Pamela S. Whitten would have been even more excited for the day had she not been so tired. When she got the call she was a finalist for IU president, she said she jumped high in the air. On the night before she was introduced, she barely slept. She was lying in bed thinking about being introduced for what she called her dream job.
Whitten was elected IU’s 19th president Friday morning at a special Board of Trustees meeting. The first woman chosen for the position, she will succeed outgoing president Michael McRobbie on July 1.
She graduated from college in 1985 and said being president at a school like IU was not something women in her generation envisioned back then.
“To come to the point where this is an opportunity and actually came to fruition is incredibly gratifying,” Whitten said. “I am coming to a university that is enthusiastic frankly, if not ecstatic about the opportunity to bring in a female as the leader. I think that’s a very strong statement about IU.”
Whitten has been the president of Kennesaw State University since 2018. She previously served as the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost for the University of Georgia. She has also worked in the University of Kansas and Michigan State University medical departments, working in telemedicine.
Before working in academia, Whitten spent time in corporate communications.
Whitten has a Ph.D. in communication studies from Kansas, Master of Arts in communication from the University of Kentucky and a Bachelor of Science in management from Tulane University.
According to IU’s website, the presidential search prioritized female and minority candidates. The search committee itself had an even number of men and women, but was not diverse.
The search was conducted confidentially. There were no names of candidates revealed at any point during the process until Friday’s announcement.
Search committee chair Melanie Walker said the search started with a couple hundred candidates ranging from inside and outside of academia. The search committee narrowed that down to between eight and 10 candidates who were then interviewed by the Board of Trustees.
Walker said there was no budget, and very little money was spent. Almost all of the search was done over Zoom. The finalists were brought in for in-person interviews with the Board of Trustees.
“It’s amazing what can be done by Zoom,” Walker said.
Whitten stepped into the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center Grand Hall for her introductory press conference wearing a crimson dress and cream blazer, listening off to the side of the stage as the Board of Trustees who appointed her listed off her accomplishments.
Under Whitten’s leadership at Kennesaw State, the university saw a 15% increase in enrollment. In the last 12 months at Kennesaw State, Whitten accepted the three largest gifts — $10 million, $9 million and $8.7 million — in the school’s history.
Whitten has also served on the NCAA Division I Committee on Academics. Board of Trustees member and former IU men’s basketball star Quinn Buckner happily remarked she is a large proponent of athletics. Whitten often attended Kennesaw State athletic events, and even traveled to road football games.
“We kinda like that,” Buckner said with a grin. “I’m excited to see her cheering on the Hoosiers. We’ll be cheering her on as well.”
Whitten helped increase diversity at Kennesaw State by elevating the Chief Diversity Office into a cabinet level position. Buckner said Whitten reorganized KSU’s Office of Diversity of and Inclusion to “expand its scope and responsibility.”
He added that the percent of the student body with race or ethnicity other than white increased from 43.1% to 48.7%.
In 2019, during Whitten’s tenure at Kennesaw State, some students critiqued her administration as “not doing enough to prevent racist acts and punish those who commit them,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Whitten beamed as she took off her mask to begin speaking. She said she is committed to ensuring the success of students. She called students the lifeblood of the university.
“This includes keeping IU as an education that is affordable and accessible to all qualified students, providing them with an education of the highest possible quality,” Whitten said.
Whitten said she is already working on plans to move IU out of the pandemic and still plans for in-person fall classes. Additionally, she said increasing diversity will be a key goal at IU, and she will spend her first months listening and learning about the school’s diversity now and where challenges lie.
“I’m excited for what we will do together to further IU’s reputation in every corner of the state and nation and also around the world,” Whitten said. “And to our students, please know that you will always be the center of the universe at IU.”