The announcement last Tuesday morning, April 26, from the Cleveland State University board of trustees was both sudden and blunt: Harlan Sands, after just four years at the helm, was out as president.
Officials wrote that it was a mutually agreed-upon decision between Sands and the board. There were differences, they said, “regarding how the university should be led in the future.”
“The board recognizes that CSU has made significant advances during Sands’ tenure and is on solid footing,’’ board chair David Reynolds wrote in the statement. “Over time, however, it has become clear that this simply is not a good match for either party going forward. We thank President Sands for his contributions to CSU during his tenure and wish him well.”
Management styles, though, don’t tend to change overnight. Sands’ contract was just renewed last spring under former board chair David Gunning. Despite the seemingly abrupt delivery about Sands’ exit, university officials maintain to Crain’s Cleveland Business that Sands wasn’t fired and no specific event motivated the decision.
He’s slated to receive a two-year payout of his annual base salary of $464,100 as part of his separation agreement. He’ll get that in one lump sum payment of about $928,000 this spring. His contract also gave him the option to become a tenured professor at the university’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law for 75% of his last base salary. Officials said he’s indicated he plans to teach this fall.
The announcement also contained more news about Sands’ successor, naming provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Laura Bloomberg as president. No interim tag, no lengthy search process.
CSU’s board believes Bloomberg is the best person to usher in the university’s next chapter — one that’s beginning just a few weeks before graduation.
“We are very pleased that in Dr. Bloomberg we have an energetic, dynamic and highly qualified academic leader already within our ranks who is exceedingly prepared to lead this university as it emerges from a very challenging period,” board chair Reynolds added in the statement.
The institution’s second female president will earn the same base salary as Sands. Other terms of her contract weren’t yet available. She plans to move into the university’s presidential residence later this year with her husband.
Bloomberg arrived in Cleveland last September from the University of Minnesota. She spent more than two decades at the institution, including serving as dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs since 2017.
Eric Kaler, now the president at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, worked with Bloomberg when he was Minnesota’s president. He called Bloomberg a “very effective” academic leader, one who is able to create a strategic vision.
“She’s just terrific,” he said.
Kaler has only held the role since last year. But with Sands’ departure, he’ll soon become the veteran leader among those at the city’s three biggest higher education institutions after Cuyahoga Community College president Alex Johnson retires in June.
Tri-C and Cleveland State each faced enrollment declines amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bumping up total enrollment to 20,000 students by 2025 is one of the facets of “CSU 2.0.” It’s an aggressive blueprint for change ushered in under Sands’ administration. Other stated goals include boosting financial standing and becoming a leading public research university.
A day after taking on the new role, Bloomberg addressed the faculty senate and mentioned she read the document multiple times before applying for the provost position. In an interview with Crain’s, she said she feels aligned with the university’s trustees on the priorities outlined in CSU 2.0. There are no plans to abandon it.
“The goals do not change,” she said. “I believe we are on track with the timelines. And some of these timelines, you realize, are multi-year, so it doesn’t mean we’re going to get them all done at once, but it never did mean that.”
One of the plan’s action items includes realigning the university’s colleges. In a January 2022 letter to Sands and then-provost Bloomberg, the faculty senate expressed frustration at the process of implementing those mergers. Faculty also detailed what they deemed as the biggest problems at the time. The list included concerns over shared governance, CSU’s pandemic response and fair compensation.
“The number one thing (for students) is the faculty and the relationships we build with them, the knowledge they impart,” Darlene Moorman, a CSU graduate student, told Crain’s. “So the basic thing, the least Cleveland State can do, is compensate them fairly.”
Turnover issues have plagued the university over the past few years, too. It might be a little simplistic, Bloomberg said, but she believes kindness and respect can go a long way when working together.
“What we really have to focus on is transparency, open communication, and a willingness to keep at it,” Bloomberg said. “Without commenting on where we’ve been, because I don’t want to suggest that’s not happened, but that is my priority.”
Bloomberg’s first goal this week, she said, was identifying her replacement “who would be ready on day one to do the work.” Nigamanth Sridhar will return to the university to serve in an interim capacity. The president said she hasn’t yet thought about the timeline regarding a search for a permanent provost.
Right now, Bloomberg said she’s focused on celebrating the end of another pandemic-tinged academic year as it winds down. She’ll lead her first commencement ceremonies as president on May 14.
Amy Morona covers higher education for Crain’s Cleveland Business, in partnership with Open Campus. This story is part of Crain’s Cleveland Forum coverage, which is sponsored by The Joyce Foundation.