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Van der Merwe named VP for Advancement, Communication and Strategic Initiatives

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. -- Derek van der Merwe, who has served as Austin Peay State University Athletics Director for the past year and a half, will step down from that post after being named the University’s Vice President for Advancement, Communication and Strategic Initiatives.

That announcement was made Friday morning by University President Alisa White. Van Der Merwe replaces Dr. Brian Johnson, who left the University in Spring 2014 to become president at Tuskegee University.

"Mr. van der Merwe has done an exemplary job as Austin Peay’s Athletics Director,” said Dr. White, “and his experience and skills make him eminently qualified to assume his new responsibilities. This fills an important vacancy since Dr. Johnson assumed the presidency of Tuskeegee University.

“In addition to the role in strategic planning, we have updated the position description to allow for optimal coordination of the important work done in Advancement, Marketing and Public Relations and Alumni Relations."


Van der Merwe (pronounced VAN-duh-meer) will assume his new duties April 1 but will continue to oversee the APSU athletics department until a new athletics director is appointed. Current Senior Woman Administrator Cheryl Holt will serve as Interim athletics director throughout the search process. A national search for a new athletics director will start immediately.

“When President White asked me to consider the transition from athletics to campus, I carefully weighed how I could best serve APSU,” van der Merwe said. “I have served in athletics for more than 18 years because of my passion for higher education and a responsibility to train and prepare students for life. This passion will continue as I serve the entire faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters of the University from my new role.

“Also, I see and clearly understand the great potential of APSU. President White has a clear vision and direction for where she aspires to lead this University. I believe in this vision and I want to be a partner in helping this University realize that potential.”

Van Der Merwe has spent nearly 18 years as an athletics administrator, the last 18 months as APSU’s athletics director after serving the previous 16 years at Central Michigan, his alma mater. During his tenure in higher education, he has effectively managed the challenge of fully integrating athletic departments into the academic mission of the respective universities.

Van der Merwe has managed complex University-wide strategic initiatives during his tenures at Central Michigan and Austin Peay. Most recently, he worked on a comprehensive University branding update for APSU, with Governor Peay at the centerpiece. This change has helped to enhance the overall visibility and impact of the APSU brand. It coincided with the athletics department cementing a five-year agreement with Russell Brands, LLC – parent company of the Russell Athletic® brand – to serve as APSU’s first official uniform and apparel outfitter.

During his tenure at Central Michigan, van der Merwe accomplished campus-wide marketing, development, budget, and strategic initiatives and coordinated the construction and faculty/staff space usage agreements for a new $25 million University Events Center.

At Austin Peay, he oversaw the raising of a much-needed $20 million new Governors Stadium, a structure that met with rave reviews for much more than its 13 Skybox Suites and club levels, the Coach Bill Dupes Locker room and a brand new turf. Along with it van der Merwe defined a priority seating and sales strategy that witnessed APSU’s largest home football attendance in years.

His strong leadership and management style, purposefully focused on growth and measurable improvements, has allowed van der Merwe to create an athletics department strategic plan that incorporates strong respect and passion for the academic community and its academic mission. His strategic plan also included launching a new and effective “community-based” marketing strategy that has brought a variety of groups and youth to the APSU campus, helping build a more spirited game-day atmosphere around and for Austin Peay sports. 

That strategy also has expanded outside the boundaries of Clarksville and onto Fort Campbell, where the Governors held the 2014 Spring Football game. The Governors also wore camouflage jerseys, with the 66 nicknames of each Fort Campbell unit on the back, during the 2014 Homecoming Game, which also served as Military Appreciation Day. APSU then auctioned off those jerseys, donated by Russell, with more than $9,000 being presented to the Wounded Warrior Project.

In addition, van der Merwe reorganized and developed an annual giving strategy centered on Governors Club growth and engagement, encouraging more involvement from the younger business leaders in town. He occasionally has moved the monthly Governors Club meetings to more public settings, hoping to better involve potential booster club members.

With resources a never-ending concern at the mid-major level, van der Merwe made fundraising a focus of his tenure. He reorganized the Athletics Department’s corporate partnership/relationship program and supervised sales growth with new signage adorning almost all Governors and Lady Govs facilities.

“During my tenure as athletics director, I have learned much about the strengths of this University and its faculty, staff and exceptional students,” van der Merwe said. “I have seen the power of a supportive local community and how it maintains a firm bond with Fort Campbell.  I have been touched by a faithful group of Governors Club members and corporate partners who always go the extra mile to ensure our programs have the resources they need to build for success.”

Before arriving at APSU, van der Merwe served as Deputy Athletics Director and Chief Operating Officer at Central Michigan. During his tenure, the Chippewas enjoyed unprecedented success, which began in 1997 following his playing career as a CMU football player.

While at the Mount Pleasant, Michigan, campus, van der Merwe’s role expanded to include oversight of facilities, events, summer camps, business operations, communications, the athletic fund, corporate sales and marketing. At various times, he was the primary administrator for football, men’s basketball, softball, hockey, baseball and wrestling.

In his final 10 years, CMU won more than 45 Mid-American Conference Championships, maintained a cumulative department grade-point average of more than 3.0, and achieved an NCAA Graduation Success Rate greater than 75 percent. In 2009, Central Michigan was awarded the Mid-American Conference's inaugural Cartwright Award as the top overall institution exemplifying success in the classroom, in competition and in the community.