College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean named president of Presbyterian College

Anita Gustafson sits on a bench
Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson

MACON — Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named the 20th president of Presbyterian College. She will take office on Aug. 1, succeeding Dr. Matthew vandenBerg, who in January was named president of Ohio Wesleyan University. 

Located in historic Clinton in the foothills of South Carolina, Presbyterian College provides students of all faiths, identities and backgrounds with a transformative education that equips them for impactful careers and empowers them to serve as powerful forces for positive community and world change. Founded in 1880, the college has an undergraduate enrollment of more than 1,000 students and offers over 90 majors, minors and programs. 

Dr. Gustafson was appointed dean of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on July 1, 2016. Under her leadership, the college’s enrollment surpassed 1,900 students, and new academic programs — including majors in anthropology, cybersecurity and statistics, as well as several minors and certificates — were added to the curriculum.  

A strong advocate of a liberal arts education, Dr. Gustafson worked with faculty to promote the transformational and practical value of majors across the college as well as liberal arts as a whole. As dean, she developed and implemented a strategic plan for the college and broadened programs and requirements to be more inclusive. She also helped open several new or renovated facilities, including the Godsey Science Center, Willet Science Center and McEachern Art Center in downtown Macon. 

During her tenure, Dr. Gustafson, in partnership with the Office of University Advancement, took the lead on several crowdfunding efforts that engaged College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alumni. These efforts included establishing an equipment endowment to support the Godsey Science Center, raising funds for the construction of a control booth at Tattnall Square Center for the Arts, creating resources to support the college’s nationally recognized debate team, and generating a supply fund for art students. Additionally, support for the college’s annual fund increased each year under her leadership. 

As dean, Dr. Gustafson also taught University 101, a semester-long freshman orientation course, and a class about the history of American women. 

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of faculty, staff, alumni and students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” Dr. Gustafson said. “Mercer is a dynamic university that fully realizes its mission of sending students to go and change the world. It has been a privilege to be a Mercer Bear over the past seven years, and I am confident that great things are ahead for Mercer and for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.” 

Before coming to Mercer, Dr. Gustafson served as professor of history at Presbyterian College since 1997. She also held terms as interim provost from 2010-2012, interim dean of academic programs from 2005-2007, and chair of the history department from 2000-2004. In addition, she served on and chaired a number of committees, led several special academic and administrative initiatives and was the college’s accreditation liaison with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. She was named Presbyterian’s Professor of the Year in 2007 and received the Excellence in Teaching Award from South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, also in 2007. 

Her scholarship focuses on Swedish-American history. She has had numerous articles published in professional journals and publications and is a presenter at national academic conferences. In 2018, she published a book titled Swedish Chicago: The Shaping of an Immigrant Community in Chicago, 1880-1920

Dr. Gustafson earned her Ph.D. and Master of Arts in history from Northwestern University. She completed her undergraduate studies at North Park University in Chicago, earning a Bachelor of Arts in economics and Swedish. 

About Mercer University 

Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. With approximately 9,000 students enrolled in 12 schools and colleges, on major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; medical school sites in Macon, Savannah and Columbus; and at regional academic centers in Henry and Douglas counties, Mercer is ranked among the top tier of national research universities by U.S. News & World Report. The Mercer Health Sciences Center includes the University’s School of Medicine and Colleges of Nursing, Health Professions and Pharmacy. Mercer is affiliated with five teaching hospitals – Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center and Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Macon; Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. The University also has an educational partnership with Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer Medicine, the clinical faculty practice of the School of Medicine, is based in Macon and operates additional clinics in Sumter, Peach, Clay, Putnam and Harris counties. Mercer is one of only 293 institutions nationwide to shelter a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society; one of eight institutions to hold membership in the Georgia Research Alliance; and the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit