For Keith Taylor, Ph.D., the days of his tenure as president of Gannon University are ticking down. He knows it. He feels it. His 12-year stint ends June 30, after which he will begin a major change in his life – from more than three decades in higher education to something else.
Preparing for change
and a new chapter
“This is a massive family transition,” he said recently during a chat in his oak-laden office in Old Main. “For almost 18 years, [Gannon] has been the family business – as it was for 17 years at Daemen [College] before this. Mary and I have lived together and worked together all these years and our kids have been on campus with us much of the time. Our children have seen us ‘love’ our work and they knew that if they wanted to see us, they had to go to the basketball game or go to the Recreation and Wellness Center. We’ve just always been here.”
Soon, however, that won’t be the case.
The reality is sinking in as he experiences the last of things as president – divisional meetings with employees, Celebrate Gannon, basketball games.
Before, the future seemed to be endless. There would always be another speaker, another wrestling match, another person to hire.
But now it is different. The spring commencements in Erie and Ruskin were his last as president.
“Strange how it is not a surprise, but it still sneaks up on you,” he said.
He is becoming more reflective as June 30 draws near, but not too much. After all, Taylor has never been one to spend much time looking in the rear view.
And, he has work to do.
“I’m not going to coast out of here. I want to have things as set as possible for Walter,” he said, referring to Walter Iwanenko, Ph.D., Gannon’s current provost and vice president for student experience, who will become president on July 1. “He deserves that. The university deserves that.”
That means fine-tuning the university’s next budget, greeting families and would-be students and pressing forward on key projects – from construction of I-HACK’s sixth floor, to securing funding for Project NePTWNE, the university’s water sustainability initiative.
There are many notable images capturing Taylor’s presidency, and some reflect institutional progress, comradery among , colleagues and friends, and active engagement in students’ experiences. Pictures of groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and celebrations fill his tenure, like the groundbreaking for the St. Joseph House of Faith in Action with wife, Mary Jean, or the dedication of a new academic floor at the Ruskin Campus or bringing home the PSAC Dixon Trophy. He’s most often viewed alongside students at Gannon traditions like the first-year photo and welcome week.
Taylor has been about transformation since he was named provost at Gannon 18 years ago. He worked for six years in that role before being appointed president in 2011. Then, as now, he regards his work as more lifestyle than job.
At his inauguration in November 2011, he talked about the four pillars of his presidency: academic excellence, community partnership, globalization and student success. He planned to build success through tradition, service, strengthening systems and community. He would continue to hone his message as the years went on, narrowing his personal mission – and that of the university – to “Transforming lives, Inspiring transformation.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re counting 12 years or 18, we’ve made massive changes in the physical environment – in new buildings or in renewing old buildings,” he said.
“More important, we’ve created vibrant environments that have become more than just buildings.”
The physical changes to campus are the easiest to see, but Taylor contends the real change is in the university’s mindset. “The environment now is where ideas like I-HACK and Project NePTWNE, and the Minor in Innovation and Creativity can come forward,” he explained. “We’ve become much more flexible, much more entrepreneurial. We are better, faster thinkers.”
Embracing Personal Growth
Beyond that, he believes the commitment to well-being and building trust has helped create a high level of respect across the university. “All of this means we’ve changed – together – the way the university behaves.”
He’s different, too.
“Physically, I’m a lot slower,” he joked. Self-deprecating humor is a part of the Taylor playbook. Though slower, he is more active than a typical 59-year-old. He jogs, he rides his bicycle and he lately has taken to crushing opponents on the pickleball court. More of the change is on the inside.
“Absolutely, I’m a different person. I’d like to think I’m more tolerant of others’ opinions, much more accommodating of schedules, much more compassionate,” he said. Life does that. Experience does that. “Deaths, hurricanes, fires, budget shortfalls, transitioning people – all these things – if you are a human being and pay attention – change you because they all put life into perspective.”
As the days count down, he said he is growing more grateful.
“Hanging out with all kinds of people makes you smarter, wiser, more respectful. ...When I was in my twenties, I knew more than anyone and did not have the time to sit and listen to someone – and I was moving so fast I missed 80 percent of what was going by. I am trying to listen more now, especially now.
Forging a New Future
for the Family
“My family and my Gannon family are all one big blended, integrated life. This has been my life. Decoupling from this will be a massive personal and family transition.”
He and Mary Jean have been working together for decades. He recalled early days at Daemen College when he and his wife had offices next to each other and had baby gates up so their young daughters could walk from one parent to the other. And then they both came to Gannon, and the years and accomplishments stacked up.
Those young daughters are grown now and living on their own, and the time has arrived for a new chapter.
He’s not sure what will come next, which is a switch for someone known for creating plans for everything.
“I’m not embedding myself in anything anytime soon,” he said. “That’s as much of a plan as I have.”
From connections made while signing global semester exchange agreements, to close collaboration with the Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, J.C.L., Bishop of the Erie Diocese; to working alongside students and employees on during GIVE Day and Welcome Week, and with community partners like Erie Mayor Joe Schember to contribute to Erie’s development, to opening Gannon‘s second campus in Ruskin, Fla. – the Taylor family has grown exponentially by extension to many Gannon members and friends. His children were part of his daily engagements, son Timothy joining at many events and daughter Samantha preparing for Commencement together.