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Vassar professor and Former Dean Christopher Roellke Named President of Stetson University

Christopher Roellke, a faculty member and administrator at Vassar College for the past 21 years, has been named President of Stetson University, Stetson’s Board of Trustees announced.

Christopher Roellke, president-elect at Stetson UniversityPhoto: Jim Smith

Roellke will assume his new role July 1. He has been at Vassar since 1998 and served as Dean of the College from 2008 to 2018.

Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley congratulated Roellke on his new post. “This is a wonderful appointment,” Bradley said. “Professor Roellke has tremendous skills and experience to take Stetson University to the next level, and we will miss him dearly here at Vassar. Congratulations, Chris!"

Stetson Board of Trustees Chair Joe Cooper said Roellke “is bringing an outstanding record of energetic leadership in higher education and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities Stetson University faces. The board is thrilled to welcome him as president-elect.”

Former Vassar President Catharine Bond Hill, who worked closely with Roellke during her tenure from 2006 to 2017, said she was “confident that Chris will bring his wealth of experience and skills to Stetson University. He is deeply committed to improving the performance of American education and was very involved in outreach in the Poughkeepsie community to the local secondary schools. He played an important role in our recruiting of more students from the local city of Poughkeepsie schools, as we moved to increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our student body. Chris is an experienced educator who is ready to lead during these challenging times. He is liked and respected, insightful and caring, and I am pleased for both Chris and for Stetson University.”

Roellke also drew praise from fellow faculty members. Robert K. Brigham, Professor of History and International Relations on the Shirley Ecker Boskey Chair, said: “Chris brought an infectious enthusiasm to everything he did at Vassar. He cared deeply about our College, our students, and our mission. He is one of a kind.”

Professor of Music and former Dean of the Faculty Jonathan Chenette described Roellke as an educational innovator, strategic thinker, a superb fundraiser, an effective agent of change and an inspiration to students and colleagues alike…Stetson is fortunate to have attracted such a visionary, energetic and effective leader to guide the next phase of the university’s development.”

Roellke said he was excited to be facing new challenges at Stetson but was leaving Vassar with a full heart.  “Vassar has been my professional home for 21 years and my family's home for the bulk of our time at the College,” he said. “It will be difficult to leave a community that we admire so much.  I am proud of what Vassar has accomplished, particularly in the areas of diversity and inclusion and in community based and experiential learning.  The future of the College is bright and I will always be grateful for the opportunities that Vassar has afforded my family and me.”

Roellke served at Vassar under three Presidents – Frances D. Fergusson, Hill and Bradley, as well as Interim President Jonathan Chenette. He earned his BA degree in political science from Wesleyan University and his MS and PhD degrees in educational administration from Cornell University. Prior to entering the doctoral program at Cornell, he taught secondary school history and social studies in rural, suburban, and urban settings. He has focused his research on the politics and economics of education, teacher education, secondary school reform and higher education policy and practice. He recently completed a multi-state study of teacher recruitment and retention policy funded by the Economic Policy Institute and the MetLife Foundation. He is co-editor (with Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland) of a book series titled, Research in Education Fiscal Policy and Practice: Local, National and Global Perspectives.

Roellke is also the Founding Director of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative (VCUEI), an urban education outreach and professional development project funded by the Dyson Foundation and United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region. Last year, he was instrumental in securing a $2.25 million gift for the Urban Education Initiative from the family of Dan Mindich ’87 in conjunction with Propel Capital, a New York-based social impact investment firm. The gift, contingent on $1.25 million in matching funds, ensures the initiative will continue for at least the next decade.

In 2005-06, Roellke was a Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School, conducting research on school finance litigation, and he is Past President of the Association for Education Finance and Policy. Part of his most recent research leave in 2014 was spent as a Fulbright Scholar in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto, Japan. He is former chair and current board member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill.