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Eastern Washington University names four finalists for president’s job

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 27, 2022

Students walk through Eastern Washington University’s campus between classes on April 12, 2019, in Cheney.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Students walk through Eastern Washington University’s campus between classes on April 12, 2019, in Cheney. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Eastern Washington University has narrowed the search for the university’s 27th president down to four.

The finalists, announced Thursday, are Monroe Gorden Jr., UCLA’s vice chancellor of student affairs; EWU Interim President David May; Dr. John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine; and Shari McMahan, provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, San Bernardino.

Each candidate will visit EWU next week for interviews and open forums that will take place on the following schedule: Gorden (Tuesday), May (Wednesday), Tomkowiak (Thursday) and McMahan (Friday).

The times for each of the forums, which will be in person and available for viewing through Zoom, are available on the EWU website.

EWU received more than 60 applicants to replace f Mary Cullinan, who served as president for six years before resigning in 2020. May, the school’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, has served in the interim position since that August.

The college Board of Trustees met Tuesday to select the finalists using recommendations from the college’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee, an 18-member group of faculty, staff, students and other members of the campus community.

“Four of us (trustees) got to sit in with this committee and just heard an awful lot about these people,” Trustee Robert Whaley, the search committee’s chair, said Tuesday, “and it’s truly an extraordinary group of people that applied to our university.”

Here’s a breakdown of each of the candidates, according to biographies posted on EWU’s presidential search webpage:

Monroe Gorden Jr.

As UCLA’s vice chancellor of student affairs, Gorden helps lead more than 25 departments and more than 600 staff members. Student Affairs is the largest staff division at the school.

Gorden first joined UCLA in 2006 as the university’s chief administrative and financial officer.

Monroe Gorden Jr.,   (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)
Monroe Gorden Jr.,  (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)

In his time as vice chancellor of student affairs, Gorden has introduced divisionwide initiatives within Student Affairs to promote respectful dialogue, to increase internships and experiential learning for students, and to create programming to help students with mental health and wellness. Student Affairs also prioritizes student growth and professional development opportunities within the division.

Gorden received a bachelor’s degree in political science, with an emphasis in business, from UCLA in 1993 and a juris doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law in 1997. He completed UCLA’s Anderson School of Management Executive program in 2009 and is licensed to practice law in California.

David May

May has worked at EWU since 1999, starting his career as a research associate in the political science department.

He has served in faculty positions for the department of international government and international affairs program, which he chaired from 2001 to 2010. May took on the role of vice provost for academic affairs in 2017 for two years until he was named provost and vice president for academic affairs in 2019.

David May, interim president of Eastern Washington University, is seen Wednesday in front of Showalter Hall on the Cheney campus.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
David May, interim president of Eastern Washington University, is seen Wednesday in front of Showalter Hall on the Cheney campus. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

As interim president, May has been at the helm as the university has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and budget challenges, including longstanding financial struggles with the athletic department.

He received his doctorate and master’s degrees in political science from Washington State University, having earned his bachelor’s degree from Whitman College.

John Tomkowiak

Tomkowiak’s role as founding dean of WSU’s College of Medicine in Spokane is the latest in a career in higher education that has taken him from coast to coast.

His previous professional experience includes stints as executive vice president for clinical affairs at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, where he served as president of the university health system; dean of Chicago Medical School, a graduate school of Rosalind Franklin University; vice dean of education at New York Medical College; and course director positions at Florida State University.

John Tomkowiak  (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)
John Tomkowiak (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)

Tomkowiak is certified in general psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biological psychology from the University of Illinois and completed his medical degree at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Tomkowiak obtained a master’s in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in 2007.

Shari McMahan

McMahan is the first woman provost in the history of California State University, San Bernardino, having started her tenure in September 2016.

As provost and vice president for academic affairs, McMahan’s responsibilities include overseeing academic programs, personnel, research, graduate studies and undergraduate studies, as well as the College of Business and Public Administration, College of Education, College of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences and College of Natural Sciences.

Shari McMahan  (Courtesy of California State University, San Bernardino)
Shari McMahan (Courtesy of California State University, San Bernardino)

Her listed accomplishments include efforts to increase graduation rates and faculty diversity. She earned the role after 16 years at California State University, Fullerton, where she most recently served as deputy provost.

McMahan has a doctorate in social ecology from the University of California, Irvine, a master’s degree from California State University, Northridge; and a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Irvine.

Process, next steps

Trustees narrowed the field anonymously during Tuesday’s meeting, first convening behind closed doors in executive session before coming out and choosing candidates by designated numbers rather than name. They narrowed a list of 12 de facto semifinalists to four, with two alternates if any of the top picks chose to withdraw.

According to the university, participants in the public forums or other candidate meetings will have the chance to provide feedback to the Board of Trustees electronically. Feedback must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Feb. 4.

University officials said the Board of Trustees is then expected to meet in executive session on Feb. 5 to evaluate the feedback, although the final decision will likely come later.

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