BSC Office of Communications

Your News Source for the Hilltop

October 2, 2003

Longtime Birmingham-Southern President Neal Berte announces plans to retire; named chancellor and president

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Birmingham-Southern College President Dr. Neal R. Berte, whose leadership and vision propelled the liberal arts institution to national stature in academics, the arts, and athletics during his 28-year tenure, announced his retirement today, effective when a new president is introduced next year.

Berte made the announcement at today's annual fall meeting of the college's Board of Trustees, which concurrently gave him the new title of chancellor and president of Birmingham-Southern.

Birmingham-Southern's longest serving president informed the rest of the campus community of his future plans during a mid-afternoon gathering in the college's Munger Memorial Hall auditorium.

Berte told the board and the campus community that he is looking forward to assisting the college as needed after a new president is introduced, as well as working in the community and church and spending more time with his wife of 39 years, Anne, and their four children and 10 grandchildren.

“The most important thing we can do as a college is to continue to provide these young men and women with a liberal arts education that will prepare them for the world in which they are going to be living, to develop their full potentials to be the leaders who will strengthen our communities in the future,” Berte said.

Following the announcement, the Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution changing Berte's title to chancellor and president and then unanimously approved the naming of the just-renovated Humanities Center on campus to the Anne and Neal Berte Humanities Center. The refurbished facility was officially dedicated during ceremonies immediately following the adjournment of the board meeting.

W. Michael Atchison, chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, said that Berte's tenure on the Hilltop campus was “unprecedented in length and achievements.”

“President Berte, with the help of some dedicated board members, literally rescued the college when he arrived in 1976 from a hapless situation, which conceivably could have led to its demise,” said Atchison, a 1965 Birmingham-Southern graduate and an attorney and senior partner with Starnes and Atchison in Birmingham. “The Berte name is synonymous with integrity and excellence, and we are so proud to have been the recipient of his immense talents and hard work for more than a quarter of a century.

“He brought his visionary leadership to Birmingham-Southern at a time when the college's enrollment was declining, its endowment was almost non-existent, its financial position faltering, and its buildings decaying and its grounds unkempt. Today, the college is considered one of the jewels in American private higher education for the quality of education offered and the beauty of the campus.

“The Berte years at Birmingham-Southern have been a period of remarkable progress, highlighted by substantial growth in many areas and by achievements and innovations that have brought national attention to the college.”

Atchison said that a national search for a new president would begin this month and that a search committee of trustees, faculty, staff, students, and alumni currently is being assembled. He said he expects the search to be completed by summer 2004.

Berte, who became the college's 11th president on Feb. 1, 1976, told the Board of Trustees that he is privileged to be associated with Birmingham-Southern and that he believes the “best is yet to come” for the 148-year-old liberal arts college.

“Because of the tremendous support of the Board of Trustees; the outstanding faculty, staff, and students; and the commitment of our alumni and the larger community, the college is well positioned to further strengthen its role as one of America's best liberal arts colleges,” Berte said when announcing his decision. “The future is brighter than ever for Birmingham-Southern.

“The successful completion of most of the goals of the strategic plan of the college, the completion in 2004 of our routine 10-year accrediting reaffirmation process, the successful completion of our major building and renovation program, and gifts and financial support at an all-time high make this an appropriate time to make this move.”

Atchison said that the addition of chancellor to Berte's title was in recognition of his service and devotion to Birmingham-Southern and would allow him to continue to assist the college as needed in the coming years.

“Dr. Berte has served as president of Birmingham-Southern for nearly three decades, at a time when the average tenure of a college president nationwide is fewer than seven years,” Atchison commented. “That is a tremendous testimony to his leadership, his vision, and his devotion.”

Berte came to Birmingham-Southern in 1976 from the University of Alabama, where he was dean of the New College and vice president for educational development. Since that time, Birmingham-Southern has undergone a period of tremendous progress and national recognition that is unprecedented in the institution's history.

During Berte's tenure, student enrollment has more than doubled while the academic profile of the student body has increased and annually leads all other Alabama institutions of higher learning in average ACT score and in number of students from the top 10 percent of their high school classes among first-year students. The annual operating budget has grown from $3 million to nearly $57 million; the number of faculty on campus has increased by nearly 70 percent and the student-to-faculty ratio has lowered to 12-to-1; and new programs and majors—including a new general education plan known as Foundations—have been implemented.

Since 1976, the campus has been expanded to more than 192 acres and more than 25 new facilities/structures, additions, or renovations have been completed. The college's financial future has been secured by growing the endowment from $11 million to more than $136 million in the past few years and increasing private giving to the college from $2 million a year in 1976 to a record $22.3 million in fiscal 2003.

The college consistently is recognized as one of America's top National Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report. This year, the college moved into Tier I of the magazine's “national” liberal arts category, the top category such an institution can attain. The publication named Birmingham-Southern as the No. 1 Regional Liberal Arts College in the South Region in 1987. Other recent national recognitions or designations have included one of 22 private institutions in the country named a “Best Buy” by the Fiske Guide to Colleges, as well as “America's Most Wired Colleges,” “100 Best Values in Private Colleges,” “America's Best Christian Colleges,” “Most Efficiently Operated Schools in America,” “Colleges that Encourage Character Development,” and “Best Values,” among others. The college is one of only six similarly categorized institutions to house a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and to be accredited by AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the nation's premier accrediting agency for business schools.

Intercollegiate athletics also has been a major priority during the Berte tenure, with Birmingham-Southern student-athletes excelling on the athletic fields and playing courts, as well as in the classroom. On Sept. 1, 2003, the college officially became a member of NCAA Division I after nearly five decades and three national championships as an NAIA institution. The college also has expanded to 14 sports and has joined the Big South Conference. Today, more than 60 percent of the college's student-athletes and eight of 14 teams carry a 3.0 grade-point average or higher in the classroom, and the graduation rate among student-athletes entering in 1996 was 81 percent, which ranks fourth-best among NCAA Division I-AAA schools and in the top 10 percent of all Division I programs.

An Ohio native, Berte holds three degrees from the University of Cincinnati, where he was elected into Phi Beta Kappa. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University and has served as President-in-Residence at the Harvard Institute for Educational Management. He holds honorary degrees from both Birmingham-Southern and the University of Cincinnati.

He has many times been recognized, including Birmingham's Distinguished Citizen Award, Citizen of the Year, Erskine Ramsay Award for Outstanding Civic Service, and Distinguished Gallery of Honor; two times named one of Birmingham's Top 10 Leaders of the Decade by local media; one of the “100 Most Effective College Presidents” by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education; one of “America's Leaders in Higher Education” by the American Council on Education; and Administrator of the Year in Alabama by the American Association of University Administrators. In 1979, he became one of the youngest inductees ever into the Alabama Academy of Honor. In October 2001, he was inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame, and, in May 2002, he was inducted into the Birmingham-Southern College Sports Hall of Fame.

Berte has served in leadership positions for many local organizations, including president and campaign chairman for United Way, president of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce, president of the Birmingham Festival of Arts, member of the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, president of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, and chairman of the Administrative Board of Canterbury United Methodist Church, among others. He is founding chairman of both Leadership Birmingham and of Region 2020, a citizen-driven regional planning process of which he also was elected president in 2000.







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