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Jolanda Westerhof

Jolanda Westerhof resigned abruptly as president of Principia College in Elsah, Illinois on October 28, 2019.

Jolanda Westerhof resigned in October as president of Principia College, a Christian Science school in Elsah, Illinois, after just 16 months in the position.

John Williams, professor of political science and Asian studies, was named interim president.

In a letter to students and alumni, Principia chief executive Marshall Ingwerson described Westerhof’s Oct. 28 resignation as “entirely voluntary, and she asked that it be effective immediately.”

In an interview with Principia Pilot magazine earlier this month, Ingwerson said he had been caught off guard by her decision.

Ingwerson wrote in the letter to the campus community that he and the school’s trustees appreciated Westerhof's contributions and that “the mood on campus is forward-looking. The academic year and future planning are moving forward without missing a step.”

A follow-up survey of 166 students, faculty and staff found most had questions about Westerhof’s resignation. Other concerns mentioned in the survey involved the leadership of the school and its handling of sexual harassment claims, according to an internal Principia message board.

Westerhof came to Principia in July 2018 from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, where she served as an associate vice president. She has a bachelor's degree from Principia, a master’s degree in international affairs from Washington University and a doctorate from Indiana University. She also has worked as a professor at Principia and Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Principia enrolls 435 at the college on 2,600 acres in Jersey County and another 400 at Principia school in west St. Louis County. Enrollment on both campuses has dropped to its lowest total in decades amid a decline in the population of Christian Scientists, who believe in the healing power of Jesus' teachings to overcome illness and injury. 

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Ingwerson also graduated from the college and came back to Principia in 2017 from the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.

In a previous interview with the Post-Dispatch, Ingwerson said the leaders of the school were grappling with the requirement for faculty, staff and students to be Christian Scientists.

“We are at a crossroads at Principia,” he said in 2018. “The trustees, faculty and staff need to ask some hard questions of who do we want to be and who do we want to serve.”

Staff writer Jesse Bogan contributed to this report.