Patricia Okker, Ph.D., who has served as dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri since 2017, was chosen as president-elect by the New College of Florida Board of Trustees on April 20, 2021, following a national search. The new president, who is expected to assume the role on July 1, will succeed President Donal O’Shea, who has led New College since 2012.
New College began its search for a president in October, engaging in a six-month process that included multiple open forums and listening sessions with students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees and community members. The New College Presidential Search Committee then selected 12 applicants from a national pool of more than 130 candidates to interview. Five finalists were invited to campus for in-person interviews between March 29 and April 9.
“So many individuals offered input during this process, which was tremendously valuable,” said Presidential Search Committee Chair Mary Ruiz, who also chairs the New College Board of Trustees. “Their active engagement was a welcome and essential part of our search. It was truly a community effort.”
The presidential selection now must go to an official confirmation vote by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, during a public meeting on June 23 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.
Patricia Okker joined the University of Missouri as an assistant professor of English in 1990. She was promoted to full professor in 2004, a year after winning the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.
From 2005 to 2011, Okker chaired the English Department, overseeing 70 full-time faculty and a $5.5 million annual budget. She then moved to the Provost’s Office, where she developed a new model for academic program reviews of 280 degree programs and led the university’s successful 10-year accreditation team.
Since 2017, Okker has served as dean of the College of Arts and Science, where she oversees 450 full-time faculty, 135 staff and 6,500 students across 26 departments and schools with an annual operating budget of $120 million. In her role as dean, she has raised the College’s graduation and retention rates by implementing a data-driven strategic plan for student success, and increased the diversity of the faculty.
Her teaching and research interests include 19th-century American literature, American women writers, American periodicals, career preparation in the liberal arts, and writing and wellness. Okker holds three degrees in English language and literature: a bachelor’s degree with honors from Allegheny College, a master’s degree with distinction from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Of New College, Okker said, “One of the reasons I am so excited about New College’s future is that it has always combined my two great academic passions: affordable public education, and the arts and sciences. But this is not simply a personal preference. New College has every reason to be optimistic about its future because the very things that make New College unique are precisely the things that students are demanding of higher education more broadly.”
On behalf of the New College community, Ruiz looks forward to Okker’s leadership.
“Dr. Pat Okker is a proven leader who undertakes complexity and achieves excellence with a sense of inclusion and shared purpose,” Ruiz said. “She will lead New College to even greater contributions in higher education and our community.”