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College's board launches search for president

Rochester Business Journal
June 20, 2014

Donald Bain came to the leadership of St. John Fisher College at one of the most trying times in the institution’s history.

St. John Fisher’s sitting president, Katherine Keough, had passed away in office in 2004, leaving the college without a leader. It was then that Bain came in, allowing the college to continue moving forward after the loss.

“We needed someone to keep the ship moving forward right in the middle of the channel,” said Victor Salerno, the college’s chairman.

As Bain announced last week that he planned to retire in 2015, St. John Fisher was in a much different place, Salerno noted. Both enrollment and the school’s endowment have increased, nearly a dozen new buildings have been completed and the Buffalo Bills training camp on the college’s campus was extended.

The college now has the challenge of replacing Bain, and Salerno said the board already has started the process of finding its next president.

“This is one of the most important decisions a board can make and probably our most important fiduciary responsibility,” he said. “We’ve been doing some planning and we still have a year until he retires, but we know that time is precious and fleeting.”

The board will start by forming a 15-member search committee of board members, faculty, staff and a student representative.

The board also will work with a national search firm, a selection that will be made carefully, Salerno said.

“The critical thing is not the size or importance of the firm but making sure they have the college’s best interests at heart and are not just trying to get a fee,” he said.

To that end, St. John Fisher’s board will be vetting potential firms and checking references, Salerno added.

The search committee will not enter the process with any preconceived notions of what it would like in a president or a desire for any particular background, Salerno said. He personally would like to see the college continue along its growth path, pushing past its current enrollment of roughly 4,000 students to reach 5,000 within the next decade.

Increasing the college’s endowment also will be important, Salerno added.

“The size of our endowment is something that I know all the board feels we need to expand,” he said. “Right now it’s about $70 million, depending on the day, and we would like to see it over $100 (million). We’re a fairly young college, and unfortunately we don’t have the billions of dollars that some other schools enjoy, but it’s something that we’re working on.”

He acknowledges there will be other challenges for a new president, including a drop in the number of high school graduates within the college’s traditional recruiting zone of 100 to 150 miles around Rochester.

The college already has addressed this potential crisis in its most recent strategic plan, and a new president would keep St. John Fisher on a plan that widens the recruitment area, Salerno said.

“We’re trying to reach out farther, to Albany and down to Long Island,” he said. “This year we have seven students from Long Island, and while that may not sound like much yet, it can be an important start.

“Our goal is for them to have a wonderful college experience and go back and tell their family and friends.”

Upon Bain’s announcement last Friday that he planned to retire, St. John Fisher also released a four-page retrospective highlighting some of the major accomplishments during his tenure. It focused on academic renewal, capital projects, fund-raising and student life.

College officials noted that Bain completed a reorganization of the academic departments into schools, creating the Wegmans School of Pharmacy and the School of Arts and Sciences in 2005 and the Wegmans School of Nursing in 2006.

He also instituted his vision to expand the college’s academic offerings, the college noted. One way to grow as an institution was to create doctoral programs, and Bain initiated a charter change that would allow the college to offer those.

Officials also credited Bain with leading the school in a spate of capital projects, including current projects such as the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Athletic Center and the Integrated Science and Health Sciences Building.

Shortly after taking office, Bain led St. John Fisher on the largest fundraising campaign in its history, the $50 million Vision 2020 Comprehensive Campaign. This campaign allowed the college to increase the physical plant of the campus, create additional scholarships and expand the endowment.

It will be difficult to replace Bain, Salerno said, but the board has been preparing for his departure and believes it will not lose a step with a new leader.

“He’s done such a wonderful job, and all constituents are very pleased, from faculty, staff and the board,” Salerno said. “It’s a major loss, but it wasn’t a surprise. We knew this was coming for the last couple of years and have been getting ready for it.”

6/20/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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