Get updates on Healthy at Transy, our COVID-19 action plan.

1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

Transylvania announces new president after in-depth national search

R. Owen Williams
LEXINGTON, Ky.—R. Owen Williams will be the next president of Transylvania University, William T. Young Jr., chairman of Transylvania’s Board of Trustees, announced this afternoon. He will become the 25th president of the 230-year-old liberal arts college when Charles L. Shearer retires on July 31.

“Owen Williams was the presidential search committee’s unanimous choice from a sizeable pool of exceptionally qualified candidates,” said Young. “His educational background, his managerial experience, his ability to relate to people of differing backgrounds, his drive, curiosity and enthusiasm, and his dedication to an excellent liberal arts education are all factors that influenced our decision.”

Young added that “Charles Shearer is leaving his successor with an exceptionally strong base from which to lead Transylvania to the next level of excellence as a national liberal arts institution.”

Shearer said that Williams is an excellent choice and will bring many positive qualities to the university. “I’m confident he will continue to move Transylvania forward,” said Shearer.

Williams, 58, earned an A.B. in philosophy from Dartmouth College, an M.A. in intellectual history from Cambridge University, a master’s of law from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in history, specializing in nineteenth-century American history, from Yale University.

“I could not be more honored to become the next president of Transylvania University,” said Williams. “Transylvania is an extraordinary liberal arts college and, as a historian, I am in awe of its rich history.”

Williams said that “Charles Shearer has built an incredible foundation in his long tenure, and I am fortunate to be able to build upon his many successes. I very much appreciate his support and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with an extremely committed, generous and dynamic board of trustees. I am delighted to become a part of the Transylvania family that includes such a strong faculty, outstanding students, a dedicated staff, supportive alumni and parents and numerous friends.”

Owen WilliamsWilliams spent 24 years on Wall Street as director of the government bond department at Salomon Brothers, executive director at Goldman Sachs and chairman of Bear Stearns Asia. He spent more than a year living and working in Tokyo and three years living and working in Hong Kong.

A decade ago, Williams returned to his first love, the academy, to prepare himself for a career in academic administration by studying history and law at Yale University. He has been awarded the Raoul Berger Fellowship at Harvard Law School, the Samuel Golieb Fellowship at the New York University School of Law, the Fletcher Jones Fellowship at the Huntington Library, the Legal History Fellowship at Yale Law School and the Cassius Marcellus Clay Postdoctoral Fellowship in history at Yale University.

Williams has published in several magazines, journals and encyclopedias. He edited The Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition (Greenwood Press) and was an articles editor for the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. He is currently working with Harvard University Press on the publication of his dissertation, “Unequal Justice Under Law: The Supreme Court and the First Civil Rights Movement, 1857-1883.”

Williams has been an effective fund-raiser for Dartmouth and other non-profit organizations.

While at Dartmouth, Williams was a member of the rowing team and a ski instructor. He participated in term-long foreign study programs in Bourges, France, and a philosophy program at the University of Edinburgh, and graduated with high honors in his major. At Cambridge, he won four oars rowing for St. John’s College.

Williams and his wife, Jennifer Williams, have two children, Tucker, 19, who has spent the last year working at King’s Academy in Madaba, Jordan, and Penelope, 15, an avid equestrian.  

Shearer is the longest-serving president at Kentucky’s oldest college, founded in 1780. During his 27-year tenure, the university has prospered in every measurable area, highlighted by a growth in enrollment from 655 to approximately 1,100, an increase in endowment from $32.8 million to almost $120 million and the completion of nine new buildings, two athletics fields and four major renovation projects.

Faculty and student quality have been enhanced under Shearer’s leadership through the creation of the Bingham Awards for Excellence in Teaching and expansion of the William T. Young Scholarship Program for entering first-year students.

Shearer came to Transylvania in 1979 as vice president for finance and was named president in 1983 at the age of 40. He was previously director of operations and director of the Liberal Arts Program in Professional Management at Albion College in Michigan.

Shearer, a native of Louisville, earned a B.S. in accounting and an M.A. in diplomacy and international commerce from the University of Kentucky. He completed an M.A. and Ph.D., both in economics, at Michigan State University.

“The Transylvania community can be proud that this search attracted so many high quality candidates,” said Young, who chaired the 14-member committee, including nine trustees, three faculty members, one staff member and a current student.  Six of the committee members are Transylvania graduates. Susan Resneck Pierce, senior consultant with Academic Search, Inc., of Washington, D.C., helped conduct the national search.

Presidential search archive