By Ashley Wall, Editor-in-Chief
By Ashlyn Kelly, Asst. News Editor
By Steven Bonini, Staff Writer
FSU President F. Javier Cevallos announced his retirement in an email to the Framingham State community March 25.
“Last night I informed the Board of Trustees of my plans to retire next year, in August 2022, at the end of my eighth year as President of this wonderful institution,” said Cevallos in the email. “This is not a decision that I take lightly, but I believe it is in the best interest of the University.”
According to Cevallos, the decision to retire was based on multiple factors.
“We all look forward to retiring one day, and so, that’s part of it. I’m obviously getting to the age of retirement.
“But I actually started thinking a lot about what is happening at the University and what is going to happen in the next couple of years,” he added. “Next year, we have the end of our strategic plan that was 2017 to 2022. That strategic plan is a really important document that the college president can guide and lead and use to shape the duration of the institution, the duration of the University.”
Cevallos said if he continued to serve as President, he would have to “leave one or two years” into the next strategic plan.
Another factor in his decision to retire was the negotiation of new faculty union contracts, which begins this month.
According to Cevallos, “We have a wonderful relationship with our union here.” However, he said “negotiations and bargaining processes are always confrontational by nature. That process will be completed by the end of the academic year.”
Cevallos said the new president will not have to “worry about bargaining with a union” during their first year. Rather, they will have three years to develop relationships with faculty and staff.
He said, “As you can see, all these things are kind of lining up. It was time to either decide to stay here for 10 more years or let the next person come in. And that’s why I decided to retire.”
Cevallos said he chose to announce his retirement now, rather than wait until the fall, to give the institution enough time to plan.
“I think it’s only fair,” he said.
According to Cevallos, The Board of Trustees will organize a search committee consisting of students, faculty, administrators, and staff.
He said announcing the decision now will also allow for the Board of Trustees to “plan, prepare, and be organized come September when everybody comes back.”
This way, they will be able to begin the search process in the beginning of the fall, rather than having to wait until November or December.
Cevallos said, “It didn’t make sense to delay announcing the decision. I know that by announcing it now, I am helping the Board and the institution move forward with the search process.”
Some highlights of Cevallos’ presidency include the acquisition of the Warren Center, the merging of the Danforth Museum with the University, and the construction of West Hall.
“It is not my work,” said Cevallos. “It is the work of my team and the work of the institution.”
Cevallos said he was proud to witness the naming of Miles Bibb Hall, formerly known as North Hall, during his time as president.
He said, “It’s a team effort. It was a student-initiated process. It showed how our students were so concerned and so engaged and so committed to recognizing the legacy of our African American traditions.”
Cevallos added, “I would be a lot happier if we could have closed the achievement gap, and everybody was graduating at the same rate. But I think that we’re putting things in place that will help that happen at some point in the next couple of years.
“So, I’m very optimistic about it. Those are things that I’m really proud about. I’m also very proud about our student body overall.”
Cevallos said running the University during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “intense.”
“As president, I have both an internal and an external role. I spent a lot of time traveling to meet with alums, doing all sorts of activities. I was traveling to events. That certainly disappeared completely,” he said.
Cevallos added the opportunity to attend University events also stopped due to COVID-19.
“As an administrator, I love going to sporting events. I love going to student activities. I love going to lectures, to movies, to so many things that make campus life exciting. All of that is gone,” he said.
Cevallos added the pandemic brought a “level of stress” because the decision to reopen or close the University was a “decision about health.”
He said, “I’ve been in higher education for 40 years. This is my 19th year as a college president. I have made many decisions on budgets and buildings. Decisions that involve health have never been things that I had to deal with.
“Knowing that somebody can get ill because of the decisions that you make is truly stressful.”
Along with the pandemic, Cevallos said the University faces the challenge of declining enrollment due to FSU’s demographics.
“We created the College Planning Collaborative, which is something that I’m really proud of. We try to reach out to younger students and families and make college possible for them and put them on the path to college.”
He said Latinx students in Massachusetts are attending college at a lower rate than other demographics.
“We have to turn that around, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So that challenge, it’s still there. It’s not solved. Hopefully this fall, we will have a rebound in enrollments,” said Cevallos. “So we’ll see what happens in the fall. I’m always optimistic. I think that we will have a lot more students coming back.”
Kevin Foley, Board of Trustees chair, said Cevallos has “been a great leader for the campus. … He’s just a great all-around person and leader.
“It’s been a really stressful time, but I think that he’s been able to do a great job as far as managing that.”
Foley also praised Cevallos’ leadership on racial equity and diversity issues.
He said when the University had “situations of racism on campus,” Cevallos was the first to “take leadership” and declare the acts were wrong as well as inform the community what steps the University would take.
Foley said FSU has been “very, very fortunate to have someone of President Cevallos’ stature.
“People recognize his abilities and just how compassionate and friendly he is and how much of an impact he has made as far as the region as well as nationally.”
Foley is grateful it will be a year and a half before Cevallos officially retires.
“I’m happy for him, but I know that the campus will certainly miss him,” he said.
Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said her first reaction after learning of Cevallos’ decision was “sad for us and happy for him.”
She said, “He has been a strong leader for FSU and I wish him and his wife much success in his retirement and I look forward to engaging in plans with the University as we move through the presidential transition.”
Nowak Borrego said the moment that most resonates with her is when Cevallos publicly declared FSU as an anti-racism community, asking community members “to commit to anti-racist education and practices.”
“President Cevallos, thank you for your service to and leadership of Framingham State University students, faculty and staff and the larger Framingham and Massachusetts higher education communities,” she said.
Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, called Cevallos “supportive” and a “truly kind mentor.”
Zimmerman said it was a challenge starting her new position as interim provost last spring as the University moved toward remote learning, adding she couldn’t have done it without Cevallos.
“He and the rest of the Executive Staff have been wonderful to work with from the very beginning,” said Zimmerman. “President Cevallos has been a visionary leader for FSU.”
She highlighted Cevallos’ work with anti-racism initiatives, calling it “a product of his vision for FSU to become a truly inclusive and equitable university.”
She said, “It is also an example of how he listens, always, to FSU community members and responds to what he hears,” adding the University has been “fortunate” to have him as President.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said, “It’s been great to work with Javier. He’s a great individual but a very good president as well as very collaborative. He’s been very student-focused in every discussion.
“The more recent terminology is that institutions need to become more student ready. Well, that has been his focus even before that watchword became so popular, and all of the decisions that we contemplate as an executive staff … focus on the students. So, I think that will be his legacy,” Hamel added.
Constanza Cabello, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement, said, “It’s going to be a huge loss for our campus and I think we have extremely big shoes to fill. While I am sad for me and for our campus, I’m extremely happy for him.”
Cabello said she appreciates that Cevallos does not avoid talking about diversity, inclusion, and equity.
“He never hesitates to get a campus email out or to put his stance out there on the values of our campus,” she said. “He’s absolutely grounded in our values around anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, equity, and he unapologetically supports them. … He’s very vocal with where he stands and where the leadership stands on these matters.”
Cabello said being able to work for a Latino president such as Cevallos has meant a lot to her as a Latina herself.
“I never thought I’d ever work for somebody who shares my racial identity,” Cabello said. “I have so much pride that I am on his executive staff and on his executive team because he has set an example for all leaders, but I think particularly for Latinx leaders in the academy.”
Cevallos has served as a mentor to Cabello during their time working together, she added.
“I often share this idea of mentorship or sponsorship, like a mentor or somebody who gives you good advice like telling you what you shouldn’t do and is there for you,” Cabello said. “They give you opportunities to lift you up and that’s exactly what President Cevallos has done for me.
“He found ways to … lift me up not only as a member of the FSU community but as a Latina. On a personal level, those are the things I appreciate most about him – beyond just him being an amazing campus leader, and being a phenomenal president, and being so level-headed, kind, and compassionate.”
Some FSU community members were surprised when they opened Cevallos’ email this morning.
Rachel Lucking, assistant dean for campus engagement, said, “It was not the message I was expecting to read!”
Lucking said, “However, I read his thoughts about our community and I could tell he had put much consideration into his plans.
“I have always felt President Cevallos has led us with grace and patience you don’t find within all people – especially during such pivotal moments in history,” she said.
David Baldwin, associate dean of students, also said he was surprised by Cevallos’ announcement.
He said Cevallos was “always supportive of the events that I coordinated. … It was always a joy to have [Javier] attend.”
Education Professor Kelly Kolodny said she is “grateful for his work at Framingham State and for all that he has done to help our surrounding communities.”
Kolodny recalled a time when she was working at the Brophy School during her sabbatical and Cevallos came to meet a group of fifth graders.
“The fifth graders loved hearing about Dr. Cevallos’ experiences that led him to become a university president,” she said.
“They listened intently as he shared a story about a person who held a bird in her hands. This story connected with ideas about the decisions we make in our lives,” she added. “I remember watching our fifth graders while he told that story and recognized how significant that moment was for all of us.”
Kolodny said she wishes “Dr. Cevallos the very best in his retirement.”
History Professor Jon Huibregtse said Cevallos has been president “during some very challenging times, not only the pandemic, but also the hate crimes that occurred a few years ago.”
He said, “No president is going to please everyone,” but he thinks Cevallos has done “very well in those trying situations.
“I am sorry he’s retiring but completely understand his reasons, and hope his last year is less tumultuous,” Huibregtse said.
Richard Beckwitt, professor of biology, said he will “miss Cevallos as president,” calling him “thoughtful, calm, and caring.”
Beckwitt also highlighted Cevallos’ anti-racism work, adding he has “worked hard to add an international perspective to the University and he has taken seriously the need to re-examine our practices and priorities in the light of anti-racism.”
History Professor Bridgette Sheridan said President Cevallos has been “a tremendous advocate for Framingham State University,” adding that “his deep respect for students, faculty, and staff in our community is evident in everything he has accomplished at FSU over the last seven years.
“He will be sorely missed,” said Sheridan.
Political Science Professor Christopher Latimer said Cevallos “always responded no matter how small the problem.”
He added it is rare “when a president of an institution answers directly.”
Joseph Adelman, associate professor of history, said, “We will absolutely miss President Cevallos. He has been a strong advocate for the public mission of Framingham State, an effective supporter of the humanities, and a champion of students.”
According to Hamel, the University will hire a search firm to aid in the hiring process. He said, “The Board of Trustees will decide the individuals who will participate in that search committee.”
Concerning the hiring process, Cevallos said he hopes the Board of Trustees will “get organized in terms of the paperwork part during the next month and a half or so.”
He added the next president would “be on board at some point in the summer of 2022.”
Cevallos said his goals for the remainder of his presidency include “making sure that the transition is very smooth.”
He said he will “work with the Board and with the campus community in any way that they think is appropriate for me to be involved in the process and certainly, when the next president is elected, working with that individual in any way that I can to make sure that person comes in and is successful as soon as they arrive to campus.”
For his retirement, Cevallos said he plans to stay in the area. “We certainly like the MetroWest, so we are going to be somewhere in this region because we love it here.”
He said once he’s settled, he’ll look into part-time opportunities.
“I don’t think that I want to go back to work full time – that’s why I’m retiring. But I don’t want to be sitting on my hands doing nothing, either.”
In his email, Cevallos said, “The hardest part of leaving Framingham State will be transitioning away from the daily campus life and the many great people Josée and I have come to know as colleagues, friends and neighbors over the years. This last year has been challenging for all, but it has also shown the resilience, commitment, and energy of the entire campus.”
Reflecting on his statement, Cevallos said, “When we talk about fRAMily … The atmosphere, the friendliness, the environment that we have here is unique and we are small enough that we know a lot of the people, we know the faces.
“That camaraderie that you have on campus is something that makes it very enjoyable. We are a very high-quality institution. Our faculty members are doing amazing work and this is just something that I am always in awe of,” he said.
“Our student body is great. You work hard, you respect the community, and we all try to work together to make this a better place for everyone. That’s something that makes it [FSU] a very special place.”
[Cara McCarthy and Brennan Atkins contributed to this article]