LINCOLN — Dennis Trotter's tenure as president of Hastings College has come to an abrupt end just 18 months after he took the reins at the private liberal arts college in central Nebraska.
Trotter became president in July 2011 after a nationwide search to replace former President Phil Dudley. Trotter wasn't formally inaugurated until five months ago, when the college celebrated its 130th anniversary. He said he didn't have time for an earlier ceremony because he needed to fill several vacancies in the college's executive team.
At a press conference Monday, Hal Dittmer, a California businessman who serves as chairman of the Hastings College board of trustees, announced that the board had “reluctantly” accepted Trotter's resignation, submitted Friday. He described it as an “unforeseen leadership transition.”
He said the board had chosen Donald Jackson, the college's vice president for college advancement, to immediately succeed Trotter as president.
Jackson is a former member of the board of trustees. Trotter hired him to spearhead the college's fundraising efforts last fall after Jackson's retirement as global chief operating officer for Easter Seals, where he had been responsible for a $190 million annual fundraising enterprise.
In an interview, Dittmer said Hastings College was fortunate to have a “world-class” leader and fundraiser in position to take over.
Reached by telephone Monday, Trotter declined to detail his reasons for leaving. He said he doesn't know what he will do next.
“We had great ideas and great plans,” he said. “There was philosophical differences in how to implement those.”
Jackson and Dittmer credited Trotter for “outstanding service” to the college and said Trotter's work will play a significant role in guiding the college's future.
“This is a challenging time for Hastings College,” Jackson said. “There is competition across the state and the region for students.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha recently announced goals to significantly increase their enrollments by a combined 10,000 students by the end of this decade.
Hastings College saw an enrollment drop of about 100 students in the past year — from about 1,250 last year to about 1,150 this year.
But Dittmer said he did not see the enrollment decline as a “key reason” for Trotter's departure.
“He came to Hastings and did an extremely good job of identifying a lot of the issues, putting Hastings in context with the higher education picture in this part of the country and identifying a vision where Hastings needed to go in attracting students,” Dittmer said.
“But the job was weighing on him. It's hard, in an institution like this, for anybody to make changes. There were some modest differences in how to go about implementing the visions he had. I don't think they were the reasons he resigned, but you add it all up and it seemed to him there was probably a better fit elsewhere. ”
In previous interviews, Trotter, 51, had described plans to align the college more closely with its community and its job-creating alumni. He was reaching out to community leaders to establish more internships and job opportunities and was exploring new partnerships with area high schools and community colleges.
He also discussed his sense of affinity with board member Bobby Gottsch, a Nebraska cattleman who stressed “making a difference” in student lives through career and leadership development. It was a blow when Gottsch died of a heart attack, at age 57, in August 2011, just a month after Trotter became president.
Gottsch's friends and fellow board members organized a fundraising campaign in his honor that raised more than $9 million for the college.
Dittmer said the board did not seek Trotter's resignation.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There was no request for him to resign. Dennis is a man of the highest integrity. We're absolutely sure he will have a bright future in higher education.”
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