Avila Now

February 9, 2022

Avila Board of Trustees Select Burkee as University’s 15th President

James Burkee, Ph.D.
James Burkee PhD.

James Burkee, Ph.D. succeeds retiring President Ronald Slepitza, Ph.D., CSJA

(February 9, 2022) KANSAS CITY, MO – The Avila University Board of Trustees has unanimously selected Dr. James (Jim) Burkee, vice president for strategic initiatives at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, as Avila’s 15th president. Burkee will begin his tenure July 1, 2022, and succeeds Avila President Ronald Slepitza, Ph.D., CSJA, who is retiring.

“Dr. Burkee’s academic entrepreneurship, commitment to the liberal arts and our Catholic identity, as well as his shared values with our founders the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, makes him uniquely qualified to lead Avila University,” said David Kerr ’76, board of trustee member and chair of the president selection committee.

“Jim has served in nearly every academic leadership role imaginable, and he will tell you he’s an academic first. He uses this experience and understanding to innovate academic program development and delivery for diverse learners and increase enrollment.  Jim then works with the community to build business partnerships that financially benefit the institution and deliver opportunities to underserved communities and first-generation students. These are the very students Avila embraces.”

“As a first-generation college student himself, Jim understands the impact of liberal arts higher education,” said Sister Marie Joan Harris, Ph.D., CSJ, Board of Trustee member, and vice-chair of the president search committee. “I see his commitment to underserved groups and service to the community. These commitments are important to us at Avila. I also see the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ) in Jim’s leadership style. Avila University is blessed to have him.”

“I am honored and energized to lead Avila University at this pivotal time in its 106-year history.”

Jim Burkee, Ph.D., Avila University’s 15th president

Burkee’s selection follows an eight-month national search led by a 16-member search committee comprised of Board of Trustee members, faculty, staff, and alumni, and supported by Academic Search, a national consulting firm. A total of 40 applications were submitted for the position.

“I am honored and energized to lead Avila University at this pivotal time in its 106-year history,” Burkee said. “The best presidents generate trust and respect, working well with others, considering their needs, and focusing on justice and fairness while driving toward the University’s strategic goals. They think big and work hard to rally the community around audacious goals.”

The first in his working-class Wisconsin family to earn a college degree, Burkee studied business and history at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin. He received a fellowship at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, which Burkee describes as “one of the greatest gifts of my life” to study American history.

Burkee brings a breadth and depth of experience to Avila’s highest post. With 25 years in higher education, Burkee has held most academic leadership positions and senior-level administrative roles responsible for strategic planning, business and academic partnership development, and enrollment. In 2011, Burkee briefly left academia to partner in managing his family’s multi-million dollar business as managing partner and chief operating officer. He returned to higher education in 2013 after successfully leading the company.

In 2019, Burkee joined the College of Mount Saint Vincent, the Bronx, New York, to work with the president, board of trustee members, and senior staff to expand the College’s reach into new, non-traditional areas. These efforts resulted in rapid growth from about 1,700 students to over 3,000 this academic year, adding off-campus, online, and graduate programs.

“Dr. Burkee has made a significant and meaningful impact on the College—from establishing innovative partnerships that have led to increased enrollments to expanding access to the academically excellent and authentically inclusive education the Mount offers,” said Susan R. Burns, Ph.D., president of the College of Mount Saint Vincent. “His entrepreneurial spirit coupled with his strong commitment to the transformational effect of higher education will serve Avila University well into the future.”

Before joining the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Burkee served as executive vice president and executive dean at Concordia College New York, Bronxville. Burkee’s leadership oversight included academics, enrollment, academic program development, and strategic business planning and development. Reaching out across campus, under Burkee’s leadership, the College nearly doubled in size, adding about 1,000 continuing, online, international and graduate learners. This growth came through securing domestic and international partnerships and generated over $20 million in revenue for the College. While serving in these roles, Dr. Burkee retained his rank as Professor of History.

“A strong university starts with strong programs and partnerships that diversify its student populations,” said Burkee. “We must pursue diversified revenue streams, practice data-driven decision-making, strive for best practices across the institution, and foster a culture of constant innovation.”

Respected for his collaborative style, Burkee brings to Avila University a unique ability to bridge business partnerships, drive an innovative and strategic academic agenda, and build buy-in from community members.

“Jim’s impressive array of experiences in higher education and business, his passion for the liberal arts, his respect for our history and values, and his collaborative leadership style align perfectly with Avila’s mission and our needs,” said Kerr. “We couldn’t be more pleased and excited to welcome Jim to Avila.”

Burkee earned a B.A. in history and a B.A. in business/marketing from Concordia University, his Teacher Colloquy from Concordia College, New York, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Burkee was on campus for the announcement to the Avila community. He will return to campus multiple times in the spring and early summer for on-campus meetings with a wide range of campus constituencies.

Avila University Board of Trustee members David Kerr ’76 and Sister Marie Joan Harris announce James (Jim) Burkee, Ph.D., as the university’s 15th president at a campus event on February 9, 2022.
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