BEREA — It's springtime for Berea College in more ways than one, according to President Larry D. Shinn, who announced Monday he will retire at the end of June 2012.
The institution is beginning to implement a restructuring that Shinn says will make it stronger. The idea, as described by dean of faculty Stephanie Browner to the publication Inside Higher Ed, is to "broaden curriculums that will expose students to a variety of disciplines."
Meanwhile, the college's budget year that begins July 1 includes a 3 percent across-the-board raise for its 450 employees. There were no raises in the past two budgets.
And Berea's endowment has rebounded to $950 million, nearly returning to its pre-recession value of $1.1 billion. About 80 percent of the college's budget is funded through its endowment; the balance comes from federal and state grants to students, and private dollars the college raises — all of which is critically important for a college that is tuition-free for all students and has a mission to serve low-income Appalachian students.
So in announcing his retirement, Shinn used the seasons to describe the state of the college in a message to faculty, staff, students and retirees.
"Today, the college is emerging from the harsh winter of the Great Recession as a stronger, more flexible and resilient institution that has greater capacity to face a world that is increasingly unpredictable," Shinn wrote.
Shinn, 69, said now is the time "to plan for a transition in the leadership." Founded in 1855, Berea College has an enrollment of nearly 1,600.
David E. Shelton, chairman of Berea's board of trustees, said a national search for Shinn's successor will begin later this spring.
Berea's eighth president, Shinn has served in that capacity since 1994. He noted that any changes brought to the college in terms of restructuring or greater student diversity have been due to the work of many people.
The restructuring eliminates 27 academic departments and creates six academic divisions. A task force concluded the quality of education can be better delivered with the new structure. The restructuring will be in place by fall 2012, in time for Shinn's successor, although it probably will take longer to fully implement.
In his final year, Shinn said, the college is planning to build a $14 million residence hall for 120 students behind Boone Tavern and near the Anna Smith residence hall for women. "It will be the most energy-efficient residence hall on any college campus in America," Shinn said.
The college also will consider whether it should grow its enrollment to 1,800, Shinn said. "One of the things we're going to be doing is some long-range planning that has to do with what size should Berea really be," he said.
During Shinn's tenure, the college has successfully completed more than $140 million in building renovations to make the campus more sustainable and ecologically efficient. The college built a 50-apartment Ecovillage that boasts a 75 percent reduction in energy and water use.
Michael Rivage-Seul, a social justice professor who retired from Berea after 37 years, said he is "very happy for Larry."
"He led us in a very creative way to rethink our Christian commitment in a way that is coherent with an awareness of the diversity of the world and the diversity of the student population," Rivage-Seul said.
But some butted heads with Shinn's leadership style, including David Porter, a former provost who is now a psychology professor at Berea. Porter had called for Shinn's resignation and once wrote in the student newspaper, The Pinnacle, that Shinn used his "position and verbal stamina to quash dissent and grind opponents into compliance."
"I certainly hate to say anything that would give him a reason to change his mind" about retirement, Porter said Monday.
In response, Shinn said, "I didn't say 'Here's the way our institution is going to move forward.' No, I tried to get people (in an 11-person task force) who were willing to think not just out of the box but without a box. They're the group that brought forward some dramatic suggestions and three models to improve the quality of education with 20 percent less budget."
Shinn acknowledged the past 2½ years were "the toughest of my presidency." But he added, "I think we've righted the ship. I think the seas have calmed.
"I am going to be 70 years old, and the 80-hour-a-weeks, they don't come as easily as they used to. It's time to get out of the road. It's time for the next generation to provide leadership. I think I'm going out on a high, not being pushed out by the wave that we just experienced. That wave has calmed. ... That's a good time to hand the reins over."