Whitney Witt, the inaugural dean of Lehigh’s College of Health, has stepped down effective today, Provost Nathan Urban announced in an email earlier this afternoon.
Urban said Witt plans to return to Lehigh’s faculty following a sabbatical. Witt was hired to lead Lehigh’s newest college in January 2019.
Urban did not give a reason for Witt’s decision to step down as dean. Witt did not immediately return a request for comment.
Beth Dolan will serve as interim dean of the college. Dolan is a professor of English and serves as a deputy provost for graduate education.
“Launching a new college, particularly one breaking ground in a new field, is a daunting challenge,” Urban wrote in the email. “I am truly impressed with what Whitney was able to accomplish. Her contribution to Lehigh is enormous.”
Urban cited Witt’s work in launching the College of Health, introducing the population health program and recruiting faculty to the college as some of her accomplishments during her nearly two-year stint as dean.
Witt’s departure caps off a year of transitions at some of the university’s top posts. In September, President John Simon announced plans to resign from that role at the end of the academic year in June 2021. Provost Nathan Urban joined Lehigh this past spring after then-Provost Pat Farrell stepped down.
The departure of the college’s top administrator also comes as the College of Health just completed its first semester after opening Aug. 1. The Health, Science and Technology Building, which will house the College of Health, is still under construction at the corner of Webster and Morton streets and is expected to open in August 2021.
Witt began at Lehigh after most recently working at IBM Watson. She also held faculty positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University earlier in the 2000s.
Witt leaves behind a college looking to fulfill ambitious growth plans as the university implements a hiring freeze and faces financial constraints brought by the pandemic.
As it currently stands, the College of Health employs six full-time faculty members, aside from Witt and Halcyon Skinner, the associate dean of the college who is married to Witt. Lehigh is reporting there are 63 students enrolled in the College of Health.
The college is aiming to employ 60 faculty members by 2024 — an increase of 10 times the current size of the faculty — and enroll 750 students by that same year. That means the college makes up a majority of Lehigh’s larger Path to Prominence expansion goals, which in part includes a growth of the student body by 1,000 undergraduate students and the hiring of 100 new faculty members across the university over the course of this decade.
As evidence of the importance of the college’s growth to Lehigh’s broader plans, the College of Health received permission during the hiring freeze to advertise eight open faculty positions.
That accounts for almost half of the 18 positions open across Lehigh at this time, according to Amy White, the associate director in media relations. Still, the 18 open positions in the first quarter of this fiscal year are a dramatic drop from the 76 open positions during that quarter one year ago, White said.