Veteran Educator Tapped to Lead Adult-Serving University - Higher Education
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Veteran Educator Tapped to Lead Adult-Serving University

by Lois Elfman

As the new president of Union Institute & University, Dr. Karen Schuster Webb will be able to increase her impact on higher education by expanding horizons for adult learners.

Webb, who assumes the presidency July 1, said she is deeply honored to be named Union’s sixth president, noting that the university’s mission and legacy of social justice advocacy reflect her passion for equity of access to excellence in education and the belief that diversity enriches everyone. She plans to work with faculty, staff, alumni, administration and students to continue developing Union’s vision for 21st-century education.

Dr. Karen Schuster Webb

“It has been my pleasure to have [previously] met and worked with a number of Union alumni, and each reflected an engaged, enlightened and empowered competence as well as confidence, which they attributed to career preparation at Union,” said Webb, who most recently has been the Midwest campus president and senior advisor for academic innovation to the chancellor at the Antioch University System.

In July, around the time she assumes the Union presidency, Webb also will become chair of the executive council of the American Council on Education’s Women’s Network.

Founded in 1964, Union is a pioneer in higher education for adults. Across the decades, the course content and degrees offered have evolved to meet student needs with emphasis also given to social relevance. With online programs as well as hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus at Union’s academic centers in Ohio, Florida and California, the academic programs reflect the institution’s mission of learning, service and social responsibility.

Establishing a career in academia was not without significant challenges for Webb, who said she faced salary inequities, sexism and racism. She said she deeply appreciates mentors who shared their stories and encouraged her forward.

“Later, as I was selected for leadership roles, a major struggle was for my voice to be heard and input acknowledged as the only woman administrator in meetings with my peers,” said Webb. “The breakthrough came when I was selected for a position where diversity and inclusion were valued in the university’s culture, and I thrived professionally. That foundation of knowing what a truly inclusive climate looks like in the academy and how to foster that climate were invaluable lessons that I took with me and emulated.”

“Over the years,” she added, “I have fueled diversity by participating in making sure that the institutional climate is conducive to understanding that diversity is invaluable to the institution’s success.”

This has included building networks and making sure search committees were diverse. Thanks to those important measures, outstanding diverse faculty and staff were hired, which in turn led to more diverse student bodies.

Webb has seen the landscape for adult and other non-traditional learners develop over the past three decades. Once afterthoughts, those students are now pursued by universities, which endeavor to find innovative ways to meet their needs.

“Adult learners have an increased interest in workforce development and attaining advanced skill sets, which are marketable,” Webb noted. “These factors have increased the demand for certificates, credentials and short courses. Convenience is critical to the choice of post-secondary institutions.”

Webb said Union has understood adult and non-traditional learners for 54 years, offering distance learning programs and multiple pathways to matriculation long before other public and private institutions. Her job will involve continuing to sustain Union as an innovative force.

Online and hybrid programs offer learning without borders, which enriches the experience as different viewpoints come into view and real-world problems are addressed. Webb said one need only look at Union’s website to see the diversity in faculty.

Union offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs as well as bridge programs, certificate programs and continuing education. The range of subjects reflects contemporary issues with focus on matters such as healthcare leadership, organizational leadership, creativity studies and emergency services management. The doctoral programs in ethical and creative leadership, educational studies and humanities and culture all include the option of a specialization in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. studies.

“As president of Union Institute & University, the responsibility entrusted to me is to provide leadership that every day seeks opportunities and partnerships to enhance, promote and perpetuate Union’s legacy — here and abroad,” said Webb. “We will expand our horizons of excellence so that the world will know of our commitment to diversity and inclusion because of the influence of our students and alumni around the world, and by how diversity and inclusion are demonstrated in the Union community.”

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