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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga president Thayne McCulloh to retire next year

Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh will retire in July 2025, he announced Monday.

“This decision follows a lengthy period of reflection, discernment and consultation,” McCulloh said in a statement. “After 30-plus years at this wonderful institution, the time is coming to step aside and allow others to have the great privilege and responsibility of serving Gonzaga into its future.”

Christy Larsen, chair of the Gonzaga board of trustees, praised McCulloh in a statement.

“He has been a tireless champion of Gonzaga, and his commitment to advancing the Catholic and Jesuit mission, effective collaboration, academic excellence, student success, shared governance, fundraising, and fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for faculty, staff, and students has been foundational and instrumental to our success,” she said.

McCulloh intends to continue working through the transition and complete “several important projects and initiatives during his final year,” according to a news release.

His departure isn’t spurred by any specific event, he said, but rather the stressors of the job, many of which aren’t visible to the outside eye.

“The issues of the day play themselves out on a campus community, so after a time you start to realize that time on the road and all of those kinds of things start to kind of create real stress and challenges,” he said.

“I think 15 years is quite a run.”

McCulloh graduated from Gonzaga in 1989 with a psychology degree. His senior year, he was elected student body president and was involved in residence life. Post-grad, he returned to the school to teach psychology after getting his master’s and doctorate degrees from Oxford University. He went on to work as the director of housing and dean of student financial services. In 2010, he was elevated from interim president to the 26th president of Gonzaga, becoming the first non-Jesuit leader in the school’s history. He is the second-longest serving president at the school.

The president’s announcement comes 14 months before he leaves the university, giving the board of trustees a lengthy period to search for new leadership, he said, and ensuring a “smooth, effective and meaningful transition for the new President and for the community.”

The board has retained the firm of Russell Reynolds Associates to support the work of a search committee that will soon be appointed, the release said.

Throughout his 15 years as Gonzaga president, McCulloh is proud of the school’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, capital projects completed and its current financial picture, the latter of which he credited largely to benefactors.

During the pandemic, Gonzaga was one of the first universities in the west to open campus for students in fall of 2020, giving students the option to learn from home or on campus, and faculty could decide to hold classes remotely or in person. There were no pandemic-related layoffs or reductions in benefits or salaries for faculty and staff, according to the release.

“I think that that really helped people to feel as though they had agency in the face of a lot of real fear and concerns and legitimate worries about what this meant and where it was going to take us,” McCulloh said. “I am always going to be grateful and very proud of our community for the way in which people showed up.”

The Gonzaga campus also hosted some of the earliest vaccination sites in the Spokane region.

McCulloh said he’s eager to watch his successor from afar, and advised that they should continue to nurture the symbiotic relationship the university has with businesses and organizations in Spokane and beyond. Partnerships include the Health Partnership with the University of Washington, Gonzaga’s Center for Community Engagement, Opportunity Northeast and some with Catholic Charities Eastern Washington.

“Gonzaga and Spokane are interlinked in so many different ways that benefit both,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity for the next leader to continue to build and capitalize on those relationships, and to even broaden and enrich them more widely into the Northwest region and the western part of the US.”

Another source of pride stemming from McCulloh’s 15-year presidency and 34-year work at the school is his students. In leading the Gonzaga administration, he said his focus has been on students’ experiences and achievements, a priority he hopes new leadership will share.

“Their success is the way by which we principally measure our success,” he said. “Whether that’s occurring in classrooms and labs or on courts or fields, or whether that’s happening out in the community or on our own campus. Really our focus is and I believe needs to remain on our students.”