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Utica University’s next president looks forward to telling its story

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 2/27/23

The best part about being a teacher is telling stories, says Todd Pfannestiel, Ph.D. Now, he looks forward to telling the stories of Utica University as its incoming president.

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Utica University’s next president looks forward to telling its story


UTICA — The best part about being a teacher is telling stories, says Todd Pfannestiel. Now, he looks forward to telling the stories of Utica University as its incoming president.

“I think as the president that’s one of the key roles that often gets overlooked,” he explained.

The president’s position is one of an ambassador for the university, he said, and the post entails going out to tell the stories of Utica University itself to potential students, donors and anyone who will listen. “I can’t wait to be more of that public face and tell the story of Utica University, because it is a great story. Every time I tell it I get more and more enthusiastic about the opportunity,” he said.

Pfannestiel will become the 10th president in the history of Utica University Aug. 1 with the retirement of current President Laura Casamento. Board of Trustees Chairperson Robert Brvenik and Casamento presented Pfannestiel in a press conference Monday morning in Casamento’s office in DePerno Hall.

“This is a special and historic day for Utica University,” said Brvenik, himself a graduate of the then-Utica College’s class of 1977.

Brvenik said the hiring of Pfannestiel, who currently serves the university as its provost, came after an exhaustive and wide-ranging national search that located many qualified candidates.

“He is a dynamic leader because he is a gifted thinker, but even then he is a much better listener,” Brvenik said of Pfannestiel’s qualifications.

“I am equally humbled and energized and I assure you that the trust you have shown in me to continue the great work of Dr. Casamento over the past seven years has been well placed,” Pfannestiel said.

A native of Oklahoma, Pfannestiel earned his doctorate degree in American History in 2001 from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He has 25 years experience in higher education, as a faculty member, school dean and senior administrator.

Pfannestiel was on the faculty of Clarion University in Pennsylvania for 20 years, earning the position of professor of history. He also served as dean of the College of Arts, Education and Sciences, interim provost and acting president there.

Most recently, Pfannestiel has served at Utica University for five years, now moving up from his post as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. He was instrumental in the launch of several innovative academic programs reflecting changing needs of both the workforce and modern society, including an M.S. in social work, an M.S. and graduate certificate as a family nurse practitioner, an M.S. in data science and the university’s first A.S. and B.B.A. degree programs.

Casamento has been the university president for seven years, overseeing its transition from Utica College to Utica University in February 2022 and recommending 15 majors to be sunset by the university in light of dwindling enrollment and changing industrial demands this past January.

That Academic Portfolio Review recommendation was met with protests from AAUP-Utica union members who questioned whether their own ideas and opinions were taken into consideration as 13 of those majors were indeed phased out by the Board of Trustees last week.

Pfannestiel said sunsetting those 13 majors was the “right decision,” although certainly not an easy one to make. The majors were sunset to stay relevant in changing times and be sure they are offering majors that will best benefit their students’ career choices in the future, Pfannestiel said.

“We have to be sure we can look them in the eye and say we are providing the relevant degrees,’’ he explained.

Pfannestiel acknowledged the union members’ own grievances. He stressed that he was there as the board deliberated the cuts and he saw that faculty voices had indeed been heard throughout the process. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean he disregards their feelings of neglect in the process.

“I will never dismiss their frustrations, and I understand as President Casamento and I have had many discussions that there will be some healing to do in the wake of this,” Pfannestiel said. “We need to make sure that communication lines will be transparent and open and that in difficult decisions - whether they be about curriculum, credentials or whether they be in regard to other matters affecting the institution - we work together to move forward.”

Pfannestiel and his wife, Aimee Sellers, an associate professor of philosophy at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, live in Sauquoit. He said he hopes students continue to call him “Dr. Todd” — as he has been known now for 25 years.

Asked for her advice to him, Casamento quipped that Pfannestiel should “get a lot of sleep” between now and Aug. 1, but then lauded his accomplishments and abilities as well.

“I think that Todd is uniquely positioned for this role — he is going to hit the ground running,” Casamento said. “He is a terrific listener as Chairman Brvenik mentioned, and I know he will open himself up and his office up to all the different constituencies on our campus and that’s what I would encourage him to do. I have 100% faith in his ability to hit the ground running and be successful.”

Pfannestiel said Utica University has chosen him twice now, five years ago as provost and now as president.

“When I interviewed here five years ago to become provost for this institution, this was the only place where I would have left my previous institution of 20 years,” he said. “I learned at that time that the then-Utica College was bold, was innovative and was motivated to become the institution of first choice in this region.”

Five years later, Pfannestiel feels the same way now.

“This is the only institution where I want to serve as president,” he said.


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