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EWU President Mary Cullinan Retires; Provost David May Will Serve As Interim President

Eastern Washington University

Eastern Washington University President Mary Cullinan has stepped down, effective immediately. She will be replaced on an interim basis by the university’s provost, David May.

The transition comes as Eastern prepares for an academic year that will be conducted mostly online.   

Cullinan was Eastern’s first female president. She was appointed in 2014.

In June, she’d been the subject of a no-confidence vote by the Faculty Senate.

The university is facing a multi-million dollar deficit, in part because of reduced enrollment due to the coronavirus. Eastern also likely will face cuts as the legislature recalibrates the state budget. As a result, between 350 and 400 employees are expected to lose their jobs. Others are expected to have hours cut.

In May, the university announced it would provide mostly on-line instruction in the fall. Students will be allowed to live on campus, but face-to-face teaching will be limited.

The new president, David May, led the effort last spring to quickly transition Eastern to online learning.

“Students experienced a mixed bag as you can expect. Everybody on the faculty and everybody on the staff did their very level best, but it’s hard to move an entire university online in two-and-a-half weeks. There were rough spots," May said.

He says faculty and staff are now working to iron out those rough spots.

Cullinan had no comment, other than to say she’s looking forward to the next phase of her life. She will stay on as a special assistant to the president until September 18. Fall classes are scheduled to begin on September 23.

Here is today's announcement from EWU:

Eastern Washington University (EWU) President Mary Cullinan has announced she will retire from her position, effective immediately, and assist in a transition role over the next six weeks as EWU prepares for the upcoming academic year.

Eastern’s Board of Trustees (BOT) has appointed David May, provost and vice president for academic affairs at EWU, to serve as interim president. Cullinan, named Eastern’s 26th president in 2014 after serving for eight years in a similar role at Southern Oregon University, will act as special assistant to the interim president through Sept. 18.

“I have been honored to serve as Eastern Washington University’s first female president,” says Cullinan. “EWU is a valuable asset to this region with exceptional students, faculty and staff, alumni, and community supporters. I look forward to working with the leadership team to ensure EWU continues on the road to success during these challenging times.”

During her tenure, Cullinan guided the university through major transformations aimed at meeting the emerging needs of students as well as the high-tech needs of a growing region. Highlights include the pending move of several programs into the Catalyst building on the South Landing of the University District, construction of the nearly completed Interdisciplinary Science Center (ISC) on the Cheney campus, and the organization of campus teams focused on strengthening academic advising.

In elevating Provost May, the EWU Board said it was important to maintain continuity. May spearheaded the university’s approach to ensuring student success and safety during the pandemic, and has been instrumental in working with faculty on the current academic reorganization of seven colleges to four.

“David May’s vision and leadership during this historical stretch gives the board the utmost confidence he will keep the university on the path to success,” says BOT Chair Vicki Wilson. “His student-centered, collaborative approach will serve the Eastern community well.”

Beginning in 2017, May served as EWU’s vice provost. He became interim provost in 2019 before being moved into the role permanently in March.

“I am very thankful to members of the Board of Trustees for their support and trust during this historic time in higher education,” says May. “There are many challenges ahead for EWU and for higher education, but I am eager and excited to work with the university community to strengthen Eastern’s position as we navigate the path ahead together.”

May came to EWU in 1999 as a faculty in residence in the Department of Government and International Affairs. Teaching courses in political science, pre-law and criminal justice, May worked his way up to chair of the department and was then named associate dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Social Work (now the College of Social Sciences) in 2010.

May earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in 1990. He then went on to receive both a master’s degree and a doctorate in political science from Washington State University. He and his wife Monica have a daughter, Emily, and reside in Spokane.

Because of the difficulty of conducting a national search during the COVID pandemic, May’s appointment will be for two years. A replacement for May in the provost’s office will be announced in the near future.