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UT System names finalist for president of Stephen F. Austin State University

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

UT System names finalist for president of Stephen F. Austin State University” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents has named Neal Weaver as the sole finalist to lead Stephen F. Austin State University. If confirmed, Weaver would be the Nacogdoches-based school’s first permanent president since it joined the UT System last year.

Weaver has served as president of Georgia Southwestern State University, which belongs to the University of Georgia System based in Americus, Georgia, for the past seven years.

“The Regents met with outstanding candidates, and Dr. Weaver’s ability to lead in a thriving academic environment, coupled with his commitment to innovation and strategic growth, make him an ideal appointment to serve Stephen F. Austin State University as it enters its new era as a UT institution,” said UT System Board Chair Kevin Eltife in a press release Thursday.

Under state law, university boards must wait 21 days before officially appointing the finalist to the position.

Gina Oglesbee, SFA’s former vice president for finance and administration, has served as the interim president of the nearly 11,000-student school since the prior interim president, Steve Westbrook, retired in June. Oglebee was not a candidate for the permanent position.

According to the UT System, Weaver increased enrollment and retention rates at Georgia Southwestern State and lead the school as its foundation saw donations double.

Prior to his time in Georgia, Weaver worked as an administrator at various universities across the country, including West Texas A&M University in Canyon and Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. Weaver was recommended by a presidential advisory committee that included university faculty, students and community members, along with UT presidents and regents.

Westbrook replaced former President Scott Gordon, who left the university in spring 2022 after a tumultuous time at the university. Gordon drew ire from faculty after the board approved a $85,000 raise for him as he called for furloughs, budget cuts to academic departments and voluntary retirements in response to financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gordon returned the pay raise, but discontent with his leadership remained from faculty and staff through the remainder of his tenure. Six months after the board stood with Gordon in the face of a no-confidence vote, regents announced they had “mutually agreed” with Gordon to part ways in the “best interest of the university.”

Around the time of Gordon’s departure, the board also started to weigh publicly whether to join a university system. The school faced multiple years of enrollment declines. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, SFA’s enrollment has dropped nearly 9% between fall 2021 and fall 2023. Internal surveys also showed the faculty supported the move. During the fracas over Gordon’s pay raise, faculty said Gordon told them he and the board were struggling to get a handle on the university’s finances, another reason faculty supported joining a larger system with more institutional support and financial resources.

While four university systems tried to woo the East Texas school, regents ultimately decided to join the UT System because of the access to funding from the Permanent University Fund, which consists of assets created by oil and gas revenue from 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas that rake in billions of dollars annually.

State lawmakers passed a bill approving the move last year and SFA officially joined the UT System in September.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Disclosure: University of Texas System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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