Johns Announces Resignation

Reilly made Chief Operations Officer


File Photo

David L. Johns is stepping down as the 12th President of Ferrum College.

Compiled by Staff

This story has been updated.

In an email to faculty and staff Nov. 1, President David L. Johns announced his resignation from the college.

The surprise announcement came amid a time of uncertainty for Johns and his nearly five-year tenure on campus. It had come to light recently in The Washington Post that Johns was a finalist for a position at Northern New Mexico College.

Soon after the disclosure, Johns withdrew his candidacy for the position on Oct. 16.

It was further reported in the Roanoke Times Nov. 2 that Johns was also a candidate for a position at Wenatchee Valley College in Washington. WVC had posted on Oct. 27 that Johns interviewed Oct. 20 and 21 and was one of four finalists for its presidential vacancy.

WCV is expected to announce its decision Nov. 7–the same day Johns’ resignation becomes official.

Reaction to Johns’ resignation was immediate. Scott Showalter, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, issued a statement within hours:

“Earlier today, Dr. David L. Johns shared with you that he intends to step down as President of Ferrum College, effective Nov. 7, 2022. We are grateful for his service to the college and his many contributions during his tenure as President, including managing the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and for his efforts in establishing the strategic direction of the college. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we wish Dr. Johns all the best in his next endeavor,” Showalter said in a statement.

In an interview with IB reporters, Showalter elaborated that the departure was a surprise but not uncommon.

“David’s been here coming on five years,” Showalter said. “Five years is about the average tenure for a college president. It surprised us, yes, but presidents can do that.”

Showalter underscored that the Board still has a good relationship with Johns.

“The separation is nothing but friendly,” he said. “He is interviewing in Washington this week, and I hope he gets the job.”

Showalter said that there had been no push from the Board that it was time for Johns to go.

“He made the decision on his own, and I totally respect that,” Showalter said.

Moving forward, Showalter indicated the Board will move swiftly to find an interim president, and then the search will be undertaken for the permanent role.

“I would imagine the search for the permanent president will consider both internal and external candidates, but that decision has not been made yet,” Showalter clarified.

The basic plan is to have an interim president by January 2023, but there is no current timetable for establishing Johns’ eventual successor.

“I’m hopeful that we will get the right interim president in here,” Showalter told reporters. “If we get the right interim, there won’t be a rush to get the permanent president.”

Showalter offered encouragement for where things stand.

“My message is that you have a very good (President’s) Cabinet here, and they are the ones who run the day-to-day operations of the college. Their focus is going to be ‘How do we make sure the students have the best experience possible?’ As far as the operations of the college, we shouldn’t miss a beat.”

Meanwhile, the Board has appointed current Vice President of Academic Affairs Kevin Reilly as the Chief Operations Officer during the time of transition.

“Since arriving at Ferrum in 2002, Dr. Reilly has served in a variety of leadership roles, including his most recent appointment as Vice President in 2021. The Trustees appreciate the willingness of Dr. Reilly to assume this leadership role during this time of transition. We are confident in Dr. Reilly’s ability, and that of the entire President’s cabinet, to lead the college over the coming months,” Showalter wrote.

Administration seemed poised to move forward.

“I am excited for this opportunity for new presidential leadership at Ferrum College,” said Jason Powell, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs. The appointment of Dr. Reilly as Chief Operations Officer is strategic and very appropriate. I have worked closely with him for nearly 20 years, and in every role, he has kept the college’s best interests at the center of all of his activities and energy. He will provide great stability while we move into the process of searching for a new president in the next few months.”

In his new, temporary role, Reilly praised Johns’ work and relationship.

“Dr. Johns has served as Ferrum College president through extremely challenging times,” Reilly said. “He has led us through a global pandemic and helped usher us into the new terrain of post-Covid higher education.”

Reilly continued on a personal note:

“Dr. Johns has been a great mentor and friend to me throughout his time here. I will greatly miss our conversations about higher ed leadership. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as C.O.O. during this time of transition.  I have deep trust in Scott Showalter and the members of the Board of Trustees to guide us in our search for the next President. As the Chair of the Ferrum College Board of Trustees, Scott is the right person in the right seat for us.”

Reilly also said he looked forward to the task ahead.

“I am excited to work with him and the Board of Trustees in any capacity they wish,” Reilly concluded.

As Faculty Council Chair, Clay Britton added his support for both Johns and Reilly.

“We appreciate Dr. Johns’ leadership, support and dedication to the college, the faculty and staff, and its students over the last five years,” Britton wrote. “We wish Dr. Johns the best on his next adventure. We have confidence in Dr. Reilly being appointed as the C.O.O. while a search is ongoing for an interim president. The members of the faculty council, and the faculty as a whole, will support him during this time of transition in leadership.”

Angie Dahl, Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life voiced reassurance to students during the transition.

“We are thankful for the ways Dr. Johns led through Covid; he always put the student experience at the front of our mission,” Dahl said. “Students can be assured that we will continue to provide an excellent student experience in student life, athletics, academics and across the college.  We are excited to have all of our students meet the interim president when they return in January and welcome him or her to the Ferrum community.”

Moreover, Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies Martha Haley-Bowling looked to a horizon of promise.

“In the midst of change there is a time where we can be creative and explore new ideas, and that time is now. I am appreciative of Dr. Johns and what he has done for Ferrum College and look forward to new opportunities,” Haley-Bowling said.

Showalter addressed faculty and staff concerns in an open forum Thursday afternoon on campus, fielding questions and suggestions. He said Ferrum faces the same pressures as all small rural colleges right now.

“You can read the paper, and you can come up with a list of things that pretty much have included all small colleges today. We need to make sure we can get a president in here who is very experienced in dealing with those issues.”

He continued that in the past year, Johns had rolled out a strategy to combat those issues and address them.

“Personally, I think it’s the right strategy. The president that we bring in isn’t going to be about necessarily taking the college in a different direction. We have a strategy—how will we best implement that? I think that will be the direction of the interim president—implementing the current strategy.”

Showalter, in closing, voiced positivity for the situation.

“To me it’s about opportunity. Presidents leaving is just a part of life. Think about the new energy and excitement a new president is going to bring to campus. And I would look at this as an opportunity to bring new ideas. We may not fully agree on everything the Board is going to do, and the Board may not even fully agree, but I am optimistic about this because I see change as opportunity.”

Cody Gibson, Scout Lynch, and Abigail McGovern provided research for this story.