Bernotsky named 16th President of W. Chester U.

Dr. R. Lorraine Bernotsky

Today, Dr. R. Lorraine (Laurie) Bernotsky was unanimously named the 16th president of West Chester University by the Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), effective July 1, 2024. A longstanding champion for public education and State System students, Dr. Bernotsky is a first-generation college graduate who has been selected to lead the largest *R2 institution within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. Dr. Bernotsky, who is currently serving as interim president of Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest) as a loaned executive from West Chester University, will succeed Dr. Christopher M. Fiorentino, who will retire from the University as president on June 30, 2024.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to be selected to serve West Chester University’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni as its 16thpresident,” said Dr. Bernotsky. “I have dedicated my professional life to public higher education because I believe in the access mission of public universities and of public higher education in general; these beliefs fuel my commitment to WCU as well as to our entire State System. Higher education, and especially public higher education, is still the great equalizer in that it remains the most predictable and accessible way for individuals to improve their life outcomes in a society where social class and income inequalities often seem at odds.”

The University community is particularly pleased with the announcement. “We are excited for Dr. Bernotsky to lead the WCU community into our next chapter,” said Dr. Kristen Crossney, professor and director of the University’s Doctor of Public Administration Program. “Her support of academic excellence, growth in interdisciplinary and graduate programs, and building an inclusive community has been critical in the work – and excellence – of our faculty. One of the benefits of her unwavering engagement to shared governance as both a faculty member and administrator is a strong foundation for the work and success of faculty. We look forward to continued collaborations and partnerships and celebrate Dr. Bernotsky’s return to WCU as our new president.”

With nearly three decades of progressive experience in higher education, Dr. Bernotsky began her career at West Chester University in 1996 as a member of the political science faculty. When the opportunity opened to serve as associate provost and dean of graduate studies at the University, she competed in a national search for the role and served for several years before becoming provost in 2015. As provost, Dr. Bernotsky successfully led the University’s Academic Affairs Division, which oversees approximately 850 faculty and is comprised of five colleges that offer more than 100 academic degree programs while also housing the Office of Institutional Research, the Center for International Programs (now the Center for Global Engagement), the offices of undergraduate admissions, enrollment management, financial aid, the graduate school, and undergraduate student support services. Executive vice president was added to Dr. Bernotsky’s role in 2017 and, as the University’s second-in-command, she also assumed leadership of the University’s budget and labor relations function.

A social scientist, Dr. Bernotsky earned a master’s and doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford. She also earned a master’s in sociology from Temple University.

“The Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties’ (APSCUF) West Chester chapter always appreciated Dr. Bernotsky’s understanding as provost of the faculty perspective and her willingness to work collaboratively with the union to the benefit of students,” said Dr. Margaret Ervin, president of APSCUF’s West Chester chapter and professor of English. “She understands the importance of supporting faculty as teachers and as scholars in what has been known at West Chester as the ‘teacher-scholar model,’ and we have always been able to rely on her good will and good faith. We are confident that our relationship with Dr. Bernotsky will continue to be positive.”

Recognized throughout the Commonwealth as a highly respected and effective higher education leader, Dr. Bernotsky was asked by Chancellor Daniel Greenstein to serve PennWest temporarily in the fall of 2022 as executive vice president and chief operating officer, providing guidance and direction in all operational areas. From October 2022 through June 2023, Dr. Bernotsky worked collaboratively in this loaned capacity to help strengthen PennWest’s operational excellence, strategic enrollment management systems, and long-term plans for financial sustainability. The positive effects of Dr. Bernotsky’s work ultimately led to her appointment as interim president of PennWest on July 1, 2023 by PASSHE’s Board of Governors; she assumed the role four months after her appointment as PennWest’s acting president and following the retirement of PennWest founding president, Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson.

West Chester University’s Council of Trustees felt especially fortunate to have such an exemplary and highly-sought candidate among its own senior leaders, so it requested and secured approval from Chancellor Greenstein, in consultation with the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors to authorize the Presidential Search Committee to explore the candidacy of Dr. Bernotsky before deciding whether to proceed to an open national search. The Executive Committee of the Board of Governors concurred with the recommendation and approved the request.

Following its charge, the Presidential Search Committee led a comprehensive and inclusive university-wide process that elicited the feedback of West Chester University students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Numerous opportunities to interact with Dr. Bernotsky were provided through interviews, open forums, and presentations. As a result of the “resoundingly positive feedback that came back from the University community,” the Search Committee unanimously made a formal recommendation to the Council of Trustees on Dr. Bernotsky’s candidacy. Atits regularly scheduled Council of Trustees’ meeting on November 15, 2023, the Council voted unanimously to recommend that Dr. Laurie Bernotsky be considered by the State System’s Board of Governors to be the 16th president of West Chester University.

“Dr. Bernotsky brings an understanding of West Chester University and our State System that is unparalleled, and exemplifies the understanding that all students within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education benefit when our universities work not only together but in collaboration with our shared governance structures, including our unions,” said West Chester University Council of Trustees Chair Senator Robert M. Tomlinson. “In addition to her success here at West Chester University, we have been fortunate to witness the incredible outcomes she has produced at PennWest by creating a strategic framework that is allowing a sister institution to forge its own path toward a sustainable and equitable future.”

In the official announcement today from Pennsylvania’s State System of Education, Board of Governors Chair Cindy Shapira said, “Dr. Bernotsky has proven at West Chester and PennWest that she is a tremendous university leader and is the perfect person to take WCU into the future. Throughout her extensive career in PASSHE, Dr. Bernotsky has earned respect for her strategic planning, academic programing, and for helping students from all backgrounds have access to a high-quality education in a diverse, vibrant campus community that prepares them for success in life.”

PASSHE Chancellor Greenstein concurred with Dr. Shapira, stating, “Dr. Bernotsky has demonstrated that she is a talented higher education leader and, as such, is poised to continue advancing West Chester’s growing reputation as a great university. For my entire tenure, I have relied upon Laurie’s thought partnership in ways that benefits all of our universities, and I appreciate her ability to see the big picture not only for WCU but for the whole system.”

Known for being a collaborative and inclusive leader who is centered on student success, Dr. Bernotsky is prepared to help West Chester University chart its path toward the next 150 years. “WCU is poised to move boldly beyond its hard-earned and impressive role as the flagship of PASSHE into a role as a national leader in student success outcomes, higher education leadership, and both financial and environmental sustainability,” she said.

“The rankings and achievements of WCU in the past few years, including the identification of WCU as an *R2 institution, place the University in a position of demonstrating that student success can mean inclusive excellence (erasing achievement gaps),” she continued. “We have shown that environmental sustainability does not have to mean sacrificing financial sustainability and that a regional flagship institution can aspire to be a national model for higher education. I am honored to help move forward this special University that I have called home for more than 25 years.”

*WCU is Designated an R2 by Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education

West Chester University’s reclassification from Master’s Colleges & Universities – Larger Programs (M1) to Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity (R2) was released in an update of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which was posted for a public-review period in December of 2021. According to the classification, R2 universities have “high research activity” in academic settings where teaching is the priority. In an R2 university, most courses are taught by professors who are involved in research activities and often include students in their research work.  

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