Laura E. Skandera Trombley, Ph.D. Laura E. Skandera Trombley, Ph.D.In a historic decision, the Board of Trustees of Southwestern University has named Laura E. Skandera Trombley, Ph.D., as its 16th president. Trombley is the first woman to hold the top leadership position at Texas’s first university.

“It is fitting that Southwestern University starts this new decade in historic fashion,” said Stephen G. Tipps, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees. “Dr. Trombley’s reputation and body of work in higher education is truly impressive. She is a gifted scholar, proven leader, and passionate advocate for liberal-arts education.” 

Trombley is currently the president of the University of Bridgeport, as well as president emerita of Pitzer College and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. She also previously served as vice president for academic affairs at Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“Southwestern University has been an institution I have long admired,” states Trombley. “As I have watched its growth, I am continually impressed by the quality of its students, the expertise of its faculty, and its ongoing success in admissions, fundraising, and creation of innovative curriculum. These are challenging times, especially in higher education. I welcome these challenges and am excited to join the Southwestern community in ensuring we remain at the forefront of liberal arts universities.”

Recognized by her peers as a champion of liberal-arts institutions, Trombley’s leadership has earned praise for her ability to establish best-in-class university operations, drive exponential growth in fundraising, increase student retention and success, foster a diverse and inclusive campus, and raise sustainability awareness. Under her leadership, both Pitzer College and the University of Bridgeport experienced transformational change, realizing a dramatic improvement in the schools’ national rankings and fundraising capabilities.

Southwestern Trustee and Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Amanda M. McMillian ’95 offers her perspective on choosing Trombley. “After a very competitive national search, we enthusiastically recommended the Board appoint Dr. Trombley as president of this great institution,” says McMillan. “As an alumna, I can personally attest to the transformational education Southwestern provides. A place this special requires an innovative and inspirational leader. Dr. Trombley is both. I am elated to see a person of Dr. Trombley’s caliber come to Southwestern. I look forward to her visionary and action-oriented leadership in student success and inclusive excellence. I know she will make every member of the Southwestern community an excited and engaged participant in our shared future.” 

Trombley has redefined the role of women in academic leadership. In addition to breaking boundaries as Southwestern University’s first female president, Trombley was the first woman to hold the title of vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Coe College as well as the first woman president of the Huntington Library.

Trombley is also one of the nation’s preeminent Mark Twain scholars. Her most recent book is Mark Twain’s Other Woman (Knopf, 2011). Her first book, Mark Twain in the Company of Women (University of Pennsylvania Press), was published in 1994.

“The field of candidates considered for Southwestern’s next president was very strong and our search committee of trustees, faculty, students and staff deliberated on this decision in a very thoughtful manner. In the end, Dr. Trombley’s qualifications and her inclusive leadership style are exactly right for this time in the university’s trajectory toward national stature,” says Miguel J. Zorrilla ’92, trustee and vice chair of the Presidential Search Committee.

A California native and the daughter of two educators, Trombley enrolled, at the age of 16, as a freshman at Pepperdine University and subsequently earned her Bachelor of Arts in English/humanities. She remained at Pepperdine to earn her master of arts in English, graduating summa cum laude. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California as a Virginia Barbara Middleton Scholar and a recipient of the Lester and Irene Finkelstein Fellowship for Outstanding Humanities Student. 

Trombley is the proud mother of a son who is a college senior. She will make her home in Georgetown, Texas.

Board Chair Tipps concluded, “We cannot wait to have Dr. Trombley officially on-board starting July 1. I want to thank our Interim President Dale Knobel for stepping in to lead Southwestern during this critical time. His experience as a former university president helped ensure the day-to-day business of the university continued and that we had seasoned leadership on campus during the COVID-19 crisis.”