By DREW BROOKS
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013
(Photo by Alex Hicks/Spartanburg Herald-Journal)
Wofford College’s next president will bring international expertise to the school that already embraces global studies.
Nayef H. Samhat, 52, was introduced Tuesday by the school before a packed Leonard Auditorium on campus.
Samhat, a Detroit-native, was selected by the Wofford College Board of Trustees from a pool of about six finalists. He will begin his tenure on campus July 1. He holds degrees from George Washington University, Columbia University and Northwestern University, and is currently provost and professor of international studies and political science at Kenyon College, a private liberal arts school in Gambier, Ohio.
Wofford and Kenyon are roughly the same size, with about 1,600 students each.
Samhat will replace outgoing President Benjamin Dunlap, who will take a year sabbatical before returning to Wofford to teach as the Chapman family professor of humanities.
Dunlap, who ran track in college, likened the upcoming transition to a relay race and said Samhat would be the one to finish the course.
“The third runner is the one who, having given it all he had, passes the baton to the one that can win the race,” Dunlap said before receiving a standing ovation.
Samhat said he was “deeply touched” by the reception in Leonard Auditorium as he received numerous ovations from alumni and students, who are in the middle of the school’s exam week.
“It’s still hard to imagine that I’m standing here,” Samhat said. “I love teaching. I love political science. I love researching. I love being around young people.”
“I follow a long line of great leaders,” he added.
Afterward, Samhat said Wofford’s reputation drew him to the job and added that he was interested in Wofford’s impact on students, commitment to civic engagement and emphasis on global studies.
“I knew about Wofford and its reputation as an outstanding liberal arts college,” he said. “The kind of college I thought I’d like to lead.”
Samhat also introduced his family to the school.
His wife, Prema Samhat, is director of marketing and community relations at Knox Community Hospital in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He also has three daughters, Alia, 26; Jehan, 24; and Leila, 19.
Samhat also introduced his father, Harold, who he credited, along with his mother, for his values of hard work and a sound moral compass.
Samhat is a gentleman, a gentle man and a scholar, said J. Harold Chandler, chairman of the Wofford Board of Trustees.
“We are honored that Dr. Samhat has accepted our call, and we are excited and ready to begin our important work together,” Chandler said.
Samhat was recommended to the board by a 12-member search committee that included alumni, professors, a student and trustees. The committee listed Samhat among the six finalists after whittling a candidate pool of about 75 applicants.
Ron Norman, who graduates this weekend and served on the search committee, said Samhat was very intelligent and very reserved with a warm personality.
“I’m excited to see the good he’ll bring to Wofford,” Norman said.
Samhat is a published author who specializes in international relations theory and international political economics, and studies the politics of the Middle East.
Officials at Kenyon College called him an inspired leader who brought energy and focus to his advocacy on behalf of the school and its faculty.
A school spokesman called him a “high-achieviung, well-informed and deeply committed educator and an authentic, caring individual.”
“Nayef is an able defender of the liberal arts with a nuanced understanding of the issues facing higher education at all levels,” said Mark Ellis, Kenyon College’s news director.
Others who worked with Samhat praised his openness and sense of humor.
“In terms of his relationships with faculty and other staff, he’s always there to discuss and communicate,” said Kenyon College Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman. “He doesn’t exclude people.”
Kohlman said he’s worked closely with Samhat, whom he said was excited about the opportunity to lead Wofford College.
“I’ve always known that he has had aspirations to be president of a college,” he said. “So I’m not surprised. I’m happy it’s working out.”
Other Kenyon leaders also through their support behind Samhat.
“His personal commitment to higher education, his thorough understanding of both the academic enterprise and financial realities, and his ability to build relationships across the institution are all impressive,” said Kenyon College President S. Georgia Nugent. “Add to these his buoyant, out-going personality, and it seemed obvious to me that it was only a matter of time till a fortunate institution recognized his potential and chose him as its president.”
Nugent is Kenyon’s outgoing president. She’ll be replaced by Sean M. Decatur on July 1.
“Nayef is a talented and creative administrator, teacher and scholar,” Decatur said. “Wofford is very fortunate to have him as a leader. While I will miss the opportunity to work with him as a colleague at Kenyon, I am delighted that we can continue our friendship as fellow liberal arts college presidents.”
Samhat had worked at Kenyon College since 2009. Previously, he held several positions at Centre College in Danville, Ky., from 1996 to 2009 and was a political science instructor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., from 1995 to 1996.
“In just four years, both Nayef and Prema have become very engaged and valued members of the Kenyon and, indeed, the Mount Vernon community,” Nugent said. “Their departure will be a real loss. But the presidency presents a wonderful opportunity for this vibrant and talented couple. I know that both Nayef and Prema have been very favorably impressed, as they have come to know Wofford, and are extremely excited about the leadership opportunity there. I wish them great success.”
Kenyon College credits Samhat with helping the school win a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop cutting-edge ideas for the classroom and laboratory and another in support of post-doctoral teaching fellowships for Russian and Arabic languages.
He also helped establish the Center for Innovative Pedagogy at Kenyon College to provide opportunities for faculty to enhance teaching, the school said.
“These past four years at Kenyon College have been a special time,” Samhat said. “I believe we have accomplished a great deal, from enhancing faculty resources to re-examining the curriculum, and the college, under Sean Decatur, is poised for a wonderful future. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the faculty and staff, President Nugent, my colleagues on senior staff and those in the office of the provost, all of whom have made life at Kenyon memorable and enjoyable.”
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