First female president of N.J.’s second largest university to retire

Posted Sep 09, 2020

After more than two decades leading the state’s second largest university, Susan A. Cole will step down as president of Montclair State University at the end of this academic year.

In her fall address on Wednesday, Cole announced she would retire on July 1, 2021 or whenever an incoming president can take over.

“This was not the kind of last year I would have preferred either for me or for all of you,” Cole said in her address. “But in this last year, whatever it brings, I will continue to do my best for you and for the university.”

The announcement comes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended higher education nationwide. Unlike neighboring institutions like Rutgers and Princeton University, Montclair has continued to offer in-person classes and on-campus housing in a hybrid semester, this fall.

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“Once we are firmly on the other side of the crisis, we will be able to turn our attention again to realizing our ever-evolving vision for the future,” Cole said. “However, my role in this university’s growth and development is coming to a close.”

Cole, 78, took the helm of the university in 1998 as Montclair’s eighth president and the first woman in that role. She oversaw the creation of four new schools and colleges, the school’s upgraded classification to a doctoral research university and the installation of a New Jersey Transit station at the school.

“Susan Cole has led the university through a remarkable period of growth and transformation,” said Francis Cuss, chair of the Board of Trustees, in a Montclair press release. “The Board greatly admires her leadership abilities and deeply appreciates that she has agreed to remain as president to lead the university through this very challenging year, until a national search for her successor is completed and a new president appointed.”

Montclair wasn’t Cole’s first tenure as a university president.

She first served a five-year stint as president of Metropolitan State University. Before that, she acted as Vice President for University Administration and Personnel at Rutgers, Associate University Dean for Academic Affairs at Antioch University and as a faculty member at the City University of New York.

In 2009, then Governor-Elect Chris Christie selected Cole as a member of his transition team. She had worked with the previous five administrations in various roles.

“The people of New Jersey owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr. Susan Cole for her extraordinary contributions to our state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in the release. “She believes deeply in the power of higher education to transform lives and open doors of opportunity. Dr. Cole has been a tireless advocate for the students she serves, and I have great respect and admiration for her and wish her nothing but the best as she embarks on this next chapter.”

Cole promised students her attention and dedication to students during an unprecedented 2020-21 school year.

“Until July or whenever after that date the new president can take over, I will be president, fully engaged, as I have always been,” Cole said. “This is not a farewell speech — the farewell speeches will undoubtedly come much later — but right now, we have a very tough year to get through together and that is what needs to be the focus of our attention.”

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