(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Former Winthrop University President Dan Mahony resigned from his position, effective March 1 after five years of service, in order to become president of the Southern Illinois University system.
On Dec. 3, students, faculty and staff received an email from the university’s board of trustees informing them about the change in leadership.
Mahony — who spoke exclusively to the Palmetto Report, during a podcast, to discuss his departure and reflect on his time at Winthrop — said it was difficult for him to leave the school.
“I was in the last year of my contract, I didn’t expect it to be extended so that obviously had an impact on my decision to look at other opportunities,” said Mahony.
“Frankly I was little concerned that people would think I was abandoning them or leaving for reasons that I was unhappy with them at Winthrop, the people, the faculty, staff and students. That was obviously not the case.”
The Herald reported March 16 that emails obtained by the paper, through a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request, “make it clear that board (of trustees) members had for months been considering new leadership” at the school.
“It’s the board’s responsibility to select, evaluate and make determinations on retaining (a president). That’s their responsibility and they can decide at any time to get rid of a president, for any reason at all or no reason at all. That is the way it works,” said Mahony.
This would seem to confirm comments made by trustee Dr. Jane LaRoche, at a meeting Jan. 31, who said it was not Mahony’s choice to leave.
“(Mahony) loves Winthrop. He loves the people in the Rock Hill community. He loves the faculty, staff and adores the students,” said LaRoche. “Dan (Mahony) was not treated fairly, causing him to have to look elsewhere for a job, and you all know what I’m talking about. He didn’t want to leave. I think the students need to know. He did not want to leave Winthrop.”
Regardless, Mahony said he “really enjoyed” his time at the university.
“I was able to develop a really great relationship with a lot of students during my time as president. I enjoyed working with them, getting to know them and kind of trying to help support them as best I could as they were trying to pursue whatever goals or dreams that they had,” he said.
News of his departure was a surprise to many students and faculty, who often expressed their disappointment with the move.
“It was a little overwhelming to be honest, I didn’t know what the reaction would be,” said Mahony. “I’m very grateful that they were as supportive as they were.”
Many students voiced their concerns about a lack of transparency surrounding the board’s decision to replace Mahony with interim President George Hynd.
Imani Belton, chair of the Winthrop Council of Student Leaders, told the Palmetto Report last month that she reached out to the board, but was told that student input in the search for an interim president was not needed.
“They gave me an answer that said ‘nope, when we do the permanent president search, that is when we’ll ask for students, but as for right now, we will not.’ So, I didn’t have any say in any of this. Let alone any other student,” said Belton.
Thus, many students felt they were shut out of the board’s decision to find new leadership.
“As a graduating senior, I wish the board of trustees had been more open with the student body,” said Ann Carol. “As students paying tuition, the changes in leadership directly affects us and as a board that is working to maintain enrollment, not letting students into the process is not a good way to keep enrollment.”
Mahony said it wasn’t his place to comment on how the board should operate, but he said transparency is always a good idea as a leader.
“I’ve always been a believer that the more transparent you are, the more you include people in the process, the better off you are in the long term,” he said.
“I’m not going to comment too much on what (the board) should do, that’s one of the things I always try to do, I think, as a leader. I always feel like when we’re not transparent in leadership roles, people interpret even good things we may be doing in a negative light.”
However, the board’s actions have created a sense of distrust among many in the student body.
For example, Belton expressed her frustration with the process via social media after Hynd was named interim president.
“I should not have that this is my only way of getting my grievances heard, nor should the students feel that they should have to protest to have their voices heard,” said Belton, via posts on Facebook and Instagram.
“It didn’t help that some of the information regarding the changes were leaked and not told to students up front. If I had just outright known, maybe I would hold the board of trustees to a higher respect,” said Carol.
Regardless, Mahony said he’s happy to be at Southern Illinois. However, due to the COVID-19 virus, he said transitioning to his new position has been challenging.
“Well there was a little reaction (among students and faculty) initially, but life has completely changed within the last week and a half and so, with everything related to the coronavirus, it hasn’t been exactly the normal transition to a new role,” he said.
Unfortunately, Mahony said, he has been unable to meet with and get to know students and faculty, because there is hardly anyone on campus.
He also said he is currently working on developing a strategic plan at Southern Illinois, similar to one he created at Winthrop.
“I set up seven different working groups that are focused on everything from, what academic programs we’d like to add, student success, community partnerships, as well as diversity and inclusion in some areas,” said Mahony.
“The overall goals will be to improve student success, to bring more students to the Southern Illinois system, to continue to focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and to make sure we are not only having an impact on our students, but an impact on our region.”
While he has moved on, Mahony had one last message for the students, faculty and staff at Winthrop.
“I love you all. I’m happy to be where I am and I’m in a good situation,” he said.
“I certainly really appreciated my time at Winthrop,” he said. “The faculty, I learned so much, I think, from watching what they did in their classrooms.
“And I loved the time with students. Again, I will say over and over again that was the best part of my Winthrop experience was spending time with students. They really are an incredible group,” said Mahony.
“Of all the students I’ve had over the years, the Winthrop students were the best students I’ve had. They just did an outstanding job and I was just incredibly impressed.”