ASHLAND — Ashland University President Carlos Campo said he wasn’t looking to leave.
Nevertheless, AU announced Aug. 11 that Campo will assume a “new leadership position” outside the university in the next nine to 12 months.
Campo has served as AU’s president since June 2015. Last October, the Board of Trustees voted to extend his contract until May 2025. The university didn’t announce what new position he accepted, but a press release stated that information will be “forthcoming.”
In an interview with Ashland Source on Aug. 16, Campo said the new position will not be at an institution in the state of Ohio. He said he promised not to share specific details about the new position until the start of 2024.
“The move hasn’t been planned for long,” Campo said. “It’s not something we were contemplating or looking for.”
But, Campo said, Ashland University teaches students to pursue their life’s calling. He said the position felt like a new calling for him. The opportunity presented itself in the last month, Campo told Ashland Source.
The press release from AU stated the board will look to fill his position by spring 2024.
According to ProPublica’s nonprofit explorer, Campo earned $476,687 in his role as president for the fiscal year ending in May 2022.
Looking toward the future
Campo said he anticipates a smooth transition. His goal is continuity between himself and his successor.
“I want to see AU continue to thrive,” Campo said.
He said he’s leaving AU on “great terms,” and with plenty of time to find a replacement. Campo also said he’s not aware of current plans to make changes to the university’s executive team or strategic plan, which extends to 2025.
His chief of staff, Aaron Ross, will leave AU with him.
Ross served as an assistant professor of theology at Southeastern University before joining AU as Campo’s chief of staff. He’s been at AU for two and a half years.
Ross said Campo asked him to consider leaving with him, and it just felt like the right step. They’ve been in conversation about it for around a month, Ross said.
“I’ve seen him be able to flourish in being collaborative in how he’s led the leadership team here,” Ross said. “I’m excited to be able to go with him and keep learning from him in those ways.”
Ross said he’ll miss Ashland — the city and the university.
Campo said many of the decisions about the strategic plan and executive team will be up to the Board of Trustees and new president.
“The board’s job is to hire, evaluate, compensate and fire presidents,” Campo said.
He added that a new president also gets to evaluate his or her team and make changes as necessary.
Filling Campo’s shoes
Gregory McBrayer, president of Ashland University’s faculty senate, said news about Campo’s departure at the end of this academic year surprised him.
He said there had already been talks happening about finding a replacement for Campo before the end of the 2024-2025 academic year. Those talks have been now accelerated. McBrayer said he doesn’t yet have knowledge of an exact timeline for a search committee or hiring Campo’s replacement.
The AU release stated the Board of Trustees hopes to find someone to fill the position by spring 2024.
McBrayer said most faculty members are looking toward the future and finding someone to fill Campo’s position.
“I think we need to focus on making sure we get the right person here because a lot of us are trying to build our lives here,” McBrayer said.
Faculty will be involved in the hiring process for a new president in two ways, according to McBrayer.
First, there will likely be open forums for faculty members to speak with potential candidates for the job and share their thoughts with the search committee.
Faculty will also have representation on the search committee. McBrayer said the Board of Trustees’ policy manual requires one faculty member be appointed to the search committee by the board chair.
Traditionally, McBrayer said the board chair appoints the faculty senate president to that position. He doesn’t know whether he’ll serve on the search committee yet, but said it wouldn’t surprise him if that duty fell to him.
McBrayer said he hopes the Board of Trustees thinks outside the box in its search for a new president. He said it’s a challenging time for higher education. He hopes to look at similar schools nationally that have seen success and follow those models.
McBrayer added he thinks the committee should take a serious look at internal candidates.
“I think we need someone who’s going to be committed to this place for the next 10 to 20 years,” McBrayer said.
Campo’s time at AU has not been without challenges, but McBrayer thinks the president did a good job overall leading at AU.
“It’s no secret that the last nine years have had their share of difficulties, but it’s undeniable that Campo has had a number of achievements at this university,” he said.
Earlier this year, the university faced a budget deficit of over $2 million thanks to low enrollment. According to the Ashland Times-Gazette, 14 employees lost their jobs. No professors lost their positions.
Campo also faced a vote of no confidence from the faculty senate in May 2020. The Board of Trustees stood behind Campo. It issued statements in his favor, and voted later that year to extend his contract to 2024.
“That’s just kind of the nature of the beast, that faculty and administration don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but there have been achievements that are undeniable and I think that the faculty are excited for what comes next,” McBrayer said.
McBrayer said the university formed a shared governance advisory board after that 2020 vote. He said it aimed to improve relationships between faculty, administration and the board to make sure all three groups were moving in the same direction.
“As things go forward, I think we’re all on the same page that it’s a very important moment for Ashland,” McBrayer said.
In the AU release, Jim Hess, the chairman of Ashland University’s Board of Trustees, shared thoughts on Campo’s departure.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express my deep appreciation for Dr. Campo’s leadership and service to Ashland University,” Hess said. “His leadership through challenging times in higher education has put AU in a much better place than it was when he arrived in 2015.”
Campo said there are a number of efforts he’s proud of from his time at AU.
He said the university stood for free speech and broadened its connection with the Ashland community under his presidency — both things that were important to him. He also said he’s proud of the university’s correctional education program, which expanded under him. It’s the largest correctional education program in the country.
In addition, Campo spearheaded the creation of the veterans resource center on campus.
“I stay focused on the things we’ve been able to achieve together,” Campo said. “Leadership is never just one person.”
Ross said Campo’s fundraising ability was one of his strengths. During his time at AU, Campo led a $100 million fundraising campaign to build the Niss Athletic Center, complete campus beautification projects and add new academic programs.
Ross also said Campo’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic impressed him.
“Leading through that time is never easy,” Ross said. “I joined him here in the midst of COVID. To see how this institution and leadership had run COVID [compared to] previous institutions, I think it was quite an accomplishment.”
Campo said more than anything else, he’s grateful for the way both the city and university welcomed him.
“I always want to express gratitude to this community,” Campo said. “I can condense my time at AU into two words: thank you.”
The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.
This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.