DOWAGIAC — An era will soon be ending at Southwestern Michigan College as President David Mathews announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the year.

2020 will be the first time in 55 years that a Mathews is not associated with the college. Mathews’ father, Dr. Fred Mathews, helped found the college in the 1960s and served as board of trustees president until 2015. Fred Mathews died in 2017.

David Mathews’ tenure with the college began in 1997 when he was named the dean of Arts and Sciences and Instructional Innovation. He was promoted to vice president of instruction in 1998 and was appointed president in 2001. He is SMC’s seventh and longest serving president.

“I will turn 60 years old during this coming academic year,” Mathews said in a news release. “I have a number of personal adventures that I would still like to complete, but that simply would not be possible while serving as college president.

“I appreciate the opportunity that I have had to make a difference at SMC, and I especially appreciate everyone’s commitment to student success in every decision that is made at the college. I will assist the board in every possible way to ensure that the college experiences a smooth and successful transition to new presidential leadership.”

SMC Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Jerdon thanked Mathews for his years of service. “The Board of Trustees recognizes and appreciates the tremendous positive impact Dr. David Mathews has had on Southwestern Michigan College,” Jerdon said.

Jerdon said Mathews’ most visible and enduring achievements have been outstanding student success, strategic planning, facilities improvements, plus fiscal responsibility. He noted that SMC’s student retention rates rank in the top 10 percent nationally and has seen a 66 percent increase in the number of associate degrees awarded each year.

An SMC spokesman said he expects the board to formulate a plan about what comes next, at its Aug. 19 meeting. 

Former SMC Dean Tom Buszek is among those calling for a nationwide search for a new president. “Our college deserves a qualified president who has earned the position through a search process that is open to national competition,” he wrote in a post on the Citizens Concerned for Southwestern Michigan College Facebook page.

“Handing out the SMC president job to a BOT (Board of Trustees) insider is unethical,” he added. “A national president search is the norm for community colleges, what SMC has done for the last 30 plus years is highly irregular.”

Mathews’ tenure in recent years has been tumultuous, including last year’s formation of a faculty union. The college and the union have been negotiating a new contract for more than a year and recently went into mediation. Mathews said he expects a new contract to be in place in the coming months.

Buszek and other college critics raised questions about alleged improprieties related to student worker pension payments to the state, along with Mathews’ salary and compensation package. State legislation passed last year corrected the student worker pension issue.

As reported last year, Mathews’ total compensation package at SMC was more than $330,000, when including his base salary, allowances, life insurance, contributions to a savings plan, a yearly retention bonus and deferred compensation.