Comerford improves college and community during his tenure
THE ISSUE: Dr. John Comerford, president of Blackburn College, will be leaving the college for a new position as president of Otterbein University.
OUR VIEW: Dr. Comerford has made a tremendous impact on Blackburn and Carlinville during his five years here.
CARLINVILLE (May 10, 2018) – Life seems to move pretty fast sometimes — a case in point being it doesn’t seem possible that it has been almost five years since Dr. John Comerford was named president of Blackburn College. Last week’s news announced that Comerford will leave Blackburn to take the presidency of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
Comerford’s list of accomplishments in his brief five years at Blackburn is both extensive and impressive. He is quick to point out that he cannot take personal credit for many of the accomplishments, rather stating that “we have done some important things together.” A few of these accomplishments include renovating Bothwell auditorium, the fitness center, Jaenke alumni center, and the library/learning commons; being one of only a few colleges in the state to increase enrollment; launching the Macoupin Promise program; increasing the number of students of color from 12 percent to 24 percent; raising $26.3 million dollars in a capital campaign and doubling the college’s endowment; launching four new academic programs; and keeping faculty and staff salary increases above inflation for the past five years.
While Comerford’s accomplishments are impressive, most impressive was how he demonstrated leadership through leading by example. Many appreciated his warm, approachable and welcoming demeanor, keen sense of humor and ability to connect with a wide variety of people of all ages and backgrounds. Ever a charismatic speaker, he once spoke at a Carlinville Chamber of Commerce banquet and Chamber president Tim Rhodus remarked that it was a pleasure to listen to Comerford speak as he had some “juice” in him, meaning his excitement for the college, its mission, and the college’s place in the community was genuine and infectious.
His passion about Blackburn’s important mission was always something he had in laser focus. “We must focus on the thousands of underserved students in the state who are ready for college but cannot afford it and leverage the work program to ensure graduates get great jobs. Staying true to access and affordability is the key to the future of the college,” he explained.
Because of his great love for Blackburn’s mission, Comerford told us that the decision to leave was a very difficult one. “We love Blackburn and Carlinville. People here have been kind and welcoming since the moment we arrived. However, the opportunity at Otterbein is a chance to serve at a larger institution but with a similar mission and heart for access and affordability like Blackburn. We are excited about the opportunities in Ohio, but very sad to leave Carlinville.”
Comerford once borrowed the phrase “life moves pretty fast sometimes” from Ferris Bueller for an opinion piece he wrote in which he made the case that true learning happens in those ah-ha moments of life when we take the time to listen and learn during the pauses within our busy lives. Perhaps today Carlinville needs to hit pause and be thankful for the five years that Comerford gave to Blackburn College and the Carlinville community. Blackburn’s board of trustees have big shoes to fill as they seek to find the college’s 17th president; however, they have the benefit of knowing what success looks like, as demonstrated by Comerford.