Mirta Martin. Courtesy of Ferrum College.
Mirta Martin. Courtesy of Ferrum College.

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Ferrum College has named former Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin as its interim president, effective Jan. 2.

She succeeds David Johns, who resigned in November. No reason was given for Johns’ abrupt departure. At the time, he had been a finalist in two other presidential searches that went to other candidates.

Ferrum says no timeline has been established yet on hiring the college’s next president. 

Martin served as president of Fairmont State University in West Virginia from 2018 to 2022, and Fort Hays State University in Kansas from 2014 to 2016. Prior to Fort Hays, Martin served as the dean of Virginia State University’s Reginald F. Lewis School of Business from 2009 to 2014.  

A release from Ferrum said: “During her tenure at Fairmont State University, Martin accomplished a $20.5 million positive turn-around in the University’s financial condition and an increase in its composite financial index (CFI) from 0.76 to 5.69 (the highest in the state for the second consecutive year). The University’s days cash-in-hand as of June 30, 2021 were the largest in West Virginia. Her ‘recalibration’ model used by the West Virginia legislature provided all public institutions in the State the first increase in funding in several years.”

According to the news site WVNews, Martin told the Fairmont board on May 17 that she would be leaving when her contract expired Dec. 28. Instead, a week later the board voted to terminate her contract without saying why. She told WVNews: “I had begun to consider next steps with my family over Christmas break, and I felt that I had achieved the goals that were set for me when I arrived and that I set for the university. The university was emerging from turmoil, and certainly from the pandemic, even stronger than when I first got here. I had not made any final decision until recently, and I certainly did not wish to take any public action that would detract from the celebrations of our graduates or the achievements of our student-athletes’ spring season.”

After the board’s action, a group of Fairmont students petitioned to have Martin reinstated. A different news outlet, WVMetro News, says that during Martin’s time Fairmont created more than 36 certificate, major, minor or concentrations at the undergraduate and graduate levels and that she was “instrumental in improving the institution’s finances.” It reports that the board once criticized Martin for her cost containment policies, “but the body gave Martin a positive review in December 2020, in which members cited her financial restraint and enrollment as factors in their decision.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that Martin left Fort Hays “abruptly” in 2016. An editorial in the Hays Daily News noted that under her leadership, the school’s enrollment and fundraising increased. “We would suggest Martin was run out of town, the victim of a determined internal coup on campus and a regents board arriving at a predetermined conclusion,” the editorial said. “All we do know is Martin’s termination was wrong, unfair and likely could warrant legal action. While certain circles on FHSU’s campus are celebrating her departure, they don’t include many students, staff, nontenured faculty, alumni or community members.”

A release from Ferrum said Martin would “focus on recruitment and retention; strengthening the identity and brand of the College; and supporting faculty, staff and student success.”

Mirta is a native of Havana, Cuba. Her personal website says she fled Cuba for Spain when she was 6, along with her sister and grandmother. Eventually they moved to the United States. Not until 13 years later did her mother and two brothers join them. “It would be 33 years before she would lay eyes again upon her aged father,” her website says. “Many in her family, however, she never saw again.”

Martin holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science from Duke University, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Richmond and a doctorate with an emphasis in strategic management and leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University. She worked in banking before moving into higher education, her website says, with stops at Averett University, the University of Richmond and what was then John Tyler (now Brightpoint) Community College. Eventually she worked as a special assistant to the chancellor to the Virginia Community College System before joining Virginia State. “In 2012, the program was named the Best Business Program in the Nation among 108 Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” her website says. 

Between her presidencies at Fort Hays and Fairmont State, “she also served as the Senior Education Adviser to former Mexican President Vicente Fox and a Senior Scholar for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities,” her website says.