CARBONDALE — After a national search, Southern Illinois University has chosen its next leader.
Daniel F. Mahony, currently the president of Winthrop University in South Carolina, is expected to be confirmed by the SIU Board of Trustees as president of the Southern Illinois University System during its Dec. 5 meeting, per a news release from the university.
Among applicants, Mahony was the overwhelming choice of the presidential search committee composed of faculty and staff from across the system’s two universities, SIU Carbondale and SIU Edwardsville, according to committee chair and SIU Trustee Ed Hightower.
He impressed trustees with his long-term strategic planning and financial savvy, added J. Phil Gilbert, chair of the SIU board.
“Dr. Mahony is a proven leader and problem-solver who has been described as a visionary in his professional experience,” Gilbert said. “He has had success in key areas of importance to SIU to include enrollment strategies, diversity and inclusion, improving finances, and communicating effectively with internal and external agencies to include foundations and legislative bodies.”
In about four-and-a-half years at Winthrop, a 6,000-student public university, Mahony oversaw “the development of a strategic plan, an institutional rebranding, and improvement in student and employee satisfaction,” the news release states.
He also presided over a decline in total enrollment, from 6,109 students enrolled in Fall 2016 to 6,073 in Fall 2017, and 5,813 in Fall 2018, then a slight rebound in 2019 to 5,865, according to Winthrop institutional data.
However, the university made strides in other areas. It attracted more freshman applications than ever before, beating its previous record this year, by more than 15%.
Under Mahony, Winthrop improved its four-year graduation rate by 7.7% over three years, and raised its six-year graduation rate to 64% of students in 2019, according to the Rock Hill Herald. SIU Carbondale’s six-year graduation rate, by comparison, is around 45%, interim provost Meera Komarraju said last December.
Mahony also helped Winthrop build on already high levels of diversity among students and faculty. Some 42% of its students were minorities in 2019, as were 21% of faculty and upper administration, the Rock Hill Herald reported, up from 14% less than three years earlier.
“We’re a public university and we should reflect society. We should reflect the people around us,” Mahony said in his State of the University address this past October. “I don’t see this just as a goal, I see this as an obligation as an institution. We should be welcoming to all students.”
Mahony joins SIU as the Carbondale campus seeks to stem a protracted enrollment slide, the Edwardsville campus pushes for a greater share of state funding and universities across Illinois feel the pain of major state divestment in higher education over the last two decades.
SIU Trustees were impressed with Mahony’s ability to advocate for his current university with lawmakers, Gilbert said, a key task of the SIU president.
“He will be an articulate advocate for the system and understands the importance of Southern Illinois University to the region and the state,” Gilbert said.
SIU also hopes to capitalize on Mahony’s strategic planning experience.
Last year, the university hired Carol Cartwright, a former president at Kent State and Bowling Green universities to assess the effectiveness of SIU’s governance.
Cartwright interviewed 18 top SIU personnel across the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, and found none of the leaders knew if SIU had a long-term system plan or what it might be.
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“There is very little, if any, discussion about the economies of scale that could be achieved if you were thinking and working as a system,” Cartwright said. “The missions of the campuses relative to the system need to be clarified.”
Mahony has already read Cartwright's recommendations to the SIU Trustees, Gilbert said.
"He’s prepared to hit the ground running with developing strategic plans for the campuses and for the university system as a whole," Gilbert said.
Under Mahony, Winthrop launched the Winthrop Plan in 2016: a comprehensive set of 10-year strategic goals.
The plan sets yearly benchmarks for improvement in areas like “Enrollment and Retention,” “Culture of Innovation and New Programs,” and “Faculty and Staff Recruitment and Retention,” according to Winthrop’s website.
The university releases annual progress reports on those short-term benchmarks and the long-term goals.
"(The Winthrop Plan) will be transparent. Our goals and how we are measuring them will be public for everyone to see," Mahony said at the time of the plan’s announcement. "Every year, people will know not only what our goals are for the long term, but also for the short term. Every year, we will evaluate our success in meeting our targets."
The plan has already hit long-term goals in improving graduation rates, diversity, and boosting annual giving, the Herald reported.
Before taking the presidency at Winthrop, Mahony was dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. Before that, he held spent 13 years at the University of Louisville, eventually becoming director of its sport administration program; chair of the Department of Health Promotion, Physical Education and Sport Studies; acting dean and associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development; and assistant and associate university provost, the news release said.
Mahony has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a master’s in sport management from West Virginia University, and a doctoral degree in sport management from Ohio State University, the news release indicated. He is considered an expert in sport consumer behavior and intercollegiate athletics.
If confirmed by the board, Mahony will begin at SIU on March 1, 2020. Board documents show he’ll receive a $435,000 salary, an increase of $5,000 per year over the amount paid to outgoing Interim President J. Kevin Dorsey and his predecessor, Randy Dunn.
Mahony will also receive a $25,000 moving allowance, travel expenses, standard benefits, an automobile for business use, and a tenured professorship at SIU Carbondale after his presidency at a salary not less than the highest paid faculty member in his academic school.
As president, Mahony will oversee the chancellors of SIU Carbondale and SIU Edwardsville, plus the Springfield-based SIU School of Medicine, and the SIU School of Dentistry in Alton.
With a total budget of about $867 million, the system employs more than 7,000 faculty and staff who serve more than 28,000 students, the SIU news release indicated.
Originally from Clinton, New Jersey, Mahony has been married for more than 25 years to his wife, Laura, with whom he has two children, son, Gavin and daughter, Elena, the release added.
Mahony spent Tuesday meeting with lawmakers in Springfield, including Illinois Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz. He could not be reached for an interview.
He will hold his first news conference Thursday, Dec. 5, at SIU Carbondale’s Stone Center, according to SIU spokesperson John Charles.