The Western Washington University Board of Trustees today unanimously selected Sabah U. Randhawa as Western’s 14th president.
Randhawa, now Oregon State University provost and executive vice president, succeeds Bruce Shepard, who is retiring June 30 after eight years as Western’s president.
“We are delighted that Sabah Randhawa and his wife Uzma Ahmad will be joining our Western community,” said Board of Trustees Chair Karen Lee. “Dr. Randhawa is the person that we believe will be the next great president of Western Washington University. He’s an exceptional person. He has a sense of humor. He’s highly regarded for his commitment to students, to social justice and to the academy of higher education. And he is a person of dignity and humility.”
Randhawa said he is thrilled to become Western’s next president and that he and his wife Uzma Ahmad, who are visiting campus this week, are eager to learn more about Western and its community.
“I really, truly, am deeply honored for this opportunity to lead Western,” Randhawa said. “We are really looking forward to making Bellingham our home.”
Randhawa met this week with student, faculty, and staff governance leadership and members of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC). Those groups provided feedback to the trustees, who also held a public campus forum at noon Tuesday to get more feedback on Randhawa as the preferred candidate.
“The first thing I would like you to know,” Randhawa said in the public forum attended by over 250 people, “I am passionate about education, about educational institutions, and really about enhancing educational institutions. As a first-generation student, I owe my career to education. One of the commitments I made when I switched careers into education from working in industry was to provide those same opportunities for others across the globe.”
Trustees have said that Randhawa impressed them with his commitment to diversity and inclusion, shared governance, strengthening students’ academic experience and closing the achievement gap.
Randhawa said that he was struck by how passionate Western students, faculty and staff are about the university. And he praised the leadership of Bruce and Cyndie Shepard and the many achievements during Bruce Shepard’s tenure as president.
“I would like to thank and congratulate him and his wife for really setting the tone at the top in terms of moving the institution forward with a very intentional focus on students and student success.”
Shepard said that Randhawa is a very strong choice to succeed him as president: “Dr. Randhawa has a well-deserved reputation as a higher education leader who cares about student success and academic excellence.”
The appointment is subject to final agreement on a contract. The trustees authorized Trustee Chase Franklin, working with Lee, to negotiate the terms, including salary and start date, for approval at a later trustees’ meeting.
“Trudi and I welcome Sabah Randhawa to Washington state and the beautiful city of Bellingham,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement. “I am pleased that Western Washington University has found a proven leader who is committed to closing the achievement gap, promoting diversity and inclusion for all students.”
Randhawa first came to OSU from Pakistan as a graduate student in the 1970s. Now as OSU’s second-ranking administrator, Randhawa is both the chief operating officer and chief academic officer, reporting directly to the president. Randhawa provides intellectual leadership to the entire university. The responsibility includes oversight of functions that enable success of the academic enterprise, including faculty and student services, information technology services, research and graduate program administration, and activities and services related to extension and distance and continuing education. He also is responsible for the university’s budget planning and for continuing the development and implementation of the university’s strategic plan.
During Randhawa’s tenure OSU experienced a period of extraordinary growth. Student enrollment surged, the campus and educational programs expanded, and many new facilities were built, such as the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Hospital, the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, the Linus Pauling Science Center, and the International Living Learning Center. The OSU-Cascades Campus was developed, and the university’s first comprehensive fund raising initiative, the Campaign for OSU, raised $1.14 billion.
“OSU is regarded as an outstanding higher education institution,” Lee said, “and Sabah’s fingerprints are all over the success of that fine university.”
Randhawa said he is proudest of some key accomplishments while serving as OSU’s provost:
- Overall enrollment growth, especially targeted toward high-achieving, underrepresented minorities, international and Ecampus students.
- Significant faculty hiring, and partnering with the OSU Foundation to establish endowed faculty positions.
- Strategic academic innovation, including academic divisions, reorganizations, and business centers.
- Establishing an accredited public health program.
- Hiring, building and sustaining a talented leadership team of dedicated and gifted people.
Randhawa earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1976 from the University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan. He earned his master’s degree in industrial engineering from OSU in 1980 and his doctorate from Arizona State University, also in industrial engineering, in 1983.
Previous to becoming OSU’s provost, Randhawa was vice provost for academic affairs and international programs at OSU from 2001 to 2004. He was interim dean of OSU’s College of Business from 2001 to 2002. Prior to that, he was associate dean for operations in the OSU College of Engineering from 1999 to 2000 and department head of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from 1993 to 1999.
After President Shepard announced in June 2015 that he will retire as president of Western at the close of the 2015-2016 academic year, the trustees set in motion a national search for the new president. They selected members of the university’s 15-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee, chaired by Trustee Sue Sharpe, to reflect a broad cross section of the Western community both on and off campus, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, friends and other stakeholders.
The trustees heard a summary of feedback related to Dr. Randhawa’s campus visit before taking the final vote. The search process actively sought feedback, with 25 listening sessions and stakeholder meetings on and off campus. An online survey drew in 645 responses, with the most responses from students. The committee, working with search consultant Greenwood/Asher & Associates, selected a group of 18 candidates for first-round interviews, from an initial pool of 75 applications. Based on those interviews and reference checks conducted by the PSAC and the consultants, the PSAC unanimously recommended five finalists to the trustees for their final consideration. The candidates were all screened and evaluated using the preferred qualifications and criteria developed by the PSAC and approved by the trustees, based on the listening sessions and surveys.