William Crouch Jr., the 23rd president of Georgetown College, announced Tuesday that he will retire on June 30, 2013.
"Acknowledging that we have entered a new era in higher education and desiring only the best for Georgetown College's future, I believe it is time to usher in a new leader who can harness all those dynamics which will continue the forward journey of the institution," Crouch wrote in a letter to Earl Goode, chairman of the school's board of trustees. Goode emailed the letter to the campus community Tuesday afternoon.
"This is a decision that Bill and (his wife) Jan have been contemplating for several months," Goode wrote in his email. "Together they have left a lasting impact on this institution."
Crouch was not available for an interview, said Jim Newberry, special assistant to the president and a former mayor of Lexington. Faculty members said they were surprised by the announcement.
"He really loves the college and throws his all into it, and I know he would love to work all of his life," said Harold Tallant, chairman of the faculty. "But I think he's tired and ready to move to the next thing."
Crouch has been president of the liberal-arts college since 1991. The college has an enrollment of 1,100 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. In one of the more significant events during his tenure, the college in 2005 cut its ties with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Under previous agreements dating to 1942, the convention had the right to elect Georgetown's trustees in return for providing financial support.
Under the new plan, the convention's support was phased out, and the college picked its own trustees. That "enabled us to keep our academic freedom, and it enabled us to have wide discussions with students not only about religion but lots of other things without fear of repercussion," said mathematics professor Christine Leverenz.
Furthermore, the separation "was done in a process that was very graceful," Tallant said. "At the same time, there were several schools that did that in other states, and that was usually a messy process, and a lot of hurt feelings, and even some lawsuits. It was really admirable how the process was handled in a way that it did not leave a rancor or an ill will on either side."
During Crouch's tenure, a new fine arts building, library and athletic and conference complex were built. Until last summer, the latter was home for the Cincinnati Bengals football team's annual training camp. That ended because a new collective-bargaining agreement limited the number of practices.
New campus residence halls for students were also built. Less than two weeks ago, during homecoming, the school dedicated Hambrick Village, a new townhouse complex that will house 85 students.
The Crouch era was a time when the college also sought expansion in other ways.
Leverenz, who has worked at the college for 31 years, said Crouch "brought substantially more diversity to campus" by encouraging the enrollment of minority students.
The school's athletics program is in the Mid-South Conference of the NAIA, but it had applied to be in the NCAA Division II, which Crouch saw as a way to bring more publicity and exposure. The college said in July that the application was denied.
The move was contemplated as part of Georgetown College's larger pursuit to obtain Phi Beta Kappa status. Only 10 percent of American colleges and universities have chapters of that prestigious honor society, and none of the NAIA's 290 schools have Phi Beta Kappa chapters.
There were other disappointments during Crouch's tenure.
In 2005, the college spent a year on probation for financial problems cited by its accrediting agency. Crouch said at the time that the financial difficulties began when the stock market took a dive after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the school's endowment dropped to $21 million from a high of about $32 million.
At the same time, the school was carrying extra debt from the construction of a new library and athletic complex, which strained the operating budget and resulted in the elimination of 34 administrative positions.
The college has recovered, although Tallant said some people on campus are frustrated "that we haven't been able to get a firmer financial base from which to do even more things."
The announcement of Crouch's retirement is the latest in a series of leadership changes at several Central Kentucky institutions. William Drake Jr. announced his resignation as Midway College's president in March. And Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock announced in August that he will retire July 31, 2013.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety