Spring on the York College campus

Back to List

York College of PA names former Belmont University provost as fifth president

March 20, 2023
A professional headshot of Dr. Thomas Burns

The York College of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees has named Dr. Thomas Burns, a distinguished leader in higher education, as the College’s fifth president. He will succeed current president Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith on July 1, 2023. Gunter-Smith announced her retirement last June after a nearly 10-year tenure. 

The trustees unanimously selected Dr. Burns from a strong diversified slate following a nine-month national search, conducted by a 19-member presidential search committee comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and trustees, as well as representatives from the external community.

“We are thrilled and honored to welcome Dr. Burns to York College,” said Board Chair Laura Wand. “He is an innovator with a deep passion for private higher education. He is committed to student success, the College’s teaching-centric roots, and our strategic focus on experiential learning. Incoming President Burns possesses all the qualities necessary to take York College into its next ambitious era.” 

“My wife and I are extremely excited to join York College of Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Burns. “To us, York represents the best of what higher education should be – dedication to both the liberal arts and professional education in an environment where students are encouraged to apply their knowledge to help the community, while developing the skills that prepare them to be the next generation of competitive, flexible, and purpose-driven leaders.”

A chemist and lifelong educator with an extensive résumé in higher education administration, Dr. Burns comes to York College after serving as provost of Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., from 2011 until May 2022. He oversaw academic affairs, enrollment, student life, and facilities, reporting to the president and serving in his absence as the chief executive officer. 

Dr. Burns’ tenure as provost was marked by major achievements, including significant growth in enrollment, as well as successful mergers with both the O’More College of Design and the Watkins College of Art. Through his leadership, Belmont also introduced a number of new majors and degree programs while successfully navigating the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges university reaccreditation and multiple specialized accreditations for various colleges. 

Dr. Burns graduated cum laude with a B.S. in chemistry from Dickinson College in 1991, and completed his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 1998. He taught in the Chemistry and Physics Department at Florida Southern College for four years, winning two teaching awards and being named department chair in 1999. For six years, Dr. Burns served as the assistant dean for academic affairs for the Yale University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he oversaw the Fulbright program and participated in the creation, implementation, and interpretation of the policies of the Graduate School. In 2006, Dr. Burns accepted the role of associate provost for academic administration at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where in cooperation with the provost he was responsible for the general education program, the First Year Experience, global education, and community and academic partnerships, among other duties.

In his provost position at Belmont University, Dr. Burns supervised the deans of the institution’s 13 colleges as well as the associate provosts for Enrollment Services and Student Affairs, and all academic support units. In addition to overseeing mergers with two local art schools, other highlights of Dr. Burns’ tenure at Belmont include enrollment growth from 6,400 students to more than 8,600; the launch of new programs in music therapy, data science, architecture, and motion pictures; construction of numerous residence halls and academic buildings; and the hosting of a 2020 Presidential Debate.

Dr. Burns is married to Margret, also a Ph.D. graduate in chemistry from Vanderbilt. The couple has two adult children. 

“I believe everyone on the search committee would agree that Dr. Thomas Burns is a thoughtful, approachable, humble leader, with deep experience, and a passion for innovation,” said Board Vice Chair Stephen Tansey, who led the presidential search committee. “I would like to express my deep appreciation for the thoughtful, discerning, and committed work undertaken by the entire search committee throughout this process.”

Wand expressed thanks to Dr. Gunter-Smith, recognizing “her extraordinary 10-year leadership of the institution, which has grown programs, student access and success, and community engagement. She has set up the institution for success for many years to come.”