‘I want everybody to have fun again’: Incoming president Todd Pfannestiel plans to never stand still

A peek inside the setup of the interview in Dr. Todd’s office. EIC Isa Hudziak and Managing Editor Hollie David sit with their questions and UticaTV’s Mark Mason mans one of the cameras. Photo courtesy of Leola Beck.

A peek inside the setup of the interview in Dr. Todd’s office. EIC Isa Hudziak and Managing Editor Hollie David sit with their questions and UticaTV’s Mark Mason mans one of the cameras. Photo courtesy of Leola Beck.

Hollie David and Isabella Hudziak

Todd Pfannestiel is a historian, a storyteller and a lifelong student, now continuing his journey as the upcoming president of Utica University. 

He will become the tenth president of Utica University, the first to enter under the addition of university to the name, as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Aug. 1, 2023.

Nestled beside his desk is a large poster of Batman Detective Comics #31 with a short message dedicated to Pfannestiel from Batman creator Bob Kane. He told The Tangerine about how he met Kane as a child and became, in his words, “pen-pals of sorts,” which resulted in receiving the dedicated poster as a birthday present.

“It’s great to see students coming to the university today who are so tied to the same heroes and villains that I was tied to when I was your age and younger,” he said. “It gives us a common point of discussion. I have given talks here at the university to our incoming freshmen about lessons you can learn from the Marvel cinematic movies, [and I was able] to see people light up. That means a whole lot to me.”

A bookshelf pressed against the wall contains many alcoves of keepsakes, ranging from memorabilia from Pfannestiel’s favorite band and research topic, The Beatles, to a section dedicated to Santa Claus.

In his free time, Pfannestiel dons a Santa Claus outfit and reads to local schoolchildren. He keeps an S-shaped key in the coat pocket to reassure children that they will receive presents even without a chimney. A box in the center of the bookshelf, right beside framed photographs of Santa with the children, contains all the letters addressed to Santa that he has received over the years.

In 2001, he received a doctorate in history from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, after already having a bachelor of arts (B.A.) in both history and economics. 

Pfannenstiel also has experience as an adjunct history lecturer at his alma mater before he began to work at Clarion in 1998, where he eventually served as the dean of the College of Arts, Education and Sciences in 2014 and interim provost.

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

After a presidential search which started in early September and finished on Feb. 27, the results were finally in.

“I’ve said all along that I’m all in, no matter whether I become president or not, I’m here [and] I’m committed,” Pfannesitel said. “If you find someone else who’s better suited for the job, then I’m the luckiest provost in the world and I can live with that.”

Pfannestiel found out that he would become the next president in a place you might not expect: a McDonalds, which was empty except for him, Board of Trustees chairperson Bob Brvenik ‘77 and a few other board members.

“I received a text message from the chair of the Board of Trustees asking me to meet him an hour later at McDonalds,” he said with a laugh. “And thankfully, my house is about a block and a half around the corner, so I was able to just take the rest of the day off and go home to my wife and share the good news.”

When he first enters office, Pfannestiel asserts that he will not undo any changes made this past semester, which include the academic portfolio review and resulting sunsetted majors.

However, he emphasized that rebuilding strong communication lines will be necessary to mend fractured relationships caused by initiatives that took place during the Spring 2023 semester.

“I will not come into office and undo the decisions that have been made over the past year, pure and simple,” Pfannestiel said. “[There] is a difference between hearing and listening. It’s very easy for me to go out there and hear people, but to truly listen to people and help them to understand that you may not always get exactly what you want, but you will walk away from the conversation knowing that I have listened to you [and] I understand your perspective.”

The incoming president also said one of his primary goals as president is to bring fun back to campus. Pfannestiel compares it to a rollercoaster, where there are highs and lows but by the end of the day, you’re back in line for another go.

“Students should have fun while they’re learning, faculty should have fun while they’re teaching and doing their research, and staff should have fun coming to work everyday knowing that this place operates because they are here 8 to 5, making this place roll,” he said. “I want everybody to be excited when they come to work every day.”

The extended interview will be shared on The Tangerine website in the coming days. A video of the interview will also be available on YouTube. The Tangerine would like to thank UticaTV, specifically Laura Lewin, Leola Beck and Mark Mason, for recording and editing the interview.