I am nearing the end of my long affiliation with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, a journey that I began as a student in 1964 and will conclude at the end of this month when I step down as president after almost 27 years (with several years of faculty and staff service sandwiched in between). Before doing so, I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks for the support I have received along the way.
That the college may have been successful has had less to do with me than it has with (1) a strong, hard-working, extremely well-qualified faculty and staff; (2) a caring, supportive and giving community of friends that stretched from Whitesburg to Cumberland to Harlan to Pineville to Middlesboro and beyond; and (3) a premier community college system that both challenged and stood steadfastly behind us.
Together we have embraced the belief that the college would succeed regardless of the obstacles that we may have found in our way. And thanks to this very special relationship, we can proudly say that Southeast not only has succeeded, it has excelled. When the prestigious Aspen Institute ranked our institution among the top 10 two-year colleges in the nation, my thoughts went immediately not to what I have done —but to what all of us have done together.
The road ahead will not be an easy one for SKCTC; like all of higher education, we face daunting challenges. With almost no financial support from the state over the past five years, we have struggled to make ends meet and now with the downturn in the coal industry, our region is losing hundreds of well-paying jobs. With so few other employment opportunities available here, it is inevitable that we will continue to lose population, which will lead to a shrinking pool of potential students.
However, there has always been a resiliency at Southeast, perhaps better described as a stubbornness born from our mountain heritage that has allowed us to transform ourselves when we need to do so. In the past this has led to the opening of new campuses, the offering of new programs, and reaching out beyond our borders to neighboring Tennessee and Virginia. With our system’s help, it has led to embracing new technologies in and out of the classroom, to streamlining admissions and registration functions, and to vastly improving our marketing and outreach efforts.
(It is important to stress, however, that regardless of the challenges we have faced and the changes we have made, there has always been, and, I believe, will always be, one constant at Southeast — an emphasis on quality education.)
I will predict that with the coming of our new president, Dr. Lynn Moore from Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the Southeast star will continue to shine brightly despite the obstacles that may be found in the way. She is a well-qualified and experienced educator who both understands and appreciates community colleges in all their manifestations. But just as I needed your help, so shall she. I ask the people of our region to please be as kind and generous to her as you have to me, and when that happens, you can be sure that Southeast will continue not only to thrive, but to excel.
One final note: In addition to all of the others I have mentioned who have stood beside and behind me, my greatest support always came from Barbara, my wife of almost 50 years. And it is now arm in arm with her that I exit the stage as together we seek out new opportunities and embrace new challenges.
We wish all our many friends good luck, and Godspeed.