Deborah Curtis said she was “floating on a cloud” Thursday after learning she will become Indiana State University’s 12th president.
ISU officials made the announcement, and the board of trustees will confirm the appointment next week.
Curtis’ new role brings her higher education career full circle, she said.
She received her Ph.D. from ISU in curriculum and instruction in 1986, and since then, she has worked at universities with missions similar to Indiana State’s. Now, the provost and chief learning officer at the University of Central Missouri is coming back to where it all started.
“Much of my foundation for the rest of my career in higher ed began here, and to come back and have the opportunity to serve Indiana State after several decades is more than I could have hoped for,” she said in a telephone interview after the university made the announcement.
“It’s more than an honor and privilege. It’s a real thrill for me, professionally and personally.”
She will be the university’s first female president and only the second ISU graduate to serve in the top job.
In a news release, board of trustees chairman David Campbell said he will recommend the appointment of Curtis as the next president. “Dr. Curtis brings a breadth of experience from her roles at Central Missouri and Illinois State, and I am confident she will build upon the tremendous success that has been achieved in the past 10 years and advance Indiana State to even greater heights,” he said.
Curtis has served as the provost and chief learning officer at the University of Central Missouri since 2012.
In that role, her responsibilities have included overseeing all academic programs and support services including the university’s four academic colleges, the library and extended studies, as well as enrollment management, information technology and student affairs.
She was selected as ISU’s next president following a national search that drew more than 70 candidates.
The other finalist was Michael Licari, ISU provost.
“It was a thorough and transparent process, and the board of trustees deeply appreciates the widespread participation by the campus and community,” Campbell stated. “This was a difficult decision, as we were fortunate to have two exceptional finalists.” In addition to getting her PhD from ISU, Curtis has other ties to the Wabash Valley and lived with her family in Paris, Ill., for seven years; she had her two youngest children while living there. Her husband, Lynn, taught and was the head basketball coach at Paris High School. She also was a music specialist at schools in Chrisman and Paris.
After they moved on, her husband became a school principal and later a superintendent; he is now retired. They have five grown children.
But Curtis says it was the year she taught at Indiana State’s former University School in 1977-78 as a K-8 music teacher that set her on her higher education career path. “I discovered how much I enjoyed working with the college students who did their field experiences at the lab school and decided to earn my Ph.D,” she said.
The 67-year-old plans to assume her new duties in early January, and her immediate priorities will include filling several leadership positions that will be vacant as people step down at the end of December. “There are some crucial positions and we need to get right to that,” she said.
Those positions include vice president for enrollment management, marketing and communications and vice president for development.
Another item on her agenda will be meeting and working with Provost Licari and listening to his thoughts on the university and what he sees as its priorities. She also knows she has a lot to learn about Indiana State and its programs as well as state government and its policies.
In a recent presentation, Curtis described the opportunity she sees ahead for the university. “I think Indiana State is poised to be a national leader, not just state, not just a regional, but a national leader” in serving a student population that includes many who are first generation, Pell-eligible and under-represented.
She praises the work of outgoing President Dan Bradley and the strategic plans developed during his tenure. “This is a special time in the evolution of Indiana State…I am excited to begin working on furthering that progress,” she added.
In her recent visit to campus, she was “delighted” to see how the downtown — and ISU campus — have evolved. When she attended Indiana State, “There were still a bunch of streets running through what is now a lot of green space.” Now, she describes campus as “lovely.”
She hopes to continue President Bradley’s emphasis on strong campus/community relations. Success and progress for one means success and progress for the other, she said.
Asked about recent controversy related to Hulman Center renovation and a proposed convention center, she said she hopes to work with the community group that still hopes to build a convention center.
“I absolutely hope to work with that group. I don’t have the in depth knowledge that everyone has had that has been engaged with the process. That will be a quick getting up to speed for me, but I’ll certainly rely on President Bradley to fill me in as well as community leaders on where we are with that and see if there is a way to come together.” But she also noted of the $37.5 million state appropriation ISU will use to renovate Hulman Center, “In this environment right now in higher ed, in any state, you really can’t sit on an opportunity, indefinitely, to use those dollars; they can go away as quickly as they come in. So I can understand a certain urgency to say we’ve got to move on this.”
Trustees will vote to confirm Curtis’ appointment during a 1 p.m. special meeting Wednesday in the State Room of Tirey Hall. Following the meeting, the trustees will host a reception to formally welcome Curtis and her husband.
Bradley will step down from the presidency on Jan. 3 after nine and a half years of service.
Curtis and her husband plan to live on campus in Condit House.