R. Kirby Godsey, President of my alma mater Mercer University , has announced his retirement. Dr. Godsey, also my wife’s boss (she’s his assistant), is the longest serving president of an institution of higher learning in the United States. Under his watch, Mercer expanded from a small school in Georgia, to a university with ten schools and major research facility. Through his hard work and dedication, Mercer now has a medical school dedicated to training physicians for rural areas and one of the best pharmacy schools in the nation. I would expect, given Mercer’s tradition, that he will be named Chancellor of the University and continue helping its fundraising efforts.

UPDATE: The official announcement is in the extended entry.

Godsey Asks Trustees to Begin Search for Next President

(MACON) – Mercer University President and CEO R. Kirby Godsey announced today that he has asked the Board of Trustees to begin the search for the University’s next president. The request came during the Board’s regular fall meeting as Godsey revealed his plans to step down as president on June 30, 2006.

“A part of the stewardship of the President’s Office is to assure a smooth and orderly transition for the next administration,” said Godsey. “While serving as the president and chief executive officer of Mercer has been the most important and defining work of my life and career, it is also my responsibility to work with the Board in achieving Mercer’s highest and best future. The promise of the University has never been greater, and I will always be eager to support the programs of the University. I will continue to be an ambassador for Mercer and active in civic and professional affairs.”

Godsey came to Mercer in 1977 to serve as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and the executive vice president. On July 1, 1979, he was named the University’s 17th president. He became the longest-serving president in the University’s history last summer and reached a similar milestone among Georgia’s current university presidents a few years ago.

“Kirby Godsey is the most dynamic president in Mercer University’s history and perhaps in the entire state today,” said James A. Bishop, chairman of Mercer’s Board of Trustees and Brunswick attorney. “He has taken a good university and made it one of the best in the nation. His vision and leadership have reached well beyond the University, leaving an indelible imprint on Georgia. History will surely record Kirby Godsey as one of Georgia’s finest citizens and educational leaders. The search for his successor will be a difficult task.”

Longtime Mercer trustee and Augusta attorney David Hudson will head the search committee for the new president. The national search will begin next spring.

“Mercer has been fortunate to have such a visionary and innovative president for the past 25 years,” said Hudson. “At a time when most university presidents serve terms of four to six years, Kirby Godsey has provided strong, steady leadership that has enabled the University to build on a solid foundation of strengths. His legacy of excellence will touch lives for many generations to come.

“Dr. Godsey’s timing of this announcement is another gift of his leadership,” continued Hudson. “The University is stronger than it has ever been in its history, and Dr. Godsey is still a vibrant and effective president. The timing he selected will give the Board the luxury of doing a thorough and careful search.”

When Godsey became president in 1979, Mercer had an enrollment of 3,800 students, an endowment of $16.5 million, and a budget of $21.3 million. Today, 25 years later, Mercer is Georgia’s second largest private university, with an enrollment of 7,300 students – an increase of nearly 95 percent; an endowment of more than $176 million – an increase of more than $159 million, with another $100 million in pledges; and a budget of $173.8 million, an increase of $152.5 million.

Evidence of growth at the University during the past quarter century is visible throughout the institution and the state. In 1979, Mercer was composed of four schools – two in Macon and two in Atlanta. Today, Mercer has 10 schools and colleges, campuses in Macon and Atlanta, plus regional academic centers in Douglas County, Henry County and Eastman, teaching hospitals in Macon and Savannah, an academic press in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins.

Construction has been a major accomplishment. More than 50 buildings have been constructed or restored, along with a major campus improvement program that included a five-year, $100-million campus improvement program. The University’s largest facility- the $40 million, 230,000 square-foot University Center – was completed this year on the Macon campus.

Never one to accept status quo, Godsey has challenged administrators, faculty, staff and even students to reach further – to cut new paths – to explore new possibilities. As a result, the University continues to reach milestones that assure its place among the top universities in the nation. Mercer today attracts some of the nation’s most talented students, with SAT scores for the freshman class among the highest in the state. In the professional schools, application pools are as high as 14 applicants per seat in the entering class. The faculty has been strengthened in terms of number and credentials, with more than 90 percent of Mercer’s 665 faculty members holding doctorates or the highest attainable degree in their academic field.

For the 15th consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has named Mercer among the leading universities in the South. The Princeton Review has listed Mercer among The Best 351 Colleges in North America, which places the University among the top 10 percent in institutions of higher education.

His leadership style is one of inclusion and collaboration, not only within the institution, but also outside. Godsey has partnered the University through leadership, volunteer service and financial support in countless efforts designed to strengthen communities as well as Mercer. Whether it is providing volunteer tutors to elementary schools, or offering financial incentives to faculty and staff to buy and renovate homes in nearby neglected neighborhoods, or awarding scholarships to community service volunteers, he has kept Mercer connected to others by reaching beyond the campus.

Knowing the importance of a strong financial foundation, Godsey and his administrative colleagues at Mercer are respected leaders in fund-raising for the University. In 2004, the largest number of alumni donors in history was recorded. In 2002, the largest gift in the history of the University, a bequest of $62 million, was procured. Presently, the University is conducting Phase III of the $350 million Advancing the Vision campaign, of which more than $243.5 million has been raised or pledged.

Godsey has been recognized nationally by his colleagues and other organizations for his accomplishments. In 2002, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized him as the Southeast’s CEO of the Year. In 2003, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) presented him with its Meritorious Service Award, the organization’s recognition for distinctive and effective leadership for his work with the accreditation review project, which rewrote the standards and the accreditation processes for all colleges and schools in the Southern region. Georgia Trend magazine named him as one of the “100 Most Influential Georgians” for the years 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003. Also in 2003, he was named the Citizen of the Year by the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.