A man with more than four decades of service to Eastern Kentucky University steps retires today.
President Doug Whitlock concludes almost six years at the helm of the public university. Whitlock’s long history with EKU began as a student worker, helping with the university’s public relations. His first full-time position came in 1968, when he took over as director of publications. Whitlock remembers studying the management styles of other EKU presidents—educators like Bob Martin, J.C. Powell, and Hanly Funderburk.
“You know they talk about filling shoes, you know I had this feeling, Can I handle this office?” Whitlock told Kentucky Public Radio. “Because I knew what those guys had been through. And then, after about a week on the job, it started sinking in on me. Hey I can do this.”
The passage of higher education reforms in the late 199’s brought with it an expectation of increased efficiency and less duplication at state-supported colleges and universities. There were also promises of increased government funding.
Instead, Whitlock watched as state support for higher education steadily declined. As Kentucky’s colleges graduated more students and they earned larger salaries, Whitlock said he believes some lawmakers saw less need for state funding.
“It’s caused a shift in the mindset from failing to recognize what a massive public good having a population with a high degree of attainment is and they see it more as a private good, as an individual good. The individual is where the benefit is being reaped, so the mindset is, ‘Let the individual pay more,” Whitlock said.
The EKU campus community is still adjusting to significant restructuring. Hoping to cut expenses, the university’s regents ordered the administration to cut the workforce. Whitlock admits it’s not something he relished, but he feels it was necessary.
“Is this something that I might have preferred not to go through, yeah. But, it was the right thing to do for Eastern, to get it ready for it’s next stage in its development,” Whitlock said.
In the end, Whitlock says the reorganization resulted in hundreds of early retirements and voluntary resignations, as well as eleven forced layoffs. The school also freed up over $19 million to shift into other areas. While a difficult pill to swallow, Whitlock didn’t want to place that burden on his replacement.
As on-line learning flourishes, some educators predict college classrooms, as we know them now, will not exist in 20 years. Whitlock said he remains a “pathological optimist” and predicts traditional college campuses will endure.
“I think there will always be the residential experience for the traditional age students, but the whole nature of higher education and the distribution of knowledge is changing profoundly,” said Whitlock.
Whitlock sees Eastern’s role in educating the residents of central and southeastern Kentucky as essential. He adds recent work with public school systems and local governments on economic development should keep EKU relevant.
Whitlock retires just days before his 70th birthday. While staying in touch with higher education, Whitlock also expects to do some traveling with his wife Joanne.
EKU’s regents named Michael Benson the university’s new president in April.