Thirty-Third President Arrives in June
By Kathy Rutherman
Baylor senior Craig Turner divided a blank sheet of paper with a vertical line. On one side, he wrote “Like” and the other side he labeled “Good At.” He started the “Like” column with basketball. When both columns were complete, the decision was clear. He would become an English teacher. He had considered a career in law and attended a law class as permitted by Baylor. “I found it dull and boring and knew I had to rethink my plans,” he remembers.
The contents of his KWC office reflect that long ago decision. The Harvard Classics, volumes on Robert Browning and novels by Faulkner, Dickens, Twain, Welty and Hemingway fill the shelves. A framed Browning quote shares wall space with a 1579 map of England and Wales, seascapes with sailing vessels and numerous family photos.
President Turner points out a beautiful sunset scene over water with the profile of a man on swing in the foreground. “That is my Dad, now deceased, at my parents’ place on Perdido Bay near Mobile, where I grew up,” he explains. “My son snapped that photo with a disposable camera, and I treasure it.”
Dr. Turner says Mobile was a great place to grow up. “We had fresh seafood, beaches, water sports, Southern Association League baseball and Bear Bryant.” An avid sports fan, he played baseball and basketball and loves college football. He spent many summer days at Mobile Bears games, and he shares his South Alabama love of baseball with Hank and Tommy Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and a host of other major league players. In those pre-computer, pre-satellite radio days, he could pick up KMOX in St. Louis in the evenings. He says Jack Buck and Harry Caray made him feel like he was in the stands at Sportsmen’s Park and Busch Stadium. “I’m still a Cardinals’ fan today, and now I’m only a few hours from St. Louis. Wow!”
"The three things I hold most dear are my faith,
my family and my work."
Turner remained at Baylor after earning a B.A. in English and history and then obtained an M.A. in English while serving as editorial assistant for Robert Browning publications. Baylor houses the largest collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning material in the world. He earned a Ph.D. in British and American Literature at Tulane University and was an assistant and associate professor of English at Texas A & M University for nine years. “I loved the classroom, but I longed for something a large university cannot provide - a close-knit community,” he shares. Seven years at Mississippi College in Clinton followed, where he became chair of the English Department. He found the small, faith-based liberal arts setting appealing.
Although Turner’s next career step was not part of the self-assessment list he did as a Baylor senior, it took him back to Texas. He became vice president for academic affairs and a professor of English at Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, and after serving in several administrative roles, he became president of the university in 2001. “I was fortunate to leave Hardin-Simmons with the institution in the best financial shape in its history because we had a strong, focused team that collaborated very effectively.” A capital campaign during Turner’s presidency brought in over $49 million, the most of any campaign in the university’s history. Hardin-Simmons experienced record enrollments and the completion of numerous construction projects during the Turner years.
Turner says he had achieved and exceeded his goals and was ready for another challenge. “Our daughter and son-in-law and their twin daughters lived in North Carolina. Mike, then in the Marine Corps, was about to be deployed,” explains Turner, “Annette and I wanted to be nearby to help Shannon.” He became president of Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. in 2008. Catawba was dealing with financial challenges, and the Turners wanted to serve another faith-based liberal arts college. He says he sought the challenge and welcomed it. During Dr. Turner’s three-year presidency at Catawba, the college experienced a 12.2% increase in enrollment with a significant reduction in debt.
Intrigued by a colleague’s description of KWC and seeking another challenge, Dr. Turner investigated Wesleyan and only became more interested. “I was very impressed throughout the interview process,” he shares. “I found the commitment and passion of trustees, faculty and staff appealing, and the campus is beautiful. We were quite comfortable when we visited, and we felt at home.” He explains that he saw long-term potential for the college and appreciated Dr. King’s leadership in developing the strategic plan. “She built a firm foundation for the future. I’m excited about helping take Wesleyan to the next level. As Robert Browning wrote, ‘Look up, advance! All now is possible.’”
We must filter everything we do through the same question:
“What is best for our students?”
Teamwork, emphasizes Turner, will get KWC to the next level. “This is huge,” he stresses as he quotes Helen Keller, “‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’” He explains that we must filter everything we do through the same question – “What is best for our students?” Turner says the college can find unity from diversity among faculty, staff, trustees and alumni. “That unity will give us strength as we move forward.”
He shares that the focus will be two-fold, increased enrollment with a longterm goal of 1200 students and increased grant-seeking and fundraising. “We are already focusing on 2012 and 2013 students, and we will work toward 1,200 students. We must also address deferred maintenance and capital improvements. Our campus has tremendous curb appeal, but a closer look reveals a need for many facilities improvements and updates.”
Faith-based liberal arts education, says President Turner, offers a values-added choice. “A faith-based college should offer a supportive, nurturing environment that gives students the opportunity, if they choose, to experience spiritual, as well as intellectual growth.”
“The three things I hold most dear,” reflects Turner, “are my faith, my family and my work. The three are interwoven. Annette and I are partners in our shared faith, in parenting and grandparenting and in my job. The KWC community will love her.”
When asked how he wants Kentucky Wesleyan to look when he steps down as president, Dr. Turner first quotes Aristotle: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”
“The day I leave KWC, I want to be able to walk around the campus with Annette and see a very healthy college – healthy enrollment, healthy finances and healthy morale,” reflects Turner. “Then I’m going to get the campus community together and say, ‘Thank you, we did it together. It took a team.’”
Read the rest of the Fall 2011 issue of KW Today online.