Bergheiser called him "a skilled administrator who understands the barriers to education that confront many of our students, and he has built his distinguished career on developing innovative approaches to overcoming them."
A native of Paterson, N.J., Generals has worked in various administrative jobs at colleges for the last 30 years, serving in his role at Mercer since 2008.
College spokeswoman Linda Wallace said terms of his contract including salary were being negotiated and would be released when the board meets April 3.
The other finalists were: Judith Gay, the college's vice president for academic affairs who is serving as interim president, and Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College in Manchester, Conn. Gay will return to her vice president post, the college said.
Generals' appointment follows a seven-month national search and a particularly rocky time for the nearly 40,000-student campus. The college last summer fired without cause former president Stephen M. Curtis, who had run the school since 1999.
Pressure at the college had been building as state and financial support waned and contract negotiations with the faculty union dragged on.
Although a contract with faculty was settled in September, tensions continue.
Steve Jones, union copresident, said the union was miffed that the college didn't allow it, as in the past, to appoint three members to the presidential search committee. Furthermore, a faculty straw poll on the three finalists, and the majority of the more than 200 who voted preferred Glickman, Jones said. Only 3 percent favored Generals.
"Glickman came across as someone in favor of the role of faculty in academic decision-making," Jones said. "She's also got a record of tangling with her board of trustees on matters of principle."
College spokeswoman Wallace countered: "The college had a comprehensive search process that invited comments from faculty, staff, students, and community leaders every step of the way. Opinions were invited and considered by the search committee and the board."
Jones said he welcomed the chance to build a relationship with Generals.
Generals echoed that sentiment: "I will operate on faith and hope and look to build a relationship with a clean slate."
Generals has weathered faculty battles in the past. In 2002 at SUNY Rockland Community College in Suffern, N.Y., where he was vice president for academic and student affairs, he, the president and board of trustees were the subject of a faculty no-confidence vote over academic restructuring.
At Mercer, Generals helped develop the college's education master plan, increased online programs, developed study-abroad programs, and redesigned the school's developmental and English as a Second Language programs.
Generals has a bachelor's in political science and a master's in urban/education/community service from William Paterson College in Wayne, N.J., and a doctor of education degree in social and philosophical foundations of education from Rutgers.
He said he will move to Philadelphia. He and his wife, Joann Gonzalez-Generals, an administrator at Caldwell College in Caldwell, N.J., and their 5-year-old son live in Lawrenceville, N.J.