University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward to Retire

University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward speaks with reporters in 2017 after meeting with groups of students. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Gregory Woodward, who has served as the president of the University of Hartford in West Hartford since July 1, 2017, will step down at the end of June.

By Ronni Newton

University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward announced Friday that he will retire on June 30, 2023, six years after become the university’s sixth president.

“It is after deep thought and reflection that I share my decision to retire at the end of my contract in June,” Woodward said in a statement, which noted that he has dedicated his life and career to higher education for 45 years. “I am extremely proud of the work that I have led here at UHart specifically – and of what we have accomplished together.”

Woodward, who grew up in West Hartford and graduated from Hall High School in the early 1970s, was announced as UHart’s president in December 2016, and assumed the position in July 2017, succeeding Walter Harrison, who had served in the role for 19 years.

The announcement of Woodward’s retirement touted many of his accomplishments, including the “the creation of the 60,000-square-foot Francis X. and Nancy Hursey Center for Advanced Engineering and Health Professions. The technology-rich facility houses our growing programs in engineering and health professions, and was part of a $58 million investment that included renovations to two existing academic spaces and increased classroom space for many general education courses.”

Other investments include expansion of the Barney School of Business, renovations to the Gengras Student Union, Millard Auditorium at The Hartt School, and the Village Apartments.

During his tenure, UHart launched “16 new and in-demand undergraduate and graduate academic programs, including nursing, aerospace engineering, business analytics, robotics, data science, occupational therapy (MA), computer science (MA), and digital media and journalism. UHart has increased online offerings and created new ventures in corporate programming, professional certificates, and combined or accelerated degree programs,” the announcement noted.

The Center for Student Success opened in 2019, and provides a centralized space for support services and advising. According to UHart, “The efforts contributed to record increases in retention rates the first year, including a 16% increase for students of color.”

UHart earned reaccreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education, and several of its schools and colleges have also completed the reaccreditation process. UHart has also adopted new measures to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

The announcement also states as one of Woodward’s accomplishments the transition from Division I to Division III athletics, as “better aligning athletics offerings with the institution’s mission and goals, while increasing opportunities for more student-athletes and offering more robust recreation and wellness programming for all students,” but there are many who would not regard that as an accomplishment, including a group of student-athletes who sued the university.

In 2021 roughly 150, including Gov. Ned Lamont, attended a rally and celebration on the grounds of West Hartford Town Hall – cheering for the “#neighborhood,” as then-basketball coach John Gallagher referred to UHart’s supporters – which had made it to the Division I NCAA basketball tournament for the first time. Just days after that tournament, however, a confidential study commissioned by Woodward about downgrading the athletic program from D1 to D3 was released. The decision to move forward with the downgrade was approved by UHart’s Board of Regents in May 2021.

UHart is in the midst of transitioning from Division I, where it has been competing independent of its former America East Conference, and will become a member of the Division III Commonwealth Coast Conference beginning in the fall of 2023. NBC CT reported in September 2022 that according to their research, “20% of student-athletes have left for other schools since the rumors of the move started in April of 2021. If you factor in graduates and graduate transfers, that number is 35%.”

With the D3 transition, UHart plans to add add tennis, field hockey, and ice hockey in future years, the university announced last summer, and also stated that “The University’s incoming class for fall 2022 includes more student-athletes than any year in recent history, highlighting the interest in Division III collegiate athletics in its markets.”

Friday’s announcement said Woodward “is confident that the University’s current momentum will result in countless new opportunities and an even more transformative college experience for the thousands of amazing students at UHart.”

Woodward expressed his gratitude to the students, faculty, staff, Board of Regents members, alumni, and area partners with which he has worked during his tenure. He also expressed thanks for the support of the Penelope Woodward Memorial Scholarship, created in honor of Woodward’s wife, Penny, who died of cancer in 2021.

“If she were here today, I am certain she would encourage me to focus on creating new memories with our children and family at this point in my life,” Woodward said in the statement. “It is time for me to begin a new chapter – and for the University to continue to change and evolve as well.”

Woodward has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, a master’s degree from Ithaca College, and earned a Doctor of Musical Arts from Cornell University. He worked in many roles in higher education, and is also a composer and musician.

Prior to becoming president of UHArt, from 2012 until 2017 Woodward served as president of Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and prior to that served in several roles at Ithaca College, including as dean of the School of Music, known as one of the premier undergraduate music conservatories in the country.

Susan Wollschlager, director of Media and Public Relations and spokesperson for UHart, said there is no information available yet regarding future plans for a successor.

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