At a time when Roosevelt University faces financial uncertainty, it has named an accomplished fundraiser as its new president.
Ali Malekzadeh will take over as the Chicago school's sixth president July 1, Roosevelt announced Thursday. Malekzadeh was set to meet with university students, faculty and staff on its main campus Thursday afternoon.
"This is an amazing university with a tremendous legacy," Malekzadeh told the Tribune in an interview Thursday. "I wanted the university to be well known, and I wanted it to be in a world-class city. I am one of the lucky few who landed my dream position."
Malekzadeh is a 59-year-old Iranian-American who has been a business dean at private and public universities for 17 years, most recently at the College of Business Administration at Kansas State University since 2011.
During his time at Kansas State, fundraising for his college increased from an average of $2 million per year to more than $40 million in 2014, according to Roosevelt.
Malekzadeh's appointment comes at a time when the university faces financial uncertainty and enrollment declines Â— and after its outgoing leader was ranked one of the highest-paid private university presidents in the country.
Charles Middleton, who will retire at the end of June after 13 years as Roosevelt's president, was listed the fifth-highest-paid private university president in the country in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education annual study of college presidents' compensation. He was paid nearly $1.8 million in 2012, making him among three dozen private college presidents who earned more than $1 million that year. The average salary in the study was about $400,000. Sixty-seven percent of Middleton's salary was due to a retention bonus that had come due in 2012 after a decade in the job.
Malekzadeh declined to divulge his compensation, saying that so far it is only an informal agreement with the school's board of trustees.
Also in 2012, the university ended the year with a $3.3 million deficit, in contrast with a $5.5 million surplus the year before.
A March 2014 report by Moody's Investors Service pointed to the $123 million cost of a sleek new high-rise, the 32-story Wabash Building, which also opened in 2012, as the reason for the school's high debt load.
"It is obvious we need to improve fundraising, increase fundraising in the future," Malekzadeh said. "There my experience can help Roosevelt so that we can help connect better to the alumni."
There has also been concern about student enrollment declines. The number of full-time-equivalent students at the university fell to 5,114 in fall 2013 from 5,817 students in fall 2009, according to Moody's. Roosevelt's spokesman declined to provide the comparable figure for last fall.
Malekzadeh said that while part-time and graduate student enrollment has dipped recently, the number of transfer and freshmen students was up in the fall. He expects those numbers to rise with the improving economy.
"I have no doubt we will turn it around," Malekzadeh said.
Last August, Middleton announced that the university's campus in Schaumburg would cut most of its programs except for its pharmacy school. At the time, Middleton said Roosevelt had "overcommitted" its resources to the suburban campus.
Under Middleton's watch, men's intercollegiate athletics returned to the university after 22 years, women's sports were introduced for the first time and the university created many new academic programs, most notably the pharmacy college. The university also changed from one that served mostly older, part-time students, Middleton said, to one filled with full-time undergraduates of traditional college age.
Before his tenure at Kansas State, Malekzadeh worked as dean of business colleges at Xavier University in Cincinnati and St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
In 1982 he received a doctorate in business administration from the University of Utah.
Malekzadeh moved from his native Iran to the United States with his wife of 37 years, Afsaneh Nahavandi, to study at the University of Denver. In 1979, shortly after they received their degrees, the Iranian Revolution took place, and they were granted asylum by the United States and later became citizens.
"That is why the education business to me is very, very personal," Malekzadeh said, "and helping students pursue the American Dream through education is very, very personal to me."
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