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Hendrix College Names Karen Petersen Next President

2 min read

Karen Petersen, dean of the University of Tulsa’s Henry Kendall College of Arts of Sciences, has been named the next president of Hendrix College in Conway. 

Petersen, a political science professor, takes over in June for Ellis Arnold, who is retiring after more than three years leading the private liberal arts school. Under Arnold’s leadership, the school saw record student applications and record endowment growth and fundraising.

Petersen has led Tulsa’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2021, overseeing 120 full-time employees in 13 departments. During her tenure, the college has seen a 47% increase in unrestricted giving, Hendrix said in a news release. Tulsa also restored academic programs in philosophy and religion, and the Bachelor of Music degree, under Petersen’s leadership.

She spent the previous 16 years at her undergraduate alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she rose from faculty member to dean of the College of Liberal Arts. During her tenure, Petersen helped develop and implement a comprehensive student success program that reportedly doubled the four-year graduation rate and resulted in the retention of 88% of full-time undergraduates and 86% of Pell eligible students in the College of Liberal Arts.

Jo Ann Biggs, chair of the Hendrix College board of trustees, said said Petersen’s “passion for the transformative role of liberal arts education and her advocacy for the residential undergraduate liberal arts experience is inspiring.”

“She finds immense joy in engaging with undergraduate students and connecting the work of the campus with the broader community, and she cares deeply about diversity, effective teaching, and shared governance,” Biggs said. “I am confident that she will be a tremendous ambassador and leader for the Hendrix community.”

Petersen, a northwest Arkansas native, earned a master’s and doctorate in political science from Vanderbilt University.

She’s set to become the second woman to lead Hendrix, following Ann Die Hasselmo, who served from 1992 to 2001.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as president of Hendrix College and look forward to serving alongside the caring and talented faculty, staff, and Board members as we continue Hendrix’s commitment to the life-changing power of a liberal arts education,” Petersen said in a statement. “We are privileged to educate the young people upon whose shoulders the responsibility for our future rests, and I am dedicated to strengthening and preserving the residential liberal arts experience because it is the best preparation for life in a free society.” 

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