The St. John’s College Board of Visitors and Governors today announced the appointments of Nora Demleitner as collegewide president and J. Walter Sterling as president of the Santa Fe campus. Demleitner, who has served as Annapolis president since 2022, will now oversee college operations at the third-oldest institution of higher education in the country, in addition to operations at the campus in Annapolis, Maryland. Sterling, an alumnus and faculty member, most recently served as the dean of the Santa Fe campus, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in New Mexico’s capital this year. Both appointments become effective on July 1, 2024, with the retirement of current collegewide and Santa Fe president Mark Roosevelt.
“St. John’s College is distinctive in so many ways, and one of those ways is our structure: we truly are one college, two campuses,” says Board Chair Warren Spector. “Such a unique college needs a leadership team that is up to the task. Nora and Walter together will bring a shared clarity of purpose across the college. They are two leaders who have demonstrated that they are cooperative, have complementary strengths, and share a unified belief in the impact and importance of the college’s all-required, discussion-based liberal arts curriculum.”
“Nora is the right person at the right time to take on this role. She appreciates the cultural and geographical advantages each campus brings,” says Board Vice-Chair Pam Saunders-Albin. “She is a strategic thinker who is outcome-focused, and, most importantly, a listener who understands the needs of our students, alumni and community.”
Nora Demleitner became the 25th president of the Annapolis campus in January 2022; with this appointment, she becomes the second collegewide president and first female college president in the history of the institution. An expert on criminal justice issues, including sentencing guidelines, she was dean of the law schools at Washington & Lee and Hofstra University before bringing her ample experience in academic and institutional leadership to St. John’s. She received her BA from Bates College, her JD from Yale, and her LLM from Georgetown in international and comparative law.
“I am honored that the Board of Visitors and Governors and the college community has shown this confidence in me during a time of great accomplishments at St. John’s, a time of great challenges for higher education, and a time in American history when being able to listen to and talk to each other has, perhaps, never been more important,” says Demleitner. “St. John’s College is a place for students to thrive, both during their time here and post-graduation, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that.”
The college held a rigorous, thoughtful, and thorough internal search for the Santa Fe president, led by a committee of board members, faculty, and alumni who held multiple listening sessions with the college’s students, faculty, staff, and other constituencies across both campuses. As part of the process, the committee consulted presidents from other similar small colleges, a search firm known for national presidential searches, senior HR executives from corporations and nonprofits, and the college’s alumni association board.
“The committee agreed to work in a consensus format; we listened to multiple views and concerns of all communities, who provided an enormous amount of feedback not only to the process, but to the future of the college,” says chair of the search committee John Gray. “We listened, and the focus for the presidents will be informed by what we heard during this presidential search. That feedback is actively being used by the board to help structure the priorities of the presidents as they move forward.”
“We sought out a diversity of perspectives, but there was, at the same time, a very strong alignment on a few qualities that everyone was looking for in our next Santa Fe president,” says vice-chair of the search committee Marti Acosta. “The number one interest and concern of every different constituency was the ability to truly understand the college and the program, and to be able to communicate the specialness of this college to external groups, funders, and all audiences. And that’s what we found Walter brought in a unique way that nobody else could bring. He also ranked highly against exemplary external candidates in other important areas including fundraising, financial management, and administrative leadership.”
J. Walter Sterling will be the eighth president of St. John’s College Santa Fe, where he has been a member of the teaching faculty since 2003 and recently concluded his second term as dean. He holds a BA from St. John’s, Annapolis, an MA in philosophy from Emory University, and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. He has taught at Loyola University Maryland, Temple University, and Gwynedd-Mercy University. Sterling is a member of the board and visiting teaching faculty of the Rome Institute of Liberal Arts and serves on the Academic Advisory Council of the Jack Miller Center. He has also worked outside academia supporting mission-driven nonprofits such as Project HOME in Philadelphia.
“I know firsthand the benefits of this education and I know that what makes St. John’s so special is unfortunately too rare today,” says Sterling. “And as a Santa Fe resident for more than 20 years, I want St. John’s to be as integral to the character of our city as any of the other great cultural institutions here. Our college is a unique treasure of northern New Mexico. Deepening and expanding our vision of what it means for the college to truly be at home here, in one of the most remarkable, culturally rich, and beautiful cities and landscapes in the country, is motivating and makes me especially excited to see our Santa Fe campus, in its 60th year, begin to write its next chapter.”
Current collegewide and Santa Fe president Mark Roosevelt will retire June 30, 2024, after more than eight years of service to the college. Roosevelt, who began his tenure in 2016, created a collegewide management structure and oversaw the college’s tuition reset, reducing tuition by one-third and reinforcing the college’s mission that it truly does offer an “education for all.” He also led the successful Freeing Minds capital campaign, which raised more than $326 million for student financial aid and supports, college operating expenses, and campus upgrades and renovations, including a sustainability project for the Santa Fe campus to go 100 percent solar.
“Leading St. John’s College—a college like no other—has been a great honor,” says Roosevelt. “Nora and Walter are the right team to continue this work and ensure that St. John’s will always be a place that challenges students and bucks the trends of higher education.”