President T.J. Arant leaves Friends University

Friends University president T.J. Arant has resigned and will be replaced by an interim president, Darcy Zabel, the university announced Tuesday.

“We held different visions about what we wanted to achieve in the next two decades,” said John Lewis, chair of the university’s board of trustees. “It is important that we achieve agreement about that, and that we were not going to be able to do that. So we decided mutually that the best course is to part company.”

Lewis said Friends’ finances are strong. He said Arant’s departure wasn’t about either improprieties or finances. It was the difference in vision, he said.

“We saw that the president’s vision of the next 10 years and our vision didn’t overlap one another,” Lewis said. “So we want to honor his professionalism and our sense of good leadership and we made the decision to part ways.”

He said Zabel, who until now was vice president for academic affairs and a tenured professor of English, is “the perfect choice” as an interim president. She has worked and taught English courses at Friends for 15 years, according to a prepared statement from the university. She is the first woman to hold the position of president in the history of the university, according to the statement.

“She holds the confidence of the board,” Lewis said.

The university is about 100 years old and serves a student body of about 2,500, said Tracy Muirhead, Friends’ vice president for institutional advancement. About 40 percent of the students are undergraduates. The rest are graduate students, adult learners or high school students taking college courses, she said.

Friends is a liberal arts college, founded by the Society of Friends. It offers a bachelor of fine arts in ballet, which is unusual for a small college, and also offers a large program in family therapy.

Lewis said many students have family ties to the university dating back generations. Though he never attended classes there, his grandmother was a Friends graduate, and his father was an adjunct professor, Lewis said.

Total revenue at Friends was $46 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. Of that, $38.7 million came from tuition and fees, according to tax forms filed by the college. The numbers for 2013 haven’t been filed yet, but haven’t changed significantly since 2012, Muirhead said.

Neither Arant nor Zabel could be reached for comment.

Arant became Friends’ 13th president in July 2011, according to a statement released by the university. That statement included a comment from Arant saying he hoped that “this steadfast and caring community will continue to thrive in the years ahead.”

Arant, according to a website at Friends, earned a Ph.D. in English in 1991 from Duke University, a master’s in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor’s from Vanderbilt University.

He taught at Duke, Appalachian State University, Notre Dame College and Mount Olive College, according to the Friends website.

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