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New President Named at Union College


Union College has hired its first woman president. Dr. Vinita Sauder replaces John Wagner, retiring this summer.

Ryan Teller, director of public relations at Union College, published the story on the college’s website on Friday, May 16:

Dr. Vinita Sauder, currently vice president for strategic initiatives at Southern Adventist University, has accepted the invitation of the Union College Board of Trustees to serve as Union’s next president.


The appointment will fill the position soon to be vacated by John Wagner when he retires in June. Wagner joined Union College for a third time in 2011 to help complete the $14.5 million Our Promising Future campaign and build the new Krueger Center for Science and Mathematics.


Although Union College has experienced growth both in the student body and on the physical campus in the form of new and remodeled academic facilities, it was the people who attracted Sauder to the small Midwestern campus. “The personal nature of Union College and the culture of the campus is very appealing to me,” she said.  “Union has a strong spirit. It is evident in the way you treat your students and the way the students lead.”

The search for Union’s president was managed by FaithSearch Partners, an external search firm, which was also the firm that found Southwestern Adventist University’s new president, Dr. Kenneth L. Shaw. 

The story on Union’s website outlined Sauder’s background and experience.

Sauder’s extensive experience in higher education began as the public relations director at Southern Adventist University (then Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists) in the early 1980s. Since then, she has taught in the School of Business and Management, served as vice president for Marketing and Enrollment Services, and now in her current role as vice president for strategic initiatives.


During her time as an administrator, she served as part of a team that positioned Southern Adventist University for substantial growth. “We developed a strategic plan,” she explained. “We developed a new way of looking at things by taking best practices from many other schools—including those outside the Adventist system—and re-engineering a lot of processes to create growth.”


During the 12 years she directly led the marketing and enrollment initiatives, Southern saw an 83 percent growth in enrollment—adding more than 1,400 students.


Sauder hopes to bring to Union similar processes and strategies to create growth. “Union has a strategic plan in place,” said Sauder. “I am looking forward to joining the administrative team to help accomplish the vision and goals that have been laid out.”


After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Adventist University in 1978, Sauder worked in public relations and as a reporter until joining the Southern staff in 1983. She later earned an MBA from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga School of Business in 1989 and then a doctorate in leadership from the Andrews University School of Education in 2008.

John Wagner was academic dean at Union from 1980 to 1983, then went to Southern Adventist University to serve as president. In 1986, he returned to Union as its president. Wagner left in 1991 to found several nonprofits, and served as pastor at Sligo Church before being called back to Union out of semi-retirement in 2011. 

Sauder has big shoes to fill. “We will miss John Wagner; I know of no one who is so universally loved,” said associate professor of English and communication Chris Blake. “He is the patriarch of personal affirmation and a champion for biblical social justice.”

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