December 07, 2011 Edition

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Swaim to retire



After 48 years at Williams Baptist College, including 17 years as president, Dr. Jerol Swaim plans to retire at the end of this school year. Swaim announced Friday that he will step down on June 30.

"It has been a difficult decision in a lot of ways, simply because I love this college and the people I work with, but after much thought and prayer, Virginia and I are confident the time is right. We are ready to enjoy a lot of the things we haven't had time to do before," Swaim said.

The president told the WBC Board of Trustees of his decision at their regularly scheduled meeting Friday morning and then announced it to the full faculty and staff in the afternoon.

"The board and our entire campus community have been incredibly supportive, and I can't thank them enough," Swaim said. "I felt absolutely no pressure in this decision. Quite the contrary, I knew I had their complete support whatever I decided to do, which was very comforting."

Swaim, 73, came to WBC in 1964, when it was known as Southern Baptist College. He taught history, government, economics and other subjects, and he then took on the role of academic dean and registrar in 1973. He also served as vice president for academic affairs and executive vice president before assuming the presidency in 1995. He is the fifth president of the college.

"I've never worked with anybody that I respect more and appreciate more for his work ethic and integrity than Jerol Swaim," said Board Chairman Frank Shell. "I can't say enough about him. I've known him since 1965, and I've never seen anything that he has done that would take away from my respect and esteem.

"He has been just what Williams needs, and it is with great reluctance that we accepted his retirement. But we understand, and he deserves a great retirement. I believe in that college as a Christian institution, and Jerol has truly been a godsend to it."

Oversees campus transformation

Swaim steps down after presiding over a transformation of the Williams campus. Since the late 1990s, nearly every building on the campus has either been newly constructed or extensively renovated. The college has spent over $18 million in improvements in those years.

WBC has also expanded its academic offerings, as well as its academic reputation. The four-year, liberal arts college now has over 25 baccalaureate majors. It broke into the top tier of US News & World Report college rankings in 2010, and it climbed in the rankings again this year.

The president has also been known for fiscal discipline during his presidency.

"Dr. Swaim has kept Williams in the black every year and built a very healthy budget balance," said Dr. Brett Cooper, WBC's vice president for college relations. "He leaves Williams in great financial shape, even on the heels of such a severe recession. That is a resounding tribute to Dr. Swaim's management."

Enrollment, resident student population and endowment have all grown appreciably in Swaim's tenure. The college has grown to 600 students enrolled, including 550 on the main campus at Walnut Ridge. Some 400 students now live on campus, which is nearly double the number from when Swaim took office. And the college's endowment has climbed from $2 million to nearly $10 million.

Cooper added that Swaim's legacy extends beyond his successes in buildings and budgets.

"Dr. Swaim became president believing passionately in Williams Baptist College, and those of us who work for him have found that contagious," he said. "He has never desired for us to become like any other school, but rather to move forward with our own personality as an institution. In doing so, he has established an institutional confidence and a very healthy identity for WBC."

Shell also noted the impact Swaim's wife, Virginia, has had on the college.

"Virginia has been a wonderful president's wife," he said. "She has been a really devoted employee of the college and has filled the role of president's wife in a most commendable manner."

Shell appointed a search committee Friday to look for the next president. The committee is composed of trustees Carol Belford-Lewallen of Pocahontas, Ken Brunt of Bryant, Dr. Joann Goatcher of Clinton and Dana Kelley of Jonesboro, as well as Angela Flippo, WBC's vice president for enrollment management and Dr. Bob Magee, chairman of the college's music department.

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