SARASOTA — New College of Florida has chosen Patricia Okker, a dean at the University of Missouri since 2017, as its president-elect.
Okker, pending approval by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, replaces Donal O’Shea, who has led New College since 2012. O’Shea announced his retirement from the school, known as Florida’s honors college, in October. Okker is expected to assume the presidency role July 1, according to a statement.
New College began its search for a president in October, engaging in a six-month process that included multiple open forums and listening sessions with students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees and community members. The New College Presidential Search Committee then selected 12 applicants from a national pool of more than 130 candidates to interview. Five finalists were invited to campus for in-person interviews between March 29 and April 9, the release states.
“So many individuals offered input during this process, which was tremendously valuable,” Presidential Search Committee Chair Mary Ruiz, who also chairs the New College Board of Trustees, says in the statement. “Their active engagement was a welcome and essential part of our search. It was truly a community effort.”
The Florida Board of Governors will vote on Okker’s appointment at a public meeting June 23 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. Okker, if approved, will be tasked with tackling one of the school’s biggest challenges: boosting enrollment, particularly to reach enrollment goals it established in 2016. Earlier this year, the state legislature considered consolidating the school into a larger university system. That plan, a surprise to O’Shea and other school officials, was shelved.
Okker, meanwhile, joined the University of Missouri as an assistant professor of English in 1990. She was promoted to full professor in 2004, a year after winning the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, the release states. From 2005 to 2011, Okker chaired the English Department, overseeing 70 full-time faculty and a $5.5 million annual budget. She then moved to the Provost’s Office, where she developed a new model for academic program reviews of 280 degree programs and led the university’s successful 10-year accreditation team.
Since 2017, Okker has served as dean of the College of Arts and Science, where she oversees 450 full-time faculty, 135 staff and 6,500 students across 26 departments and schools with an annual operating budget of $120 million, the release states.
“One of the reasons I am so excited about New College’s future is that it has always combined my two great academic passions: affordable public education, and the arts and sciences,” Okker says in the statement. “But this is not simply a personal preference. New College has every reason to be optimistic about its future because the very things that make New College unique are precisely the things that students are demanding of higher education more broadly.”