The regents' search committee chairperson will work with USG Executive Vice-Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Susan Herbst to select a campus search committee comprised of Clayton State faculty and staff members; students; officials from the Clayton State University Foundation, and community members.
The campus search committee will deal with the early stages of the presidential search, and will submit three to five names to another search committee, comprised of five regents. The regents' committee will make the final recommendation to the full board.
Harden said the key to Clayton State's next president being successful will be how well he or she works with the university's faculty and staff. "They are very talented, have good ideas and they are devoted to this university," he said.
Harden's likely departure means the end of an era at Clayton State. He officially became the school's third president on June 1, 2000 and oversaw massive growth at CSU.
"Dr. Harden's dedication to academic excellence at Clayton State University has always been student-centered and focused," said Herbst. "He has been tremendously supportive of his faculty, other system institutions and the communities served by the university."
Harden said the high points of his tenure were the expansion of the university's curriculum, revamping Clayton State's mission statement to address students living on campus, and graduate-level programs.
Since taking over CSU, Harden has overseen the opening of five new buildings on campus, including the James M. Baker University Center and Laker Hall, Clayton State's first on-campus, student-housing facility.
Harden also oversaw growth in student enrollment and academic programs, said Clayton State Spokesman John Shiffert. The university went from having 4,300 students in 2000, to consistently having more than 6,000 pupils enrolled during the fall and spring semesters. U.S. News and World Report has named Clayton State the Southeast's most racially diverse baccalaureate college six times since 2001.
During Harden's tenure, CSU also established several new academic programs, most notably Clayton State's first six master's degree programs. At least two more master's programs will be presented to the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents within the next six months for their approval.
"There's been a lot of milestones for the university during Dr. Harden's tenure, but growth -- If you had to pick one word to sum up his time as president of Clayton State University, it would be 'growth,'" said Shiffert.