Former Sewanee vice president Robert Pearigen elected as vice-chancellor and president

Robert Wesley Pearigen / Photo contributed by Sewanee
Robert Wesley Pearigen / Photo contributed by Sewanee

After conducting a national search, the Board of Trustees for the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, unanimously elected alumnus and former vice president Robert Wesley Pearigen as its 18th vice-chancellor and president on Thursday, according to a news release.

Pearigen will take office at Sewanee on July 1 and plans to continue to teach upon his return. He succeeds Reuben E. Brigety II, who stepped down as vice-chancellor and president in December 2021 to be nominated by President Joe Biden as U.S. ambassador to South Africa, a role to which he was subsequently confirmed. The Board of Regents elected Provost Nancy Berner acting vice-chancellor and president in January 2022, and she will continue the role until Pearigen takes office, the release states.

"It will be my great privilege and pleasure to serve the university that has played such a formative role in my life and career and that of my family," Pearigen said in a statement on the university's website. "Though this is, in many ways, a homecoming of sorts, I am grateful to be returning to a place that has grown and evolved in vital ways over the past decade. I admire the progress Sewanee has made during the past 13 years and I look forward to helping lead its advancement in the years ahead."

Pearigen graduated from Sewanee Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts in political science in 1976 and previously served in several executive and academic positions, including leading university relations from 2005-2010. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in political science from Duke University. He returned to Sewanee in 1987 as dean of men and as a member of the political science faculty. Throughout his career, he continued to teach, including courses in constitutional law, civil rights and liberties, jurisprudence and political theory.

In 2010, Pearigen became president of Millsaps College, a private liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church, in Jackson, Mississippi. While there, he raised more than $2.5 million to permanently ensure Millsap's water self-sufficiency in response to Jackson's 2022 water crisis. He also worked to redesign the curriculum, increase in diversity of the student population and expand the college's partnerships with the local community, the release states.

Pearigen also has family connections to Sewanee. His wife, Phoebe, served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and contributed to dance programs in the community, including founding the Sewanee Conservatory and initiating the student-led dance organization Perpetual Motion. The couple's two children, Carolyn and Wes, are both active alumni.

In recognition of Pearigen's dedication as Dean of Students, the University's Student Life Cabinet established the Pearigen Commitment to Community Award which is awarded to students who demonstrate exemplary service and leadership to the Sewanee community.

"Dr. Pearigen's proven leadership and his intimate knowledge of and deep abiding love for Sewanee will be invaluable in leading the university as it examines its past and looks to its future," said Renia Dotson, a member of the Board of Regents and the search committee, in a statement on the university's website. "Rob's commitment to a liberal arts education and his profound understanding that the cherished relationships developed while on the Mountain are what makes Sewanee unique will serve him well as he guides the University during this very transformative time in its history."

-- Compiled by Kim Sebring

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