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Bloomsburg president to lead Lock Haven campus

Dr. Bashar Hanna

From Staff Reports

LOCK HAVEN — The president of Bloomsburg University who has a controversial past has been named interim president of Lock Haven University as the two school prepare for an integration with Mansfield University.

Dr. Bashar Hanna began his job at LHU today.

He succeeds Dr. Robert Pignatello, who is joining the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) Office of the Chancellor as senior advisor for integration strategy, focusing on workforce development and short-term credentials.

“I am humbled to have been selected as interim president of Lock Haven University by the State System’s Board of Governors,” Hanna said. “They have put their faith in me to lead Lock Haven into the future. With student success as our guiding light, we will continue to fulfill the university’s mission. Now more than ever, our region’s students need access to an exemplary, affordable education. The work we are doing together to support the northeast integration will expand access to LHU’s premier academic programs for students across the Commonwealth and beyond.”

While working as acting president at LHU, Hanna will continue to serve as president of Bloomsburg University, a position he’s held since 2017.

The appointment likely does not come as a surprise to many considering that, as has been discussed, Bloomsburg is the largest of the three schools within the integration study.

The PASSHE statement said Hanna has “extensive experience with the State System, including time served at Kutztown University as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and interim provost from 2005 to 2009.”

Hanna also leads the team overseeing the proposed integration of three universities — Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield — into a single accredited entity with three campuses.

“Dr. Hanna has proven himself to be a student-focused leader driven by a passion for public higher education,” Chancellor, Dan Greenstein said. “The expertise and heart he brings to the university is also present in the work underway on integrations. We are excelling toward the goals of bolstering student success and expanding opportunities at these three campuses thanks in large part to Dr. Hanna’s leadership.”

“Dr. Hanna’s expertise has guided Bloomsburg and the entire integrations effort with great skill and with a sharp focus on student success,” Board chair, Cindy Shapira said. “He has our full confidence as a leader of two campuses and as someone who can bring constituencies together in the common purpose of quality, affordable public higher education.”

PASSHE said among Hanna’s accomplishments are that, at Bloomsburg, he improved student retention by 5 percent in just two years, doubled the Bloomsburg Foundation’s endowment growth to $60 million, and established the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“On behalf of the Bloomsburg University Council of Trustees, I congratulate President Hanna on this additional appointment,” said Judge Mary Jane Bowes, chair of the Bloomsburg Council of Trustees. “Since Dr. Hanna began guiding BU in 2017, we have been grateful for his visionary leadership and keen focus on student success, and particularly for his expertise during the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current integration discussions with Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities. I have every confidence that Dr. Hanna is the right leader for Bloomsburg, and am certain that his collaborative approach and strong leaderships skills will be equally as effective at Lock Haven.”

Hanna earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology, a master’s degree in developmental biology, and a Ph.D. in developmental neurobiology from Temple University in Philadelphia.

In addition to his experience at Kutztown, Hanna worked as associate dean of the College of Science and Technology at Temple University before becoming chief academic officer and dean of academic affairs for DeVry University.

At Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., from 2011 to 2016, Hanna served as vice president for academic affairs. Before his time at Delaware Valley, he also worked as associate provost at Ithaca College, Ithaca, N.Y.

“The Lock Haven University trustees and I look forward to welcoming Dr. Hanna into the Lock Haven family,” Daniel Elby, chair of the Lock Haven Council of Trustees, said. “Dr. Hanna has a strong history of championing student success throughout his career. As the leader of the northeast integration, he is uniquely situated to shepherd Lock Haven University into its next, exciting chapter.”

In addition to its main campus in Lock Haven, the school has a branch campus in Clearfield.

Pignatello leaves after a short stay at LHU, perhaps the shortest among any of the 150-year-old school’s 15 presidents.

He came to LHU in March 2018 and immediately began making an impact. He recruited new leadership in key management roles, worked to create a new school of nursing and expanded its nursing program to the main campus from Clearfield. LHU enrolled its first nursing class in the Fall of 2019.

He helped to engineer an enrollment increase not long into his tenure while guiding the school through the ongoing pandemic, creating an emergency fund to help students cope. Further, he worked to institute incentives to help attract students to LHU, including merit-based, need-based and federal and state aid; waiving the SAT/ACT score requirement for prospective students seeking consideration for the fall 2020 semester, and a tuition freeze.

In his new roll at PASSHE, it’s likely Pignatello will still have influence on LHU’s future, especially in regard to workforce development.

Hanna, meanwhile, does not come to LHU without some controversy.

Four months into his job at Bloomsburg, he was accused of harassing an assistant. However, after investigating, PASSHE said it found that Hanna’s behavior was “clearly inappropriate,” but not “sexual in nature,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time.

At both Kutztown University and Delaware Valley University, officials approved confidential separation agreements that allowed Hanna to move onward and upward in his career, the paper reported.

The dispute on the 8,900-student campus, in Columbia County about 40 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre, was brought to light last year by a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by the school’s former business school dean, Jeffrey Krug. Krug claims he was wrongfully fired after helping Hanna’s assistant file her complaint, which the school denies. Jeff Krug is suing Bloomsburg, alleging he was wrongfully fired after helping the president’s assistant report a sexual harassment complaint.

In an interview in 2019, Hanna, 52, has staunchly defended his record, saying he left Kutztown and Delaware Valley because of disputes over leadership style, not misconduct.

Many private and public universities are grappling with declines in enrollment and finances, a challenge that exacerbated by the pandemic. Since early last year many colleges moved to virtual instruction, wiping out income from housing and meal plans. Initially, PASSHE announced a study to integrate Lock Haven and Mansfield, but as the pandemic strengthened its grip, Bloomsburg was added to the mix.

The integration plan could be presented to the PASSHE board of governors as early as April.

The process is laid out in Act 50 of 2020 and includes an eventual 60-day public comment period and periodic updates to members of the General Assembly.

PASSHE is focusing on an integration or merger that leverages the combined strengths of the three schools, streamlines its management and perhaps some offerings to reduce costs while also keying in meeting the region’s workforce needs with additional non-credit programs and stackable or ongoing educational credits required in many professions.

The state system chancellor has said the three schools would operate under a single budget and concedes that that physical footprints of he combined university and other details remain to be worked out.

Upon presentation to the board of governors in April the public comment period would kick in.

Information on the proposal can be found online at www.lockhaven.edu/integration.

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