Mills will retire as Paul Smith’s president

PAUL SMITHS – After more than a decade as president of Paul Smith’s College, John Mills announced Monday that he will retire.

Mills, 66, plans to step down on June 30, 2014, according to a news release issued by the college.

“This is the best job I ever had,” Mills said in the release. “I’m making this decision, though, at a time when higher education is facing great change. This is an opportune moment for a new leader to help Paul Smith’s execute that transition.”

E. Phillip Saunders, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, thanked Mills for his service.

“He has done an outstanding job of leading the college, and serving as a community leader,” Saunders said. “His decision to retire is a disappointment to us, but an opportunity as well. We are initiating a search for a leader who can take John’s successes and the college’s opportunities into the future.”

Mills joined Paul Smith’s in 2000 as vice president for academic affairs and took over as president in 2004. During his tenure, college officials said he has helped usher the institution through a period of rapid transformation. He ushered in Paul Smith’s transition from a two- to a four-year college, oversaw some of the largest enrollments on campus since the early 1980s, and drove award-winning programs to strengthen academic support for students who might have dropped out of college without them. The college’s Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) has become a leading voice for the protection of this region’s ecological assets, the release states.

The campus itself also experienced a significant transformation under Mills’ leadership. The Joan Weill Student Center, which opened in 2006, has become the center of student life; Two LEED-certified buildings, the Countess Alicia Spaulding-Paolozzi Environmental Science and Education Center and the Overlook Hall residence hall, have been built; an overhaul of the Saunders Sports Complex has upgraded the college’s athletic and recreation facilities; and culinary students are providing fine dining at a pair of new campus restaurants, The Palm at Paul Smith’s College and the St. Regis Cafe.

Paul Smith’s, like many institutions, says it is searching for a new path forward at a time when traditional models of higher education are facing questions of sustainability and value. Online classes, industry partnerships and other efforts to attract new students – and revenue – are under development.

Mills acknowledged that work is likely to take years to come to fruition.

“An entrepreneurial spirit is needed, and it needs to come from all of you,” Mills wrote the campus community in an email he sent announcing his impending retirement. “It will be through a combined effort of all at Paul Smith’s College – trustees, administration, staff, faculty and alumni – that we successfully meet those challenges, overcome them and realize our potential.”

Saunders acknowledged that these are challenging times for most small, private colleges, but he emphasized that the college’s financial future looks strong. The college’s $22 million endowment continues to perform well, he said, and Paul Smith’s is in a position to make investments that will attract new students.

The Executive Committee of the college’s board will meet Wednesday to finalize plans for conducting a search for a new president.