LEXINGTON, Ky., Oct. 24, 2009—President Charles L. Shearer today announced his retirement to the Transylvania University Board of Trustees at their annual fall meeting. Upon his retirement, effective June 30, 2010, after 27 years in office, he will be the longest-serving president in Transylvania’s 230-year history.
Board chair William T. Young Jr. reluctantly accepted Shearer’s resignation and said that a committee will be appointed immediately to oversee a national search for his successor. He also spoke on behalf of the board in tribute to Shearer’s many years of dedicated service to the university.
“During Charles Shearer’s tenure, Transylvania has been transformed,” Young said. “When he became president in 1983, the university had a enrollment of fewer than 700 students, a minimal endowment, and an aging physical plant. Today, Transylvania’s enrollment is at our comfortable capacity of about 1,100, the endowment stands at $115 million, the campus has been essentially rebuilt, and the university is ranked among the leading liberal arts colleges in the nation. This transformation has been driven by Charles’s leadership, attention to detail, dedication, and incredible enthusiasm.”
Young noted that Shearer’s 27-year tenure is remarkable in comparison with other college and university presidents across the country, whose average tenure is 8.5 years in office, according to the American Council on Education. He also said that Shearer has graciously agreed to stay on as president beyond June 30, if necessary, until the right candidate is identified and appointed. He will also continue to play a supportive role for the college.
Shearer told the board that he is proud of how the university has progressed under his leadership, but will always be mindful of the dedication of others that made it possible.
“Transylvania today enjoys historically high enrollments, academically talented and dedicated faculty members and students, an outstanding administration and staff, the best group of board members I have ever had the privilege to work with, and widespread support from alumni, parents, and friends,” Shearer said.
“While I have taken a leadership role, it’s an obvious truth that credit for our accomplishments goes to everyone who has been a part of Transylvania over these years. Time and again, the Transylvania community has shown an uncommon devotion to furthering the interests of this historic institution. I am so grateful for all of that hard work and support, without which my presidency would not have been possible.”
Shearer was named to the presidency in July 1983 at the age of 40 after serving four years as the university’s vice president for finance. One of his first priorities was to increase enrollment, which stood at 655. By the next fall, the entering class had climbed 46 percent over the previous year, to 312, and overall enrollment climbed 19 percent to 785. By 2008, an all-time high of 1,153 students were enrolled, a 76 percent increase.
Academic quality of the faculty and student body was another priority. The number of students receiving prestigious William T. Young Scholarships, which cover full tuition and fees for four years, grew from 10 to 25, and the innovative Bingham Program for Excellence in Teaching provided financial rewards to high achieving professors.
Further bolstering the academic environment was the creation of two major endowed funds for faculty and student research. The David and Betty Jones Fund for Faculty Development was instituted in 1989 to support summer research and has funded 427 faculty and student proposals since its inception. The $3 million Kenan Fund for Faculty and Student Enrichment, begun in 1999, has funded 115 faculty and student projects.
Working at the direction of the board, Shearer has overseen the completion of 13 new buildings, athletics fields, and major renovations at a total cost of $53.5 million. New construction has included classroom buildings, a student center, an athletics center, a library, a theater, and residence halls. The projects began with the dedication of the $4 million William T. Young Campus Center in December 1983 and continue today with the on-going $9.2 million renovation of laboratory space in Brown Science Center.
Financial resources have increased dramatically during Shearer’s tenure as the endowment climbed from $32.8 million in 1983 to an all-time high of $144 million in 2007, an increase of 339 percent. The economic downturn that has affected virtually all colleges and universities has left the endowment at $115 million today.
Under Shearer’s tenure, Transylvania began to invest in comprehensive long-range strategic planning for the first time in its modern history, an effort that continues today with the recent release of the 2009-2012 Strategic Plan with 70 goals to improve the college in every significant area.
Overall progress may also be seen in the national rankings Transylvania has won during these years. After achieving No. 1 rankings in U.S. News & World Report for 1989 and 1993 in the regional liberal arts colleges in the South category, the university moved to the national liberal arts category in 1994 and has enjoyed solid rankings in that section ever since.
Perhaps the most important initiative in the area of athletics during Shearer’s presidency was the move from the scholarship-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the non-scholarship Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2004. Membership in NCAA Division III puts Transylvania among its peer institutions, who share a dedication to the student-athlete ideal that places intercollegiate athletics participation firmly in the context of the overall academic and social purposes of the school.
Board chair Young provided a final perspective of Shearer’s remarkable service to the university.
“Perhaps his greatest legacy is the close relationship he enjoys with so many Transylvania students, whose lives he has touched personally. Dr. Shearer will be difficult to replace, but, thanks in large part to his efforts, his successor will have a strong school to lead.”
Shearer paid tribute to the role his family has played in his success.
“My wife, Susan, has been by my side through all these years, serving as the perfect hostess and ambassador for the university, both in official capacities and informal situations,” Shearer said. “We both had the pleasure of seeing our sons, Todd, Mark, and Scott, all graduate from Transylvania.”
As he contemplated life after his presidency, Shearer told the board members that Transylvania will always be a part of him.
“When the next eight months have come and gone, and I leave this office to walk down the front steps of Old Morrison for the final time as your president, you can be sure that I will be taking a large part of the university with me. Transylvania will always hold a special place in my heart, as will each of you.”