Archive for Saturday, May 7, 2005

Lambert to retire as Baker president

May 7, 2005

By Terry Rombeck

Dan Lambert, president of Baker University for nearly 18 years, is headed for retirement.

Lambert announced Friday he'll step down at the end of the 2005-06 school year.

"I believe the university is ready for new leadership," he said. "Baker's accomplished a great deal, but there's more that needs to be done. I sense the time is right for new leadership."

Lambert said he'll turn 65 years old in January and is looking forward to retirement, especially spending time with his four grandchildren. He said he and his wife, Carolyn, would stay in the Kansas City area and may move to Lawrence.

Baker officials said they would launch a national search for Lambert's replacement. Lambert said he was announcing his retirement early to aid a smooth transition.

"I hope we can clone him," said Karen Exon, chairwoman of the history, political science and sociology department. "He is a very solid leader and a very decent, warm-hearted, kind, approachable, affable individual."

Lambert's tenure saw the founding of the School of Professional and Graduate Studies in Overland Park in 1988 and the founding of the School of Nursing in Topeka in 1991. The SPGS program helped solidify the university's footing after financial troubles in the late 1980s.

The school made more than $20 million in improvements to buildings and grounds -- including a renovated library, sports facility and student union -- and doubled its endowment to about $30 million during Lambert's presidency.

The school, the oldest university in Kansas, currently has an enrollment of about 3,000, including about 800 students on the College of Arts and Sciences campus in Baldwin. It has a $30 million annual budget.

Lambert said he was especially proud of hiring the first full-time chaplain for the first United Methodist-affiliated school and bringing a 19th-century chapel from Sproxton, England to Baldwin in 1996.

"We've worked hard to build a sense of community," Lambert said. "It's something you have to work at every day. It doesn't just happen because it's a small institution."

'Good person'

Lambert's announcement Friday came during a meeting of the board of trustees. He also held a university-wide meeting with faculty, staff and students.

"I'm saddened because I think he's done a wonderful job," said Walter Pinnell, a member of the board of trustees from Overland Park. "We've never had anybody like him in my memory at Baker. I think he's just done a fabulous job."

Darcy Russell, who chairs the university's Faculty Senate, agreed.

"He's been remarkable," she said. "He's moved us forward. But he deserves a nice retirement. I want him to be happy in his retirement. He's a good person. He deserves it."

A native of Kansas City, Kan., Lambert has degrees from William Jewell College, Northwestern University and the University of Missouri. He worked 17 years at William Jewell in various teaching and administrative capacities before coming to Baker.

Pending issues

Lambert said he didn't think his departure would affect two ongoing issues: the South Lawrence Trafficway and the university's capital campaign.

On the trafficway, which has been in the works for years, Baker has advocated a route that would be along 32nd Street, through wetlands it owns south of Lawrence.

"These policies aren't my policies," he said. "Those are the policies of our board of trustees."

Pinnell, the board member, agreed that the change in leadership wouldn't affect the SLT issue.

"I think Dan took a lot of leadership early on that, and positioned Baker to where they ought to be," he said.

On the capital campaign, which is in its quiet phase and will be announced publicly in conjunction with the school's 150th anniversary in 2008, Lambert said he didn't expect the change to hurt fund raising. No goal amount has been announced, but the campaign's projects are expected to include a new science building.

"You like to avoid these kinds of changes" during a campaign, Lambert said. "But I have no doubt we'll have a positive outcome."

Lambert is the university's 27th president and has the second-longest tenure in the position. Only Nelson Horn, president for 20 years beginning in 1936, served longer.

Despite the longevity, Lambert said he has never lost passion for his job.

"This job requires you have a fire in your belly or you shouldn't do it," he said. "I have an unconditional appreciation for this place, the people and the cause."

-- Staff writer Dave Ranney contributed information to this report.

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