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Columbia Missourian

Stephens College names Ithaca dean Dianne Lynch its next president

By Linden Wilson
April 21, 2009 | 7:59 p.m. CDT
Dianne Lynch has been named to replace Wendy Libby, Stephens president since 2003. Libby plans to leave Stephens on June 1.

COLUMBIA — Stephens College has selected Dianne Lynch, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in New York, as its next president.

She is expected to be formally introduced as president during a campus visit this week and will officially take office on June 2.


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Lynch is succeeding Wendy Libby, Stephens president since 2003, who will become the first female president of Florida's Stetson University in July. She plans to leave Stephens on June 1.

“The presidential search committee brought forward the best candidate, from a very strong pool, who can bring to Stephens the vision and imagination that will see our beloved college into the future,” said George Ann Harding, board chair of the search committee, in a prepared statement.

Lynch has been described by her peers as smart as a whip, according to Stephens trustee and 1971 alumna Jill Griffith, a member of the search committee.

She called Lynch "dynamic, genuine, creative, energetic, positive, and happy. Also: forward thinking, innovative and leading edge,” according to a news release

Lynch, who has been the communications dean at Ithaca since 2004, was selected by the search committee last week after she and another finalist visited Stephens , according to Amy Gipson, vice president for marketing and public relations at the college.

“Taking into account all of the campus feedback, reference checks on the candidates and the interview with the search committee, they made a decision to select Dianne as the next president,” Gipson said.

The Board of Trustees confirmed the selection with unanimous consent, she said.

Susan Pierce, a consultant for Academic Search who assisted the Stephens search committee, said Lynch had a great deal of support across campus.

“Every constituency praised her,” Pierce said. “She understood Stephens, I believe, in a very profound way very quickly, and felt and communicated passion about the strength and the possibilities of the college.”

Pierce also said that Lynch asked the most engaging questions of any candidate throughout the search process, showing that she was thinking about what it meant to be the next president.

“She has one of the most engaging personalities,” Pierce said. “She understands how to tell the Stephens story. She has fallen in love with Stephens.”

Lynch applied to become Stephens’ next president after she learned about the vacancy, but was already familiar with the school.

“One of my colleagues is an alum. When I saw that there was a job, I just had to take it,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m a passionate believer in the value of women’s education. There is something uniquely important about women who are in an environment that provides them with great opportunities.”

The fact that Stephens is a women’s college, its standing as a committed institution and its location in Columbia were the deciding factors in choosing to take the position, she said.

Lynch received her master’s degree in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied feminist history in journalism. She earned her doctorate in art history and communications from McGill University in Montreal, studying feminist theory and social identity development.

Before becoming dean at Ithaca College, Lynch was a faculty member and chair of the department of journalism at Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vt.It is a private liberal arts college of approximately 2,000 undergraduate students, 500 graduate students and more than 200 international students, according to the school's Web site.

Lynch described herself as a student-centered faculty member. She spent 14 years of her career at a small institution, and said she enjoys and feels most comfortable with smaller communities such as Stephens.

She also noted that her responsibilities as dean are similar to those of a president.

“Leadership is about having a vision for the opportunities of a community. Most importantly, what I bring is a commitment to the college community,” she said. “A good leader spends a lot of time listening, and I absolutely intend to spend a lot of time listening.”

Lynch is also the founding executive director of the national Online News Association, where she served as the editorial director of the one of the first national studies of the credibility of online news, titled "Digital Journalism Credibility Study."

She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of WSKG, a public broadcasting station serving 21 counties in New York and Pennsylvania.

She wrote a biweekly column about women and technology called “Wired Women” for from 2000 to 2003, and a weekly column on new media ethics for the Christian Science Monitor from 1998 to 2002.

Ithaca's online site reported that she turned down a job in 2007 to head the graduate school of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stephens senior Brooke Shippee said she had heard a lot of good things about Lynch. Shippee, the editor of the arts and entertainment section of the student newspaper Stephens Life, was also glad to hear about Lynch’s background in journalism.

“A lot of girls are pulling for her,” she said. “She will probably be very supportive of the journalism department, which at the moment is very minuscule.”

Junior Polly Edelstein said Lynch has a difficult act to follow.

“Dr. Libby really turned Stephens around, so Dr. Lynch has big shoes to fill,” she said.

Lynch’s husband is Phillip Coleman, the coordinator of the chemistry laboratories at Ithaca College. They have four children, Andrew, 28, Amelia, 25, Nicholas, 23, and Annie, 11.

Lynch said she will miss Ithaca College, its students and the passion students have for their creative work and learning, but that life is about new opportunities.

“You have to take advantage of them,” she said. “I am looking forward to new adventures.”