Higher education leader Robert Pearigen elected vice-chancellor and president of the University of the South

School of Theology, University of the South
Posted Jan 27, 2023

Dr. Robert Pearigen, vice-chancellor-elect of the University of the South

Robert Wesley Pearigen, the president of Millsaps College known for his commitment to academic excellence, community partnerships and a diverse student body, has been named the university’s 18th vice-chancellor and president.

The Board of Trustees of the University of the South elected Dr. Pearigen unanimously on January 26, following a national search that began in March 2022. Pearigen is a graduate of the University of the South and previously served Sewanee in several executive and academic positions, before assuming the Millsaps’ presidency in 2010. Perigen will take office as vice-chancellor on July 1, 2023.

“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. “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.

“To ‘dwell together in unity’ is our motto and in our DNA; we have the opportunity and responsibility now to manifest what is best about relationships, community, and humanity, and to live fully into all that Sewanee is and can be in the future,” Pearigen continued. “I am thrilled to be leading the University into its next chapter.”

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Jacob W. Owensby, Chancellor of the University of the South and member of the Vice-Chancellor Search Committee commented, “Rob Pearigen combines deep Sewanee roots with long, fruitful presidential service at a peer institution. He appreciates the distinct sense of belonging and the learning environment that both the College and the School of Theology provide. At the same time, he also recognizes that we are entering a new era in higher education, in the nation, and across the planet. We need to embrace an energizing vision that ensures our continued excellence. Rob’s experience and his collaborative leadership style will encourage, support, and guide the faculty, staff, students, and broader Sewanee community to do just that together.”

Pearigen has had a distinguished tenure as Millsaps’ president. Located in Jackson, Mississippi, the private liberal arts college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is consistently ranked as one of the best values in higher education and is one of Loren Pope’s 40 Colleges that Change Lives.

Notable achievements at Millsaps during Pearigen’s tenure include: a comprehensive strategic plan and redesign of the curriculum; a significant increase in diversity of the student population, with students of color now comprising 40 percent of the population; expansion of the college’s partnerships with the local community; tripling of annual fund donations to the college and expansion of alumni engagement; completion of $25 million in capital projects, all fully funded in private donations; and development of plans and $2.5 million raised to create a campus solution to Jackson’s water crisis.

Pearigen 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 the Republic of 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 to serve in this role until Pearigen takes office.

The Rev. Dr. Robert MacSwain, Associate Professor of Theology and member of the Vice-Chancellor Search Committee added “Rob Pearigen knows Sewanee from the inside out but returns after over a decade at the helm of a sister institution. He brings a vast store of experience as a Sewanee graduate, professor, dean of students, director of advancement, and as the president of Millsaps College. He is fully committed to the essential role of the liberal arts as well as to the mission of the School of Theology, to academic excellence, student flourishing, social justice, and the Christian faith. It’s difficult to think of a more qualified person to lead the University into its next chapter.”

About the University of the South

The University of the South comprises a nationally recognized College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a School of Letters, and a distinguished School of Theology serving the Episcopal Church. Located on 13,000 acres atop the South Cumberland Plateau in Sewanee, Tennessee, the University enrolls 1,750 undergraduates and approximately 165 seminarians in master’s and doctoral programs annually. The University of the South is the only institute of higher education founded and governed by 27 dioceses of the Episcopal Church.