By Sophia Buckley-Clement
A new interim-president has taken office at Castleton University this semester and will lead the college in the coming months while a candidate search takes place for the position of president of the Vermont State University schools.
Thomas Mauhs-Pugh, the previous provost and chief academic officer of the university since 2019, has taken the place of Jonathan Spiro, who retired from his 20-year tenure at Castleton at the end of the fall term.
In an email sent by Spiro to the student body on Dec. 6 announcing his retirement, he mentioned having worked with Mauhs-Pugh for years and attested “he will be an excellent president.”
“[This position] is a sense of service. Jonathan Spiro and I were in close communication at all times, and the timing was really important for him to be able to retire,” Mauhs-Pugh said. “I’m not trying to use this as a stepping stone to somewhere else or something else. It’s about doing what I can to support and serve a really incredible place.”
Prior to his position at Castleton, Mauhs-Pugh spent 22 years working both in education and administration at Green Mountain College, ending his career at the school as provost.
But his familiarity with higher education extends far beyond his involvement with the two schools.
Mauhs-Pugh received his bachelor’s degree from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, his master’s from Brown University, and his Ph.D. from Syracuse University, with some time spent at Colby College early in his collegiate education. He subsequently spent time working for several different colleges throughout his career including Syracuse, Brown, Dartmouth, Rocky Mountain College, Green Mountain College, University of Vermont, and now, Castleton University.
“The wisdom, the experience, the depth of his knowledge around higher ed, and as someone who really lives and breathes Castleton and the local area — what a great, fortunate pickup we had [under President Karen Scolforo],” Dean of Students Dennis Proulx said. “It’s showing itself as President Spiro retires, we are once again fortunate to have the depth of experience that he brings to the table.”
At such a crucial time in Castleton University history with the Vermont State University merger on the horizon, the change in leadership has naturally circulated some anxiety throughout the already on-edge campus.
However, Associate Academic Dean Gillian Galle said that she feels Mauhs-Pugh truly is a representative for Castleton and believes that his ability to look at “the bigger picture” will help the school continue to do the things it does so well.
“I know that some people worried a little bit when he joined us about whether he understands the ‘Castleton Way.’ From my perspective, I think it’s very clear that he’s aware of what the Castleton Way is, and that he is doing his best to uphold it and keep it as an important value as we all move forward,” Galle said.
Mauhs-Pugh, himself, acknowledged how much he admired Castleton’s “real and unpretentious” nature, adding that some of his favorite moments as a faculty member are those that he has gotten to spend with students. His position as president, he said, has allowed him more chances to engage with students — such as a recent meeting he has with members of student government.
He further stated that he intends to be inclusive and candid in the merger process during his time in office — already having established weekly Zoom meetings with faculty and staff to openly discuss concerns and strategy.
“My approach to the transformation is helping to be transparent, bringing people together, connecting internally, but also externally. And saying, ‘what if we could choose how we did this? If we could choose what to fix or what to improve, what would it be? What would it look like? ‘That’s kind of exciting,” Mauhs-Pugh said.
Other than his work at Castleton, Mauhs-Pugh loves reading in his free-time and often walks, bikes, or cross-country skis from his house — a mere four miles away — to school. He said he has routinely run into students while biking on the Rail Trail, though many were probably unaware it was him.
“I mean, it’s always dicey — you’re on a bike and you’re about to pass somebody, but you don’t want to scare them,” he said with a chuckle. “A lot of times I’ll say things like ‘you’re looking great!’ or ‘way to go!’ or ‘go Spartans!’ And so there’s probably a lot of students who have had this experience of some guy on a bicycle yelling something, which they may or may not have heard, hopefully that sounded positive. Well, that was me.”
Ultimately, Mauhs-Pugh said he hopes to use his knowledge of education and organizational structures in the position of president to transform Castleton and Vermont State University into the best version possible.
“I hope to help figure out how [to] take the best of what is — continuing into the future with identity and pride — and at the same time, seize the opportunity to be able to do things even better and to solve some problems,” he said.