In a campus-wide email sent out Tuesday morning, Carleton President Steve Poskanzer announced that Mike Hemesath, Carleton economics professor and president of the faculty, will be leaving Carleton to become the new president at St. John’s University.
“It was a complete fluke,” Hemesath said of how he got the new job. “I got a phone call from a former economics professor who is the current president of Beloit College. He said that he received notice of a job opening and wanted to see if it would be all right if he submitted my name.”
The decision to throw his name into consideration was not an easy choice for Hemesath because his wife is a religion professor at St. Olaf.
“It can be difficult having two careers in one house,” he said. “I talked to my wife about how this could work for the family, but I still thought it was a long shot so I decided to submit my application.”
Poskanzer noted that it is unusual for a professor to jump all the way up to the position of president.
“What Mike has done is very special,” Poskanzer said. “Typically the progression is professor to chair, to dean, and then president. The fact that Mike made that leap all at once is a sign that St. John’s recognizes his great talent.”
The new job is even more special to Hemesath, who is actually a graduate of St. John’s.
“It is incredibly exciting to go back to my alma mater,” he said.
Despite having graduated from St. John’s, Hemesath recognizes that the transition may be a little tough. St. John’s is an all-male liberal arts college that is based on the Catholic Benedictine tradition. Hemesath will be the first lay president in the university’s history. All 12 of the college’s past presidents have been monks.
On July 1, the same day Hemesath officially assumes the duties of president, the college will legally split the monastery and university into two separate entities. This move is the result of the growing requirements to run a university and the shrinking pool of qualified monks to lead the college.
“The leadership recognized that they didn’t have enough interested members to run a university,” Hemesath said.
Hemesath does not believe this new change in policy will not alter the college, calling it “a legal change, not a philosophical one.”
“He brings with him a thorough understanding of contemporary higher education and a deep appreciation for the Benedictine values that are so important to our community,” Reverand Robert Koopmann, OSB, president of St. John’s University, said in a press release on the St. John’s website.
“His background and qualifications are stellar,” said MaryAnn Baenninger, president of the College of Saint Benedict. “More importantly, he has high aspirations for SJU, as I do for CSB. I believe that together our leadership will guarantee a bright future for CSB/SJU.”
St. Benedict is the all-women partner college of St. John’s.
Hemesath has worked at Carleton for 23 years and has played a large part in the community.
“Almost everything I have learned about higher education was from Carleton,” he said. “Carleton has given me the tools, experiences and philosophy to be president.”
Hemesath currently has two main roles at Carleton, one as professor of economics and the other as president of the faculty. Poskanzer said that while there have not been any talks of a professor replacement yet, “we will be very mindful of the department.”
The first concern is that Hemesath is scheduled to lead the economics trip to Cambridge this summer, but because his job as president starts on July 1, he will have to leave halfway through.
“He will lead the first half of the trip and still teach the courses he is supposed to,” said Professor Steve Strand, chair of the Economics department. “A different faculty membe – most likely me – will then teach the second half. It will be a seamless transition for the Cambridge program.”
Hemesath is also currently scheduled to teach classes in the fall, but Strand said that the economics department will try to find a temporary replacement for those classes. The process for hiring a long-term replacement takes a little longer, but Strand said he hopes to have someone for the fall of 2013.
As for Hemesath’s position as president of the faculty, his term conveniently ends at the end of this academic year, and Clara Hardy, a classics professor, will be filling the position.
Professor Strand believes that Hemesath will excel as president, despite the challenges of moving from being a Carleton professor to the president of a religious institution.
“He is the kind of person who isn’t going to go in and try to impose his view on the world,” Strand said, “and he is the type of person that all departments want to have.”
While both Strand and Poskanzer are excited for Hemesath, they both are sad to see him go.
“Mike has been an ideal colleague,” Strand said. “It will be phenomenally hard to replace him.”
While Hemesath will be leaving Carleton, he is not going too far. St. John’s is only two hours away and, as noted by both Hemesath and Poskanzer, even in the same sports district.
“I’m so happy for Mike,” said Poskanzer, “but I’m not going to like it if his sports teams beat ours.”