Dr. James Votruba's fifteenth year as President of Northern Kentucky University will be his last in that role. In announcement today during the Highland Heights school's state of the university address, Votruba informed the campus community of his decision.
When reached late last night by telephone, Dr. Votruba granted a one-on-one interview with the River City News.
|Dr. James C. Votruba|
Votruba assumed the role of NKU's President in August of 1997 when the school was, as he a described, both a community college and a four-year undergraduate institution. Since then, NKU has increased its admission standards, its number of graduate and doctoral programs and now boasts of 16,000 students on a transformed campus that now includes multiple completed and new construction projects spearheaded by Votruba.
The Bank of Kentucky Center, a new student union and the new College of Informatics building are the latest high-profile, multimillion dollar construction projects that now define the campus as a growing metropolitan university.
"Fourteen years ago the budget was $85 million," Votruba said. "Today it's $210 million. "Ten years ago we had fifty-two undergraduate programs and today we have seventy. We had ten masters programs and today we have forty-nine and two doctoral programs."
Votruba arrived in Highland Heights from East Lansing where he was Vice Provost for university outreach and a professor of higher education at Michigan State University. His Bachelor's degree in political science, his master's in political science and sociology and his doctorate in higher education were all earned at Michigan State, a school that many thought would lure Votruba away a few years ago when its presidency was vacant.
Instead, he stayed at Northern Kentucky where his wife, Rachel, was also on faculty and where his daughter, Emily, graduated.
"We're an NKU family," Votruba said. "I get contacted by headhunters pretty regularly asking if I'm interested."
For Votruba, it's about legacy and impact, though.
"I never saw a place that looked like more fun than NKU, it's about that simple," he said. "I like building. It's more difficult to build at larger schools. This has been a good fit for me and the community has been a good fit. You have to decide if you're going to unpack your bags and leave a legacy."
Votruba will remain in the NKU and Northern Kentucky community. After stepping away as president following the 2011-12 academic year, he'll leave campus for a full year and then return as a facutly member in the education doctoral program.
"I'm a teacher, fundamentally. It's the way I've approached my work here and my entire career and I'm excited about the doctoral program in educational leadership because it's an opportunity to educate the next generation of leaders, not only at a university, but superintendents and principals who have a lot of responsibility," Votruba said.
"I'm also excited about more flexibility in my life for Rachel and me to spend time with our children and our grandchildren."
He and Mrs. Votruba have three children and six grandchildren. Votruba plans, after becoming a professor, to be simply that at NKU, a professor.
"I'm going to stay out of the president's business and give the new president the freedom to move in their own direction," he says.
President Votruba's accomplishments have made the NKU job more attractive and likely more competitive. He says that NKU is a good place to be a president and that Kentucky is a good state in which to be a president. The Board of Regents will likely use a consulting firm to conduct a national search for the school's next leader, Votruba said.
Votruba's are big shoes to fill. "My proudest achievement is the overall coming of age of the university as a full-blown major institution," he said. "Universities look to NKU as an example in community engagement."
The President says that there was not precise moment when he knew it was time to step aside and allow a new leader to come in, explaining that it happened gradually. "It's evolutionary," he says. "You listen to voices inside you, you ask yourself after fifteen years, 'this is a long time, do you want to go out while you're still on top?'"
"My father told me when I was a young man and he was still working, 'I want to know when it's time to go before someone has to tell me'. I think that's good caution."
Asked which building on campus now or in the future he would like to have his name on, he laughed. "How about that old log cabin that sits out by the Honors House," he chuckled.
Friday morning, Greaves Hall on NKU's campus was completely full for Votruba's final fall invocation, according to university spokesman Chris Cole, who also announced that the President will select a NCAA Division I conference in which the athletics teams would compete following the transition from Division II, another testament to the successful presidency of Dr. James C. Votruba.