Wartburg chooses new VPAA

Brian Ernsting -- University of Evansville photo
Brian Ernsting — University of Evansville photo

Wartburg College has named Dr. Brian Ernsting vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.

President Darrel Colson announced Ernsting, currently assistant vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, will begin his duties Aug. 1.

“I’m pleased that Dr. Ernsting is joining us,” Colson said. “He brings a wealth of experience and expertise from his many years at the University of Evansville. Like me, he’s a ‘convert’ to the model of education we practice in liberal arts colleges, and he brings the zeal of a convert with him.”

The University of Evansville is a 2,643-student institution in southwest Indiana with strong ties to the United Methodist Church.

“I am delighted to join President Colson and the Wartburg community as we continue to implement the strategic plan and prepare our students for lives of significance,” Ernsting said. “Wartburg has a long tradition of deep and integrative learning in the liberal arts and sciences, and I am excited about being a part of that tradition.”

Ernsting was one of three finalists for the position, along with Dr. Deborah Johnson-Ross, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at McDaniel College and Dr. Darrin Good, Associate Provost and Dean of Science and Education at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Dr. Mark Biermann left the position to become provost and executive vice president for academic affairs position at Valparaiso University.

Ernsting earned his bachelor’s degree in German and cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan, where he also completed his Ph.D. in biological chemistry and cellular and molecular biology.

Since 2011, Ernsting has chaired Evansville’s regional reaccreditation committee. He also has led an outcomes assessment on campus and worked to implement a revised general education core.

“I believe strongly in the potential of the liberal arts in the 21st century and in the value proposition of our enterprise,” Ernsting wrote in his application. “I take a collaborative approach to both management and visioning and am guided by a deep respect for academic shared governance.”

Dr. Todd Reiher, Wartburg psychology professor who chaired the search committee, was pleased with the quality of the applicant pool.

“Dr. Ernsting will bring a strong set of skills and an energetic leadership to academic affairs,” he said.

Ernsting began his duties at Evansville in 1997 as a biology faculty member. He has taught courses in genetics, molecular biology, and horticulture as well as first-year and senior seminars. As a researcher, Ernsting has consistently involved undergraduates in his scholarship. Before his current role, he was assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, director of world cultures and the first-year seminar programs, and served as a premedical adviser and chair of the faculty senate.

“Effective academic leadership can have positive consequences for the whole institution, reaching both students and faculty in ways that have wider impact than that which can be achieved within the department,” Ernsting wrote.

He added, “The importance of transparent, effective, and efficient management of the business of the college cannot be overstated, but communication, consultation, and leadership are equally vital when considering the right mix of continuity and change as we shape the future contours of the institution.”

His service as chair of several committees, including assessment and accreditation and budgeting, have prepared him for Wartburg’s upcoming accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission.

“I have served in leadership roles in a number of large long-term initiatives involving assessment, general education, faculty evaluation, and international education,” Ernsting wrote. “In collaboration with the university assessment committee, we worked to overhaul our outcomes assessment program and to align it with national best-practices in a way that will make (Evansville’s) upcoming reaccreditation process more easily navigated.”

Ernsting led the collaborative development of a quality improvement proposal focused on enhancing prominence in international education. He also served as a member of the peer review corps and a financial evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

“Throughout this process, it has been my goal to develop meaningful outcomes assessment that can lead to positive change without undue demands on faculty or students,” he wrote.

Ernsting also is active with New American Colleges and Universities. NACU promotes the integration of liberal arts, professional studies, and civic engagement. He represented Evansville in a proposal submitted by NACU to The Teagle Foundation, which was successfully funded to individualize faculty evaluation, promote holistic departments, and strengthen the relationship between liberal arts and professional programs.

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