UConn announces CEO of UConn Health as interim president

A file photo of UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas. He is expected to resign as the university’s president effective June 30, 2021, and return to teaching and research.

A file photo of UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas. He is expected to resign as the university’s president effective June 30, 2021, and return to teaching and research.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

STORRS — The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Dr. Andrew “Andy” Agwunobi, the CEO of UConn Health and executive vice president for health affairs, as UConn’s interim president on Wednesday.

The announcement comes less than a week after news of the current president’s resignation. UConn President Thomas Katsouleas said in a statement on Wednesday his desire to focus on research and teaching led to the “difficult decision.”

Sources told Hearst Connecticut Media and the CT Mirror that the relationship between Katsouleas and UConn’s Board of Trustees had deteriorated since he was hired. Among the actions cited by sources were an unexpected announcement at his inauguration to provide free tuition for families making less than $50,000, and a decision to cut slated tuition increases by half without consulting with trustees.

He also angered board members for spending a lot of his time in Virginia during the pandemic, instead of on campus, sources said. UConn Health was in crisis not only because of the health emergency but with its finances, which have long been shaky and grew dire in the spring of 2020, before any federal aid was secured.

With the appointment of Agwunobi, UConn will see its first president of color in the university’s 140-year history, according to the board.

“I’m honored and humbled to be asked to serve as president for this interim period, and I’m happy to do anything I can do to support the University of Connecticut, that I’ve come to love, and its mission,” Agwunobi said at the announcement of his interim presidency.

Last week, it was publicly announced Katsouleas would resign as president effective June 30. Katsouleas, who served as president for two years, will return to the university as a faculty member.

UConn’s Board of Trustees announced its interim selection at a regular meeting on Wednesday morning, during which chair Dan Toscano called Agwunobi “an absolute masterclass in leadership.”

Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds, said the governor is “in agreement and approves” of the board’s recommendation.

Agwunobi said his priorities include reopening at near full-capacity this fall, as well as long-term goals such as updating the university’s strategic plan, promoting research and innovation and more.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Toscano said Agwunobi’s selection stems not only from his leadership experience, but from his background “leading an institution of public higher education in the state of Connecticut.”

“Dr. Agwunobi is well-known throughout UConn,” said Toscano. “He’s well-known in the legislature and the executive branch.

“We will be in no hurry to rush a process to name a permanent president of the university,” he said. “We don’t need to. We have a great leader in place who is well-known and knows his way around.”

Agwunobi became CEO of UConn Health in 2014. Before then, he was managing director and co-leader of the health performance improvement practice at Berkeley Research Group, one of the nation’s largest healthcare consulting firms.

He has held several other top roles, including president and CEO of Grady Health in Atlanta, CEO of Providence Healthcare in Washington and secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Agwunobi is a pediatrician by training and also holds an MBA.

His term officially starts July 1, but the UConn Board of Trustees granted him authority to begin day-to-day responsibilities effective immediately, with Katsouleas involved in the transition.

Agwunobi will simultaneously continue in his role as UConn Health’s CEO.

In a statement to the UConn community, posted by Katsouleas on Twitter, he said he looks forward to helping the interim president in his transition.

“I also look forward to pursuing my love of research and teaching as a member of UConn’s distinguished faculty,” Katsouleas said. “It is an exciting time in my field of laser and plasma accelerator research, and I look forward to pursuing some new questions I have been discussing with a former student and colleagues.”

Katsouleas also praised the university for prospering during the ongoing global pandemic.

“I will always be grateful for the privilege of leading this great university through the most challenging period in its history,” he said, citing how UConn was able to remain one of the highest in-person residential college experiences in the country over the last year.

Katsouleas said UConn broke records in various areas, including enrollment, applications and research. He said the university has also set its sights on looking toward a brighter future.

“We set ourselves on a path to a future that includes working to make UConn an anti-racist institution and to being the very best at bringing life-transformative education experiences and emotionally supportive mentoring to every student,” Katsouleas said.

Katsouleas served as the university’s 16th president.