Stephen Thorsett named 23rd president of Willamette University
May 16, 2011
A 46-year-old California astronomy professor and science dean who grew up in Salem and discovered a planet has been chosen as Willamette University's next president, the board of trustees has announced.
Stephen E. Thorsett, dean of physical and biological sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz, will take the helm of the 2,600-student private Salem university on July 1.
"It's exciting," Thorsett said of his return to his home state. "I've always considered myself an Oregonian. This is my part of the world."
He succeeds President M. Lee Pelton, who is leaving after 13 years at Willamette to lead Emerson College, a private communications and performing arts school in Boston.
Thorsett offers the combination of scholarship, administrative experience and fundraising skills the university was looking for, said Peter Letsou, a member of the search committee and incoming dean of Willamette's law school.
After an eight-month search the board voted Friday evening to hire Thorsett. The university did not disclose his salary; Pelton earns a base salary of more than $336,000.
Thorsett's passion for the liberal arts and Willamette set him apart from other candidates, Letsou said.
"Where many people in the pool were looking to be president of a college, Stephen was looking to be president of Willamette University," he said.