University of Puget Sound names 14th president

WATCH: Next UPS president looks forward to new job

Seattle University provost Isiaah Crawford was named the president-elect of the University of Puget Sound on Friday.
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Seattle University provost Isiaah Crawford was named the president-elect of the University of Puget Sound on Friday.

Hours after being named the president-elect of the University of Puget Sound Friday, Isiaah Crawford appeared to already have celebrity status as he walked the campus.

Students pointed from benches as he passed by, while others approached to introduce themselves. Even a neighbor walking his dog on campus stopped Crawford to welcome him to the private liberal arts college in Tacoma’s North End.

“I’m a people person,” Crawford said from the front of Jones Hall, where his office will be.

Meeting the students and faculty who make up the UPS community is at the top of Crawford’s to-do list for when he takes over leadership of the school this summer.

Crawford, 55, will replace President Ronald R. Thomas, who will retire July 1 after 13 years as head of UPS. Crawford will become the school’s 14th president and its first black president.

Provost at Seattle University, Crawford said he is looking forward to leading an institution with a “strong reputation for academic and scholarly excellence.”

He also plans to become a student himself, exploring Tacoma and getting to know who runs it.

“I’m a psychologist, I want to understand the people that make up the community,” he said.

Crawford earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from DePaul University in Chicago. He began his teaching career at Loyola University Chicago in 1987, where he became a tenured professor, chairman of the Department of Psychology, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Crawford maintained a private clinical practice in Chicago from 1987 through 2002.

He arrived in Seattle eight years ago when he was hired as provost for Seattle University. There he directs the Division of Academic Affairs and oversees the university’s schools and colleges, libraries, enrollment, information technology, institutional research, and offices supporting academic achievement, faculty affairs and global engagement.

Crawford was the first in his family to complete a college education.

He was selected after a nine-month search that included applicants from across the country.

A search committee made up of school trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, and parent and student representatives interviewed candidates and made its recommendation to the board of trustees. The board approved Crawford’s appointment Friday morning.

Crawford impressed the search committee with his candor, collaborative nature, commitment to community and passionate belief in the ideals of a liberal arts education, according to a news release from the school.

Search committee chairman Robert Pohlad said Crawford’s appointment is a “natural extension of our mission and values” and is an “exciting next step” for the school that is looking to build its reputation as a national leader among liberal arts colleges. Pohlad, chairman-elect of the Puget Sound Board of Trustees and parent of a Puget Sound alumnus, announced Crawford’s selection on campus Friday morning to students and staff.

Rachel Askew, president of the school’s Black Student Union, said Crawford’s hiring shows school leaders are listening to student demands.

“This is a statement,” Askew said. “This is a statement to liberal arts universities across the country. This is a statement to historically all-white colleges in America that black leadership is not just for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). ”

In November, Askew and other students who feel underrepresented at the university rallied on the school’s administration steps. They requested more support for students who have faced inequities based on their social, racial and gender identities.

Involving students from underrepresented groups in the candidate interview process demonstrates that school officials are trying to change, Askew said.

“This candidate, he was far and above anything I could have imagined for my university,” she said. “He asked questions about our student experience. I think the selection in itself says that the university is listening.”

Crawford said he hopes to use life experience and the “levels of diversity” he brings to the position help him address some of the student concerns.

“I get it,” he said. “I’m empathetic to it.”

He applauded students for being “brave” and vocalizing their concerns.

Crawford will move from Seattle to Tacoma with his partner, Kent Korneisel. A formal installation and other events to welcome him are expected to be announced after Crawford assumes office in July.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley