Ripon College President Zach Messitte announced today (Wednesday) that he will leave his position at the end of the fall 2021 semester and return to his hometown of Washington, D.C.
Messitte became the 13th president of the 170-year-old institution in 2012.
“I have loved being the president of Ripon College and feel honored that the Board of Trustees allowed me to hold the position over the past nine years,” Messitte said. “I am proud of what we have accomplished during a very challenging period for higher education, and I am confident that Ripon will continue to thrive moving forward. On a more personal note, on behalf of my family, we want to thank the community and, in particular, the teachers and staff of the Ripon Area School District for making us feel welcome from the first day we arrived.”
During his tenure, Messitte helped lead the Imagine Tomorrow campaign that raised $67 million, the most successful fundraising campaign in the college’s history.
The school’s endowment has nearly doubled during his time as president and now sits at an all-time high of $112 million.
He spearheaded the creation of Willmore Center, Ripon’s state-of-the-art athletics, health and wellness facility, and emphasized renovations and upgrades to nearly every building on campus — including, among others, Demmer Recital Hall, Kresge Little Theatre in East Hall and the Franzen Center for Academic Success in Lane Library.
In 2014, Messitte encouraged the Ripon College faculty to begin the process of reimagining the curriculum for the first time in more than a decade. The new Catalyst program debuted in the fall of 2016 with an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Messitte’s leadership also resulted in the college making significant strides in diversity and inclusion, highlighted by new faculty and staff hiring in recent years and the near doubling of the percentage of racial and ethnic diversity of the student body.
His other achievements include the opening of the Center for Politics and the People in 2013, which plays an important role in providing a forum for civic discourse for the college and the community; the annual Career Discovery Tour that allows students to meet with alumni in cities around the country; and the Liberal Arts in Focus program where Ripon students can receive credit for overseas study with faculty for short periods of time in between semesters or in the spring after the academic year has ended.
Unusual for a college president, Messitte maintained a regular presence in the classroom and was an active scholar throughout his years at Ripon. A political scientist by training, he taught courses in international relations, media and Italian language, and co-led multiple student groups to Rome, Italy as part of the Liberal Arts in Focus program. He co-edited two books, Understanding the Global Community (2013) and Buon Giorno Arezzo (2016), both with the University of Oklahoma Press. He co-wrote Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America (2019), with the University of Virginia Press, winning praise from The Wall Street Journal for the book’s research and archival work. Messitte also published popular articles on politics, history, education and sports that appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“President Messitte’s contributions to the betterment of Ripon College are many and significant,” said Thomas Abendroth, chair of the Ripon College Board of Trustees. “He has led the college through some of the most tumultuous and challenging times that higher education has confronted in a long time, and that leadership has left us well-positioned for the coming years. We will be forever grateful for all he has done for Ripon College.”
Abendroth and the Board of Trustees will be discussing a selection for interim president within the next few days, and the launch of a national search for Ripon’s 14th president at the board's upcoming annual meeting in October.
“We expect to name an interim president quickly and then will proceed with forming a search committee. We have a strong senior leadership team, and the board is confident it will be a smooth transition,” Abendroth said.
While still on campus for the next three months, Messitte’s focus will be on leading Ripon through a healthy fall semester, continuing to work on developing an ongoing partnership with Marian University and serving as chair of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.