University of La Verne president steps down after less than year at the private college

Writer Pardis Mahdavi is speaking at a session during the Jaipur Literature Festival 2024 in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on February 4, 2024. (Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via AP)
La Verne President Pardis Mahdavi, shown at a literature festival in February, cited "personal reasons" for her sudden departure. (Vishal Bhatnagar / Associated Press)

University of La Verne President Pardis Mahdavi, the second woman in history to hold the school’s top job, stepped down this month after less than a year at the private college.

In an email to the campus on Friday, Mahdavi cited “personal reasons” for her sudden departure. Mahdavi was selected as president after a months-long national search that began in late 2022 to replace Devorah Lieberman, a prolific fundraiser who led the university for more than a decade before announcing her retirement.

“It has been an honor to serve this outstanding community, and I want to thank each one of you for your support,” Mahdavi wrote in the email. “Please know that I will always be cheering you on from the sidelines.”

Mahdavi’s resignation came as a surprise to many faculty members who had high hopes for her leadership. The university, which serves roughly 6,000 students, has faced a series of challenges in recent years, including enrollment declines after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty turnover and a series of leadership changes that have been detailed in reports from the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting organization.

Nearly half of the students at the private university are the first in their families to attend college, and a large portion of the student body receives financial aid.

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Paul Alvarez, a kinesiology professor and the faculty senate president, said Mahdavi’s resignation “sent a very clear message that we have some issues we need to deal with.”

Alvarez said Lieberman, the former president, was given a one-year contract to advise Mahdavi, which made some faculty feel like Mahdavi wasn’t being “given the rein to do what she needed.”

“There’s not a faculty member that I’ve talked to that got to know her in any capacity that isn’t disappointed in the sense that we let somebody who could have made some big changes get away,” Alvarez said.

Before arriving at the university, Mahdavi, an author and anthropologist, served as provost and executive vice president at the University of Montana. She has also served as a dean at Arizona State University, the University of Denver and Pomona College.

In her bio, her research interests are listed as gendered labor, human trafficking, migration, human rights and public health in the context of changing global and political structures.

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Mahdavi could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Tony Revier, chair of La Verne’s board of trustees, expressed gratitude for Mahdavi’s leadership in a statement Tuesday, saying the panel “deeply appreciates her work as president of the university and her many contributions to the future of La Verne.”

Trustee Mark Hicks will lead the college as acting president while officials search for a longer-term interim president.

“I know that the news of Dr. Mahdavi’s departure likely caught many of you by surprise and, undoubtedly, raised questions regarding the future of university leadership,” Hicks wrote in an email to staff.

He added that his “goal is to continue to support the collaborative efforts undertaken by Dr. Mahdavi with faculty and staff leaders and to continue to ensure forward momentum in strengthening our university climate.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.