Butler University’s Jayne Marie Comstock has been named to succeed Anthony DiGiorgio as president of Winthrop University.
Her mission? We hope it will be to build on Wintrhop’s already strong foundation and keep it moving forward as an innovative and pace-setting university.
Comstock, who received a unanimous vote Feb. 15 from the Winthrop Board of Trustees, undoubtedly will face new challenges in the days ahead. One is certain to be ensuring that the university has adequate financial resources in the face of dwindling state dollars.
Comstock is on sabbatical from Butler University in Indianapolis. During her sabbatical, she has served as director of the executive leadership group at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., which lobbies on behalf of university presidents in the capital.
In an interview with The Herald last month, she said her approach to keeping Winthrop financially secure would include making the university “more visible in Columbia and Washington.” She said she would “invigorate” Winthrop’s connections with the state’s political leaders.
She emphasized the importance of sustaining the university’s capital campaign and maintaining the close relationship between Winthrop and its alumni. While she sees the possibility of a tuition increase, she also believes Winthrop must remain affordable to students at all economic levels. And, she said, improved student retention and graduation rates would help the bottom line.
Comstock said she is committed to the “college town” concept championed by DiGiorgio, which seeks to link the university with an evolving downtown Rock Hill and find where their interests coincide. Comstock said the Winthrop experience “must involve an engaging campus and community environment that serves the whole student.”
All in all, her enthusiasm about the university and the city are encouraging. Her eagerness to build relationships on campus and in the greater community is welcome.
While we think following the course set by DiGiorgio has obvious advantages, we should not expect her to slavishly toe that line. She will bring her own values, priorities and skills to the job with which to build on DiGiorgio’s legacy.
Comstock’s selection was not entirely without controversy. During a recent campus visit, faculty members quizzed her about a libel lawsuit Butler filed against an anonymous blogger that turned out to be a Butler student. Some feared the lawsuit would bring negative attention to Winthrop. And before the board’s vote on Feb. 15, four faculty members testified that Comstock might not be a good fit for Winthrop.
We hope that, as she settles into the job, Comstock can allay these concerns. She can further that goal by following through on her pledge to listen to the views of students, faculty and staff members and to promote “shared governance” of the university by all constituencies.
Comstock will be the second woman to serve as president of Winthrop. Martha Kime Piper became Winthrop’s president in 1986 but died less than two years later of cancer. Comstock will be one of only 12 women leading nonprofit colleges and universities in the state.
We welcome her as Winthrop’s 10th president. She has been entrusted with the governance of a vital and well loved institution, and we hope both she and Winthrop will prosper under her leadership.