SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Slippery Rock University President Robert Smith announced Tuesday his intent to retire from his position effective January 2012.
Smith, who was named interim president in 2002 and president in 2004, told a stunned audience gathered for the annual Academic Assembly he was making the announcement now to allow for a search committee to be appointed prior to the end of the current academic semester.
“Much work needs to be done to ensure a smooth leadership transition and have someone in place upon my departure,” he said.
The issue of retirement is something he and his wife, Ramona, have talked about for some time, Smith said. “But I deliberately extended my intent to retire in order for us to achieve three immediate goals important to our University: (1) Stabilize the current budget crisis so that Slippery Rock University remains on solid ground; (2) Assist in reaching a successful contract agreement with our collective bargaining groups; and (3) Help prepare the University to be an attractive place for the very best qualified candidates for this presidency.”
“Each of these goals is personally important for me because of long-range effects they have on the individuals in this community, about whom I care very much,” he said.
Putting the University’s needs before his own is typical ‘Bob Smith,’ William Williams, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said. “Since Bob arrived at SRU in 1999 he has committed every ounce of his being to serving Slippery Rock University. His vision and leadership for what this University could, and has, become is borne out by the multitude of accreditations and accolades the University has garnered. He has certainly made a positive difference. He’s been a great colleague and friend.”
John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, applauded Smith’s steady leadership.
“President Smith’s leadership is responsible for Slippery Rock’s renaissance and rapid climb to national prominence for its academic programs. His vision is clearly infectious; students, faculty and staff are energized. There is no doubt that his legacy and impact will be discussed as a major turning point in Slippery Rock’s history,” Cavanaugh said.
During his tenure, SRU has undergone significant change including $200 million in new construction and renovation projects, more than a dozen new academic program accreditations and was named among the top five, “Best Value” public institutions in the nation.
“Improving the physical learning environment was certainly a very positive and visible change at SRU, but I am most proud of our efforts to significantly improve the academic profile of the University and elevate the campus culture,” he said.
Since 2000-01, SRU’s admission and retention profiles have strengthened considerably, paralleling its strengthened academic profile. The University is projected to achieve its highest total enrollment of 9,000 this coming fall, a 29 percent increase from its 2000-1 enrollment of 6,952. During that same period, the average SAT score for an entering freshman rose more than 80 points. The University maintains a 20:1 student to faculty ratio, and 92 percent of the tenure and tenure track faculty have an earned Ph.D. or other terminal degree.
“As evident in our recent accreditation review, we have come a long way together to establish our position as the region’s premiere, public, undergraduate residential university. Through the efforts of an incredible staff and faculty, we have moved from questioning our role in the higher education community to an expectation of greatness. I’m confident that what this community has done to embrace a common vision and create a powerful culture of caring will serve this University well for a very long time,” Smith said.
Smith said he had informed the University’s Council of Trustees of his decision.
“This certainly isn’t something we wanted, or expected, to hear,” said Josh Young, chair of the COT. The Council recently gave Smith an outstanding performance review that led the PASSHE Board of Governors to extend his contract through 2014.
“When President Smith called to inform me of his decision to retire, I expressed my sincere thanks to him for the excellent work he has done for the University about which we both care so deeply. President Smith and I have a unique relationship in that he was interim president when he recommended me to the state system office to serve as SRU's student trustee in 2003. Dr. Smith's legacy will be one of remarkable transformation. Under his tenure Slippery Rock has become western Pennsylvania's premier residential university,” Young said.
“As we close the chapter on Dr. Smith's presidency, I will be consulting with council members to quickly begin the search for our next president. The Council will do everything to ensure a seamless transition to our next president and I am confident that our campus will do the same,” Young said. “I am extremely grateful to Dr. Smith for his service and wish him and Mrs. Smith the best in their retirement.”
State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-21, said Smith’s devotion to the University was unparalleled. “During his tenure President Bob Smith has ushered Slippery Rock University into the next tier of educational excellence. He forged relationships with faculty, administration, students, business leaders, the community and government that have made SRU a true regional asset. As we search for a successor we will be hard pressed to find anyone more committed to the mission. I wish him and Ramona a happy, healthy and well-deserved transition,” she said.
Smith’s departure will leave a community leadership void. An active volunteer, he serves on the Board of Trustees for Butler County Community College, Butler Health Systems’ Board of Directors, Leadership Pittsburgh Inc., the Butler County Community Development Corporation, past president of the Butler Rotary Club, and a member of Slippery Rock Development.
“There are very few people I have ever known that are more sincere and constantly thinking about how to help others than Bob Smith,” said Dale Pinkerton, Butler County commissioner. “I will miss his friendship and all he did for Butler County, the various organizations he served, Slippery Rock University and his friends. Bob and Ramona are truly incredible people.”
Upon retirement, Smith and his wife will relocate to Tennessee where both their children live.
“There is a lot to do before then,” Smith said. “ I expect to be fully engaged during the next 10 months to help launch our new strategic plan “Reaching for 2025 and Beyond;” complete our conversion to BANNER, the new student information system; open the new Student Center, and get the renovation of the performing arts center under way.”
THE SMITH FILE:
· Smith joined the Slippery Rock University community in 1999 as provost and vice president for academic affairs.
· He was named interim president in 2002.
· He was named the 15th president of Slippery Rock University in May 2004.
· A champion for students, Smith has focused his career on improving the learning environment, leadership development and civic engagement.
· He has received two national awards for teaching excellence as well as being selected as a "First-Year Student Advocate" by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.
· Smith is a nationally recognized specialist in executive leadership development. He is the senior faculty member in four executive programs offered at other universities. He is the only Kansan to have been selected as a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fellow.
· Active in community and economics development, he has received Tennessee's Outstanding Achievement Award from the governor, and recognition for rural economic revitalization from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and an honorary doctorate for support of rural higher education from Rajasthan Vidyapeeth University in Udaipur, India.
· Smith received his bachelor's degree from Wichita State University, a master’s degree from Ohio University, and received his Ph.D. in communication from Temple University.
· Smith and his wife, Ramona, have two children: David, residing in Knoxville, Tenn., and Angela, residing in Franklin, Tenn.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.