Breaking: Utica University announces Todd Pfannestiel as 10th president


Hollie David

Todd Pfannestiel reading his remarks after the announcement was made that he will be Utica University’s 10th president.

Isabella Hudziak and Hollie David

Todd Pfannestiel was chosen as Utica University’s 10th president and will begin his new position on Aug. 1, 2023.  The announcement was made on Feb. 27, in the office of current President Laura Casamento, with Board of Trustees Chairperson Robert Brvenik and the media in attendance.

According to Brvenik, Pfannestiel was chosen because of his empathy for students and deep respect for faculty and staff, along with his leadership skills.

“The Board strongly believes we’ve identified the best choice to be Utica University’s next president. Todd is a strong leader,” Brvenik said. “He is informed by extensive experience in higher education as a faculty member, dean and provost, as well as a distinguished record of success [and] innovation.”

Brvenik closed his remarks by thanking the presidential search committee, Casamento and Pfannenstiel for their work on selecting the 10th Utica University president.

“I think that Todd is so uniquely positioned for this role, he’s going to hit the ground running. He is a terrific listener,” Casamento said after being asked to give the incoming president advice. “And I know that he will open himself up, and his office up, to all the different constituencies on our campus, and that’s what I encourage him to do. I have 100% faith in his ability to hit the ground running.”

The decision was made after a six-month confidential search, spurred by current president Casamento announcing her retirement in August from the university. The announcement explained her retirement was slated for July 31, 2023.

Pfannestiel joined the Utica community in Fall 2018, adopting the role of provost and senior vice president for academic affairs after working as interim provost at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

In 2001, he received a doctorate in history from The College of William and Mary in Virginia after already having a BA in history and another in economics. Pfannenstiel also has experience as an adjunct history lecturer at his alma mater before he began to work at Clarion in 1998.

According to a Tangerine article from 2018, Pfannestiel was chosen as provost due to his dedication and drive to help the student body, as well as strong communication skills with students during the hiring process.

The part that I enjoy most about being a teacher is telling stories. I can’t wait to be more of that public face and tell the story of Utica because it is a great story, any time I tell it, I get more and more enthusiastic about the opportunities we have.

— Todd Pfannestiel

“I’m equally humbled and energized, and I assure you that the trust you’ve shown in me to continue the great work of President Casamento after the past seven years have been well-placed,” Pfannestiel said. “This is the community that my wife, Aimee, and I call home.”

In his role as president, Pfannestiel looks forward to providing students with relevant degrees for successful careers in the local community and beyond.

“We will overcome those challenges [and] we will celebrate our success in doing so and we will always ask: what’s next?” Pfannestiel said. “Many times, we know that the work will not be easy, but we will pull together and succeed in our efforts to provide relevant degrees, alternative credentials and learning opportunities to our students.”

According to Pfannestiel, the discussions regarding a new provost will begin immediately during this transition period.

“We do have several individuals already at the university that might express interest and might be qualified, but we’re not going to stop there,” he said. “We want to be sure that, much like this process of a national search, that we find the best person to work with the leadership team moving forward.”

According to the Utica University website, 78 applicants applied for the position and one person withdrew. The Presidential Search Committee narrowed that pool down to nine semi-finalists and then down to three candidates, who were presented to the Board of Trustees, Casamento and the Presidential Search Feedback Group.

In October, the university chose RH Perry & Associates Inc. to head the confidential presidential search, which sparked criticism and frustration.

The AAUP-Utica, Utica’s Faculty Union, voiced concerns about the lack of transparency and shared governance found in a confidential search through a public letter addressed to the Board of Trustees.

The Trustees said the decision was not made lightly and that a confidential search would bring in more candidates, along with referencing the opportunity for the campus community to contribute to the presidential profile via surveys and forums.

In response to the faculty unrest that emerged after the Trustees announced 13 majors for sunsetting, Pfannestiel said he knows that the community will need healing.

“I’ll never dismiss the frustration and I’ll understand, as President Casamento and I have had many discussions, that there will be some healing to do in the wake of [the Academic Portfolio Review],” he said. “We need to make sure that the communication lines are transparent and open, and that difficult decisions, whether they be decisions about curriculum, credentials, or whether they be decisions with regard to other matters regarding the institution, that we work together to move forward on it.”

Aimee Zellers, an associate professor of philosophy at Carlow University of Pittsburgh and Pfannestiel’s wife of nine years, said that she is ecstatic for her husband.

“We couldn’t be happier. We love this community and are fully embraced by the community, and the idea that we can continue to stay here and have a positive impact is just fantastic,” she said. “I know how much he’s invigorated by the students and the work, and I’ve been able to get a little bit on board with that [by] going to the athletic events and going to some of the honors convocations and stuff like that, so we’re just happy to be part of it.”