Dr. Christopher Fiorentino is the President of West Chester University, a public university in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1871, WCU began as a private institute focused on pedagogy. Today, the school is one of Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs covering diverse liberal arts, science, and engineering topics and fields of study. In 2009, U.S. News & World Report ranked WCU 69th in the Master’s Universities (North) category. Dr. Fiorentino is the 15th person to serve as the university’s President. His inauguration will take place Friday, April 21, 2017.
EDWIN WARFIELD: When did you get started with West Chester University, and what led to you becoming President?
CHRISTOPHER FIORENTINO: I’ve been at West Chester for 33 years, having been the Dean of the College of Business Public Affairs for many years, and Vice President for External operations. I became the Interim President last year and became permanent President about two months ago.
I was working on my Ph.D. in Economics at Temple. West Chester advertised for a one-year sabbatical replacement in the Economics Department. That was a great opportunity because I had been a teaching assistant and a full-time sabbatical replacement paid better. I had grown up in Bucks County—I lived in Bucks County—and I moved down here to do that one year sabbatical replacement in 1983. I expected to be at West Chester for one year, and I was going to work on my dissertation, and then move on from there wherever life took me.
Fortunately for me, the person I replaced took a second year of leave without pay, so I got a second year at West Chester. Then, a position opened up and I was actually hired on as a permanent faculty in 1985. And by a series of interesting events, I became the department chair several years after that, which is very unusual for an untenured professor to become department chair, but I did. From that position, the Dean announced her resignation and suggested that I would be a good Interim Dean, and I thought that would be a nice break from teaching, so I became the Interim Dean in 1991—which was supposed to be for one year, and that ended up being two years because the President, in the meantime, retired and they had to do a presidential search. After two years as Interim Dean, I was encouraged to apply. We had a new president. I didn’t have any reason to believe that the new president would want to have a young, untested person become her first dean hire, but lo and behold I was hired to be the Dean of the College of Business of Public Affairs in 1993. I ended up having that job for over 20 years.
It was a great experience. We were encouraged to be entrepreneurial. I did a lot of things that were entrepreneurial: expanding programs—we actually purchased an office building that we turned into a graduate center, which was very successful. We got the Business program internationally accredited, which was really a major turning point for the University—to have an AACSB-accredited Business program: it was something that launched us into this new future where our reputation has been significantly enhanced across the institution. Eventually, I was asked by the President to become the Vice President for External Operations because of my extensive contacts within the region. He was looking to expand our geography and felt that I was a good person to do that. I did that job for about three years and advanced our distance education programs, launched a campus in Philadelphia, and a number of other things. And then upon his retirement I was asked to become the Interim President. A national search was conducted from that point. At the end of the day, I was the last man standing, and became the President on January 9th.
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