Wells College announced today that it has named Susan Henking—a skilled higher education professional with a broad range of executive and academic leadership experience—as its new vice president for academic and student affairs.
Henking, who starts her position on July 1, 2022, was selected after a comprehensive national search that began last fall. She succeeds Cindy J. Speaker, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, who will be leaving Wells at the end of this academic year.
Susan Henking is a teacher–scholar in religious studies whose work has focused on cultural understandings of American religion as well as the theoretical and conceptual relation of religion to gender and sexuality. She has written on ties between American religion and sociology, AIDS/HIV, and most recently on how the term “religion” is used.
For over 25 years, she taught in the Department of Religious Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and was named professor emerita of religious studies in 2015. During her time at HWS, she also served in numerous other roles, including multiple stints as department chair; interim dean of the faculty (1998–2000); and acting provost and dean of the faculty (2000–01). She also co-founded Hobart and William Smith’s LGBT studies program, the first standalone program of its kind in the country, and served as its chair for over a decade. She was an active member of the women’s studies program as well.
In 2012, Henking became president and CEO of Shimer College, a small college then located on the south side of Chicago which became part of Naperville’s North Central College in 2017. In 2017, she was named president emerita and also received an honorary doctorate in recognition of her service to the institution. From 2019 to 2021, she served as interim vice president of academic affairs and student affairs, and later president, at Salem Academy and College, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the U.S. At Salem, she reinforced that college’s commitment to liberal arts education while also expanding its preprofessional offerings, in particular its institutional strategic shift towards health leadership.
“Dr. Henking’s leadership style and career path make her an exemplary choice for Wells College,” said President Jonathan Gibralter. “As a seasoned faculty member who has held a wide variety of leadership roles, she is well prepared to meet the specific needs of our College and its entire community,” he added.
“Having overseen both the Academic Affairs and Student Affairs areas at my previous institution, I know the importance of an integrative approach to student learning,” Henking said. “Colleges like Wells are designed to help students both imagine the possibilities and make them real, and this occurs both within and beyond the classroom. I look forward to helping Wells College continue its mission of liberal arts education, something that is more important today than ever,” she continued.
As a scholar of religious studies, she co-edited the books “Que(e)rying Religion” and “Mourning Religion” and has published numerous articles and chapters. She was founding editor of the American Academy of Religion’s “Teaching Religious Studies” series published by Oxford University Press. Her reflections on liberal education and leadership have appeared in Inside Higher Education, the Chronicle of Higher Education, in edited books and journals, and elsewhere.
Her numerous volunteer service activities include serving on the board of the Hutchins Academy, a new high school in Chicago; her current membership in the LGBT Presidents in Higher Education leadership association; working closely with HERS, the pre-eminent leadership development organization for women in higher education; and serving on the board of the American Academy of Religion. These—as well as her professional experience as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow in the Chancellor’s Office of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in 2009–10—mean that she has a wide understanding of today’s higher education landscape.
Henking earned a B.A. in religion and sociology from Duke University. She later earned her M.A. at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where she also obtained her Ph.D. in religion and psychological studies. An avid cook and fan of murder mysteries, she currently lives in Geneva, N.Y., with her partner, Betty Bayer—an internationally recognized psychologist and professor of women’s studies at Hobart and William Smith—and their dog, Bunty.
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