Southwest Baptist University faces a major transition after President Dr. C. Pat Taylor told the SBU community Friday morning, Jan. 26, he plans to retire Aug. 31.
His announcement comes on the cusp of 22 years at the university’s helm.
“It has been a great 22 years,” Taylor said in a news release. “I’ve loved being president of SBU. From the time Judy and I first visited Bolivar in 1996, we fell in love with SBU and the Bolivar community. SBU had many accomplishments during the past 22 years, thanks to the efforts of the hard-working faculty and staff who have made my job easier.“
Taylor said he will miss the students, as well as “the great people” with whom he has “had the honor to work.”
“I have said often, and I still believe it today, that SBU has the best faculty, staff and students anywhere,” he said. “The university is on a good trajectory, making this a great time for a transition to a bigger and greater future.”
Taylor assumed his duties as the university’s 24th president on Oct. 21, 1996, and is the longest-serving president in the university’s 139-year history, the release said.
Members of the university community say Taylor’s departure will be deeply felt.
For SBU Board of Trustees Chairman Don Fahrni, Taylor’s announcement was “bittersweet.”
"I was so happy for him to be moving on with his life,” Fharni said in the release. “Now, he will be able to spend more time with his family and (pursuing) any personal endeavors that he may choose. But, for me, I am really going to miss him. After working with him all these years, I know where his heart is. And it has always been with the university.”
Messages of support for Taylor came in from beyond the campus, as well.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who previously served as SBU’s president, issued a statement Friday noting how much the university and Taylor have “accomplished” during Taylor’s “more than two decades of leadership.”
“When the Taylors came to the university they dedicated themselves to it and the community in extraordinary ways,” Blunt said. “I count Pat as one of my closest friends and look forward to not only what he does next, but also what he does in his remaining months at SBU.”
More than 21 years of service to SBU
During his 21-plus years of service to SBU, Taylor has marked several milestones.
Perhaps closest to his heart have been the numerous commencements over which he has presided.
Since his arrival in 1996, Taylor has conferred 16,963 diplomas, the release said, adding “he always says that commencement is his favorite event because it is the university’s No. 1 objective — to graduate students who are prepared to be servant leaders in a global society.”
During his tenure, Taylor has been “instrumental in fundraising, expanding academic offerings and obtaining record student enrollment numbers,” the release said.
He also led the adoption of a new mission statement that continues to guide the institution today: “Southwest Baptist University is a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.”
Fundraising also ranks among Taylor’s most notable accomplishments. During his tenure, raised funds totaled more than $122 million, and endowment funds have increased from $4.6 million to more than $32 million, the release said.
He also was instrumental in the success of the Partners in Excellence campaign, which surpassed its $50 million goal by raising more than $62.5 million when the campaign ended in June 2006, the release said.
That campaign funded 13 major building projects, including the addition of the Jane and Ken Meyer Wellness & Sports Center. Other fundraising projects include the recent expansion and renovation of the Gene Taylor Center, artificial turf for Plaster Stadium, completion of the Jester Center, renovation of the Jim Mellers Center, renovation of the Burnidge Memorial Forum, a new front entrance, renovation of the Sells Administrative Center lobby and an upcoming renovation within the Jester Center for space to be used as a simulation lab for a new pre-licensure bachelor’s degree in nursing.
New academic offerings during Taylor’s tenure include the university’s first doctoral program, the doctor of physical therapy.
Multiple graduate degrees in education, including the doctor of education in educational leadership, also were launched under his leadership. New master’s programs include the master of science in nursing, master of business administration and master of arts in Christian ministry.
Under his leadership, undergraduate degree offerings “have changed as needed to stay relevant with an ever-changing global society,” the release said.
Other academic enhancements Taylor saw launched include the Ed and Theo Clark University Success Center, a transition program for incoming freshmen; the updated Gordon and Judy Dutile Honors Program that integrates intercultural, spiritual and servant leadership components; and the Darrell R. Strait Center for the Integration of Science and Christian Faith, an interdisciplinary program that integrates appropriate scientific and biblical principles.
In the broader education community, Taylor has served on the boards for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Consortium for Global Education, the International Association of Baptist Colleges & Universities and the CEO Council for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. He served as chairman of the Missouri Colleges Fund and as president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Missouri. He also is a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, SBU’s regional accrediting body.
Taylor was recognized by the Springfield Business Journal as a 2016 Men of the Year Honoree and has been recognized by Rotary International as a Paul Harris Fellow.
Prior to becoming president of SBU, Taylor served as chief academic officer at Oklahoma Baptist University for 10 years. He previously served as associate vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., from 1979-86. From 1975-79, he was an assistant professor of education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. While at Belmont, he served as head resident of Pembroke Hall, a men’s dormitory housing 150 men. His experiences also have included community college and high school teaching, as well as coaching.
A native of Salem, Ky., Taylor received his education doctorate with an emphasis in history and philosophy of education from then Memphis State University. He received a master’s in history from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor’s in history and secondary education from the University of Tennessee-Martin.
Taylor and his wife, Judy, were married for 47 years before she died March 26, 2016, after a lengthy battle against a neurological disease. He has two daughters and two grandchildren.
The search begins
University leaders say the search for a new president will begin immediately. Fahrni said he has appointed a 12-person presidential search committee, which meets Friday to launch the search process.
The committee includes six trustees, a faculty member, an academic dean, a member of the executive cabinet, a staff member, a student and an alumna.
“The search committee begins its work today, with the goal of having a new president in place by Aug. 1,” Fahrni said.
Fahrni said the university has “a succession plan for an interim president,” in case the Aug. 1 goal is not met.
“We are so thankful for Dr. Taylor’s willingness to continue to serve while the search committee does its work to find the person God has called to lead SBU going forward,” Fahrni said.
Fahrni said the university is seeking prayer from the community as it looks to the future.
“Please join me in praying for the committee members as they undertake this important work for the future of the university,” he said.