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Dr. Karen K. Petersen Named 13th President of Hendrix College

Petersen to begin June 2023, following retirement of W. Ellis Arnold III

CONWAY, Ark. (January 9, 2023) — The Hendrix College Board of Trustees has named Dr. Karen K. Petersen to be the 13th President of Hendrix College, beginning in June 2023. Petersen will succeed W. Ellis Arnold III ’79, who will become President Emeritus following his retirement in June.

KarenPetersen2023A native of northwest Arkansas, Petersen was selected following a comprehensive national search process involving Hendrix alumni, Board of Trustees members, faculty, staff, and students. She joins the Hendrix community from the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a professor of political science and Dean of the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. 

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Karen Petersen join our community and lead Hendrix into a new era of planning and progress,” said Jo Ann Biggs ’80, chair of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. 

As Dean of the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tulsa, Petersen oversees the college’s financial, physical, and human resources, including 120 full-time employees in 13 departments. During her tenure, philanthropic giving to the College increased, including a 47% increase in unrestricted giving. She also helped to secure a significant unrestricted pledge for student recruiting, marketing, and faculty support, as well as annual funding for a partnership with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra to provide educational opportunities for music students. Under Petersen’s leadership, TU restored academic programs in Philosophy and Religion and the Bachelor of Music degree. 

“Not only does she bring successful experience in leading diverse, complex academic units, growing enrollment, improving student success, and securing support through fundraising and external partnerships, her passion for the transformative role of liberal arts education and her advocacy for the residential undergraduate liberal arts experience is inspiring,” said Biggs. “She finds immense joy in engaging with undergraduate students and connecting the work of the campus with the broader community, and she cares deeply about diversity, effective teaching, and shared governance. I am confident that she will be a tremendous ambassador and leader for the Hendrix community.” 

Prior to joining the University of Tulsa, Petersen served for nearly 16 years at her undergraduate alma mater Middle Tennessee State University, a large regional comprehensive university in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In addition to being a faculty member, she served in three progressively responsible leadership roles culminating with her tenure as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, the largest academic unit. 

At Middle Tennessee State, she helped develop and implement a comprehensive student success program, which doubled the four-year graduation rate and resulted in the retention of 88% of full-time undergraduates and 86% of Pell eligible students in the College of Liberal Arts. Her commitment to student success informed her work as a faculty member as well. An advocate of engaged learning, Petersen and a colleague developed and led a study abroad program to Israel for seven years. She also prepared students for prestigious international fellowship competitions, including successful Fulbright Fellowship recipients.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as president of Hendrix College and look forward to serving alongside the caring and talented faculty, staff, and Board members as we continue Hendrix’s commitment to the life-changing power of a liberal arts education,” Dr. Petersen said. “We are privileged to educate the young people upon whose shoulders the responsibility for our future rests, and I am dedicated to strengthening and preserving the residential liberal arts experience because it is the best preparation for life in a free society.” 

Dr. Petersen also stressed the importance of Hendrix’s location.

“My family and I look forward to making our home in Conway and investing in the future of Arkansas,” she said.

Petersen earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University. She and her husband, Joey Keasler, a northeast Arkansas native, are parents of two children, including a student-athlete at a residential liberal arts college. She is the second woman to lead Hendrix as President, following Dr. Ann H. Die Hasselmo, who served from 1992 to 2001.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit