Tom Stritikus, deputy director of K-12 Education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was named the next president of Fort Lewis College on Monday by the Board of Trustees.
Stritikus will take over Aug. 1 for FLC President Dene Thomas, who will delay her retirement a month until July 31 to accommodate Stritikus’ starting date.
“I am eager to partner with FLC’s faculty and staff to build upon the institution’s rich history and maximize its potential to serve students and the needs of the Four Corners region,” Stritikus said in a news release issued Monday morning by the college. “My family feels fortunate to be joining such an amazing community. We were struck by the integrity and authenticity of everyone we met at FLC and in Durango.”
Steve Short, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said Stritikus’ interest in FLC and his experiences allow him to address the challenges facing the college in a timely fashion.
“Dr. Stritikus dedicated extensive time researching both the college and the Durango area prior to and during his campus visit,” Short said. “... We are fortunate to be able to draw on his leadership skills.”
Short said all three candidates – which included Maria Guajardo, deputy vice president of Soka University in Tokyo, and Teresa Balser, dean of teaching and learning at the School of Engineering at Curtin University in Perth, Australia – were discussed thoroughly by trustees.
He said each had strengths and unique skill sets, but in the end, the vote for Stritikus was unanimous.
Stritikus will earn $310,000 annually, a 19 percent increase from Thomas’ salary. In addition, he will be given $20,000 annually in deferred compensation as a retirement package and the use of a car for business purposes.
“We had real deliberation and consideration about what each could bring and what would result as the best decision for Fort Lewis College going forward,” Short said.
Michael Valdez, associate professor of management and faculty representative on the Board of Trustees, said, “Like anything, there are individual preferences among the faculty. I think the faculty saw that each candidate brought something a little special and unique to the table. I think the faculty recognized this is just the first step in moving forward on our path to success.”
Stritikus comes to FLC from his position as deputy director of K-12 Education at the Gates Foundation, where he has led funding initiatives in teacher prep, innovation and education.
FLC’s commitment to affordable, quality education for first-generation students and its work to meet the needs of Native American and Latino students drew Stritikus to the job, he said Monday in an interview with The Durango Herald. In addition, he found the quality of the faculty and its dedication to the teaching a big lure.
Stritikus said his own biography reinforces the importance of a quality, low-cost eduction.
“Like many working-class kids, I applied to one college, the closest one to our backyard, the University of Nebraska. And if I wasn’t well-prepared and debt-free when I left, I wouldn’t be talking to you on the phone right now,” he said.
On April 10, Fort Lewis College announced cuts of $4.16 million for the 2018-19 academic year after enduring an 11 percent decline in enrollment over the past nine years. The cuts include laying off 11 staff members, including three lecturers.
Layoffs did not affect tenured or tenure-track professors, and no academic programs were eliminated.
A total of 33 full-time equivalent positions were impacted in some way by the budget plan. Between full- and part-time positions within those 33 FTEs, about 40 individual positions were eliminated, reduced or restructured, said Mitch Davis, spokesman for FLC.
Previous to the Gates Foundation, Stritikus was dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington, where he also taught. When he left UW in 2014, the College of Education was ranked as the sixth-best program in the nation, according to US News & World Report, up from 16th four years earlier.
He is a first-generation college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1993 before joining the Teach for America program and teaching elementary school in Baltimore.
In 1997, he entered graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley where he earned a master’s and doctorate in Education in Language, Literacy and Culture.
Stritikus is married to Debbie Pfeifer, and they have twin seventh-grade boys, Leo and Hayes.
Another lure for the couple, he said, is the quality of K-12 schools in Durango.
“We just feel this is a tremendous opportunity to raise our family in a great place,” he said.