OU selects successor to Chancellor Eichner

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Ottawa University has found a new leader to succeed Chancellor Kevin C. Eichner, who will retire June 20, 2022.

Dr. William M. (Bill) Tsutsui has been selected to serve as University President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), effective July 1, 2021. He will be the 22nd President and CEO. Eichner, who will continue to serve the university as Chancellor Emeritus through June 30, 2022.


Dr. Tsutsui will assume the chief executive level responsibility for Ottawa’s comprehensive university system on July 1. The Chancellor’s Cabinet, consisting of the two residential campus presidents located in Ottawa and Surprise, Arizoma, the EVP and CFO, the EVP for OU Online, the University Provost and Chief Academic Officer, and the VP’s of Advancement, will report to Dr. Tsutsui at that time. As has been the case for the Eichners, Dr. Tsutsui will be expected to maintain a strong personal presence in both Kansas and Arizona, but will take up residence initially at Granger House in Ottawa.

Dr. Tsutsui served as a scholar and administrative leader, having a number of key positions through the years. Most recently, he served on sabbatical as the Edwin O. Reischauer Distinguished Visiting Professor at Harvard University. Prior to that, from 2015 to 2019, Dr. Tsutsui was president and professor of history at Hendrix College, a top-tier national liberal arts college founded in 1876, located in Conway, Arkansas.

During Dr. Tsutsui’s tenure, Hendrix was re-accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for 10 years, and he oversaw a comprehensive strategic plan resulting in significantly increased access, diversity, and affordability initiatives. An accomplished fundraiser, he led Hendrix’ largest and most successful capital campaign of more than $100 million and he personally shepherded several campus improvement projects, including the Dawkins Welcome Center, Miller Creative Quad and Windgate Museum of Art.

OU Board of Trustees Chairman Lucky DeFries said the board determined  Dr. Tsutsui's clear strategic vision and in-depth appreciation for Ottawa’s diversified business and academic model stood out. The search committee and the board also took special note of his illustrious academic credentials, personal warmth and empathy, passion for educating students from diverse backgrounds in a Christ-inspired community of grace, his creativity, seasoned leadership experience, strong fundraising record and sense of humor.

“Bill brings with him not only a deep understanding of higher education, but also after having served as a professor, dean and university president, he manifests a strong appreciation of how to manage and lead complex organizations through the inevitable changes that are facing all institutions of higher learning today,” DeFries said. “He is a seasoned and respected scholar, author, educator, historian, and a consummate leader in higher education with a record of innovation.”

Dr. Tsutsui said this opportunity is a chance to continue Ottawa’s level of success achieved under the leadership of Eichner.

“I am honored, humbled and absolutely thrilled to be selected as Ottawa University’s President and CEO,” Dr. Tsutsui said. “Under Chancellor Eichner’s strategic leadership, Ottawa University has emerged as one of the great success stories in twenty-first century American higher education. At a time when many private colleges have struggled, Ottawa University has distinguished itself as far-sighted and entrepreneurial, pioneering a diversified business model that has retained the historic mission of the institution, while expanding incrementally into new markets and reaching out to new learners. 

“I have come to deeply respect Ottawa as a university not afraid to embrace change and be bold in its vision, even as it has upheld its values of integrity and accessibility, its heritage of quality, and its deep Christian roots. Marjorie and I are excited to immerse ourselves in the extended OU community, and I look forward to working with trustees, faculty, staff, students, and alums to further elevate Ottawa University and the impact of the life-changing education that it offers.”

He has been married for 31 years to Dr. Marjorie Swann, a professor of English at Hendrix College and an expert on seventeenth-century British literature. Dr. Swann received her B.A. in English from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and her M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Oxford University, where she and Bill met. Dr. Swann taught at Princeton, the University of North Texas, the University of Kansas, and at Hendrix and was also the Director of the Museum Studies Program at KU. Together, Bill and Marjorie have long enjoyed collecting and researching the history of American regional art, and have published four essays on the development of the visual arts in Kansas and throughout the Great Plains.

Drs. Tsutsui and Swann are expected to move to Granger House in late June or early July. Dr. Tsutsui is already beginning his onboarding process with Chancellor Eichner’s guidance, and Dr. Swann is exploring how she might best continue her teaching and academic career at Ottawa as both begin their transitions.

During the time he spent at KU, Dr. Tsutsui became familiar with OU and Franklin County. He said he could not be more excited or prouder to be returning to northeast Kansas, and to have the opportunity to lead such a consistently progressive and highly respected institution of higher learning. One of Dr. Tsutsui’s goals is to further advance the ongoing development of the university’s new campus in Surprise, Arizona, which he describes as a sort of “educational miracle rising from the desert” of the West Valley of Phoenix, and to engage deeply with one of Ottawa’s true strategic gems, its adult and online educational programs and related sites in Phoenix, Overland Park, Kansas, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Eichner announced in January he would retire in 2022 and a search to succeed him was launched.

“We have been most fortunate to benefit from Kevin’s leadership, and First Lady Marylin’s grace and hospitality, over these past 13 years,” DeFries said. “This has been a period of unprecedented growth and progress at our university. Therefore, in searching for Kevin’s eventual successor, the board set its search parameters at a very high level. Our comprehensive, nationwide search attracted significant interest from a diverse group of impressive candidates. We were very gratified at the quality of the talent, experience, and the enthusiasm of those who applied. After careful deliberation, the board agreed that Dr. Tsutsui represented the best fit for ensuring the continued momentum of the university. We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Tsutsui as Ottawa’s new University President and CEO, and his spouse, Dr. Marjorie Swann, to the life of our institution.”

Chancellor Eichner is proud to welcome Drs. Tsutsui and Swann to the university.

“Ottawa University is a very special place, and Marylin and I have been greatly blessed by the opportunity to help shape the future of our alma mater over these past years,” Eichner said. “On behalf of the entire Ottawa University family, we extend our warmest welcome to Bill and Marjorie. We have no doubt that they will come to internalize what we call the ‘OU Spirit’ and that they will make many significant contributions to the experience of our students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as the communities in which we operate.Bill and Marjorie understand completely our mission and core values and have a great appreciation for the transformative power of the type of higher education OU has been providing for more than 156 years.”