See more of the story

Kathleen Murray, a former professor and administrator at Macalester College who served most recently as a college president in Washington state, has been named the new president of Hamline University in St. Paul.

She will succeed Fayneese Miller, who announced in April that she was retiring after eight years at the helm — and months after a controversy over Islamic artwork led faculty members to call for her resignation.

Last year, Murray retired as the first female president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and before then, she served for seven years at Macalester College, including a three-month stint as acting president in 2013.

Hamline Board Chair Ellen Watters described Murray in a news release Wednesday as a "dynamic, action-oriented and inclusive leader with a strong commitment to strategic fiscal management, diversity and academic program development."

She values the voices of students, faculty and staff members, Watters said.

Murray said in the release that she heard from those members of the Hamline community, and alumni, too, during the four-month search process, and came away "deeply impressed" by their passion for the university.

"I believe we can work together to build on the university's very strong past to prepare it to thrive into the future," she said.

Miller is set to go on sabbatical Jan. 1, and Murray will begin then as acting/interim president.

A university spokesman said Thursday, "The Board of Trustees will decide when and if to conduct a new search for a permanent president or they could offer it to her permanently, whatever they choose."

Murray's starting salary is confidential, the spokesman said Wednesday. The private college enrolled about 1,800 undergraduate students in 2022, according to U.S. News & World Report, and also offers a variety of graduate programs.

Miller became the subject of both fierce support and staunch criticism after the university decided not to renew the contract for an art history instructor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The controversy drew international attention and a call by faculty — citing a lack of faith in her ability to lead — that she resign immediately. Supporters suggested Miller, who is Black, was being unfairly targeted for her race and for changes she made to help Hamline survive financial challenges and enrollment declines.

At the time of her retirement announcement, Miller pushed back at claims that Hamline trampled on the instructor's academic freedom.

"No one was let go for sharing an image," she said.

A Hamline spokesman said Miller declined to comment and Murray was not available Wednesday for an interview.

Murray shares with Miller the experience of leading during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her final commencement exercise at Whitman College in 2022 marked the first in-person ceremony there since 2019, and afforded Murray the chance to "say goodbye to a place that has had such a profound impact on my life," a college spokeswoman quoted her as saying.

During her seven years at Whitman, which enrolled about 1,400 students last spring, Murray was credited with building a sustainable post-COVID budget and guiding fundraising efforts that included raising more than $10 million for the construction of a new residence hall and dining commons.

At Macalester, Murray served as provost, dean of the faculty and professor of music, and also directed plans for a $70 million renovation and expansion to the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, according to the Hamline news release.

She has a doctorate in music from Northwestern University, and before what would be a short retirement, she had said she looked forward to spending more time playing the piano.

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have said that Kathleen Murray will begin the job as interim/acting president.