Arcadia University fires its president

Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III came to Arcadia in 2011. He was an administrator at Drexel.
Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III came to Arcadia in 2011. He was an administrator at Drexel. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 14, 2013

Arcadia University's board of trustees has abruptly terminated its president of less than two years, sending a wave of concern among faculty and students who are away this week on spring break and heard the stunning news from afar.

At a board meeting Friday, the trustees voted to oust Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III without cause and have remained silent on their reasons, according to sources.

University spokeswoman Laura Baldwin would not comment on Oxholm's departure, calling it a confidential issue between the board and Oxholm.

The university announced that another administrator was stepping in as chief operating officer and assuming the president's duties, but Baldwin would not say whether that was permanent or whether the university would search for a new president.

Oxholm, a former Drexel University administrator, said in a statement that he did not know why his term had been ended. He said he was "surprised and disappointed" that he was not allowed to continue to lead the university and saddened that he was unable to say goodbye to students. He and his wife are no longer on campus.

"It was without cause, and those who conveyed the decision to me declined to give me any reason or explanation for the decision or the speed of its implementation," he said.

Arcadia, which enrolls about 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has a 55-acre campus in Glenside and is known nationally for its emphasis on study-abroad programs.

Oxholm, a lawyer and formerly a key aide to the late Drexel president Constantine Papadakis, was hired by Arcadia in May 2011 and took the helm that summer. Previously, he had been the senior vice president and dean of Drexel's Center for Graduate Studies in California.

He replaced Jerry Greiner, who retired after seven years as Arcadia's president.

Trustees chair Margaret Wright Steele, a 1980 graduate of Arcadia, did not return calls for comment. Several other board members contacted also would not comment.

A parent of an Arcadia student said she was shocked and saddened by the decision, noting Oxholm's friendly relationships with students and parents. She asked for anonymity to protect her child.

She said she and other parents were questioning whether Arcadia "is still the right place to put [our] hard-earned tuition dollars without some sort of reasonable explanation by the board."

In a statement to The Inquirer on Tuesday, Oxholm touted his accomplishments.

"In the 20 months I served as president of Arcadia University, we accomplished great things together," he wrote. "Our campus has new labs, classrooms, playing fields, and a black box theater; we have a balanced budget and recently obtained a BBB+ stable bond rating from Standard & Poor's, despite the negative outlook given for the higher education sector."

He said the school had welcomed its largest freshman class in its 159-year history and received more than 10,000 applications for next year's class of more than 600 seats.

"I am very proud of my record of accomplishment at Arcadia and surprised and disappointed that I was not allowed to continue in the leadership of what is a wonderful liberal arts college with top-ranked graduate schools and a global presence that is unique in higher education," he wrote.

"I am most sad not to have been able to say goodbye to the students, who were such a huge part of my life and for whom I gave my very best each and every day."

Oxholm said he planned to take a break, as he had intended to do before accepting the Arcadia job. He would not comment further.

Last week, Oxholm appeared to have no indication that an upheaval was coming. He was in Washington the first weekend in March, representing the university at the American Council on Education conference.

Nicolette DeVille Christensen will serve as chief operating officer, overseeing financial and administrative responsibilities, the university said. Baldwin, the Arcadia spokeswoman, would not say why Christensen was named chief operating officer as opposed to acting or interim president.

Christensen leads the college of global studies international team of faculty and staff. She has an MBA from the University of North Texas and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Baldwin would not say whether the board planned to conduct a national search for a new president.


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq. Read her blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/campus_inq

Inquirer staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.

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