College’s ninth leader will serve through June 2023
Berea College President Lyle Roelofs has announced his decision to retire, effective June 30, 2023. Roelofs arrived in Berea with his wife, Laurie, in 2012 to serve as the institution’s ninth president. From the very beginning, the Board of Trustees has been consistently impressed and pleased with their adoption of all things Berea and their broad success. The Berea College community is thankful to have worked side by side with Lyle and Laurie for what will be 11 years.
“It has been an honor and so very satisfying to have served Berea College as its ninth president,” President Roelofs said. “Everything about this school, from its transformative mission to the wonderful students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends, have made this such a privilege for Laurie and me.”
“The Board of Trustees and I are truly grateful for Lyle and First Lady Laurie Roelofs’ tremendous service to Berea College, and we are thankful for their longevity of service,” said Board Chair Stephanie Zeigler. “Their timing was remarkably fortuitous, and given their steady and thoughtful leadership throughout the unimaginable challenges brought on by COVID-19, Berea College is in a place of strength. Lyle’s early announcement regarding his retirement allows us ample time and a competitive edge for our search.”
Throughout his tenure, Roelofs has stayed true to the remarkable and unique mission of Berea College, leading in significant ways that have transformed the campus and elevated the college’s national profile.
In September of this year, Berea College became the first higher education institution in the nation to complete construction of a hydroelectric generating plant, a demonstration project that reduces the school’s carbon footprint by producing annually about half of the electricity usage of the College. The revenue generated by the $11 million project is funneled into Berea College’s general fund, ultimately helping to fund student Tuition Promise Scholarships.
When congressional action taxed higher education endowment earnings in 2017, Roelofs began advocacy with Senate leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, to remove the College from the list of institutions to be taxed, because only Berea uses its endowment earnings to make a no-tuition promise possible to every admitted student. That promise results in a four-year investment of almost $200,000 in each of Berea’s 1,600-plus students.
Roelofs’ forward-thinking also brought horse logging to the College. The Berea College foresters now use large draft horses to pull felled logs out of the woods instead of bringing in heavy machinery to do so. Horse logging is less disturbing to the forest ecosystem and is more environmentally friendly. Berea College has also added approximately 740 acres of forest to its total 9,300 acres during Roelofs’ tenure.
In October 2018, Berea College dedicated the new $64 million Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building (MAC)—the largest project Berea College has ever undertaken. The new 125,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility houses the College’s science disciplines, mathematics and nursing. Under Roelofs’ leadership, 1,000 alumni, friends, faculty, staff and students raised more than $12 million during a capital campaign to make this new facility a reality. Roelofs has called this “one of the most challenging and important capital projects” in the history of Berea College.
“In the course of planning and promoting this project,” he said, “it was a wonderful privilege to meet so many Berea College alumni, of all ages, who have been able to succeed and become leaders in these disciplines, and, to a person, they credit the high-quality education they received at Berea for the start they needed; their talent and ambition did the rest.”
Additionally, the rebuilding or complete renovation of more than half of Berea College’s 12 residence halls has been completed during Roelofs’ tenure, giving students high-quality living and learning facilities. Deep Green, at the time of its completion in 2013, was the highest rated “green” residence hall in the world. Danforth Residence Hall and Kettering Residence Hall were newly built. The Anna Smith, Dana, Bingham and Seabury residence halls were renovated. These projects all earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification—evidence, together with the hydroelectric project and stewardship of the College forest, of the College’s commitment to sustainability.
“Lyle’s tenure at Berea will leave a profound and indelible mark on the College’s physical campus and its sustainability footprint,” said Berea College Vice President of Operations and Sustainability Derrick Singleton.
In 2014, Berea College embarked on a community-wide investigation of the College’s eight Great Commitments, a project Roelofs says has ensured that the Commitments will continue to serve the College as a guide in the future.
President and Mrs. Roelofs have had a significant personal impact on Bereans—both on and off campus. Early in their tenure, they invited all students to run or walk with them Tuesday and Thursday mornings as part of the President’s Run/Walk Club. First-year Berea students are even offered new running shoes to participate in at least 10 run/walks per semester.
The President and First Lady also enjoy connecting with students, something Mrs. Roelofs sees as an important part of her role as First Lady.
“I try to be accessible to the students,” Mrs. Roelofs said. “The President and I enjoy eating lunch with them regularly, and I’ve had students come over to the President’s residence to study when they needed a quiet place. I know my position as First Lady means I’m quite visible, so I always try to be a good example. I have also enjoyed sharing my interest in monarch butterflies with the community, from preschoolers at the Child Development Laboratory to biology majors in Professor Ron Rosen’s class.”
Community collaboration has also been important to Roelofs throughout his tenure. He has worked on several projects in conjunction with Berea and Madison County governments, including the installation of a new walking trail at Brushy Fork Park—Boone Trace Trail—that marks the path taken by Daniel Boone as he traveled through Kentucky in 1775.
“When I was first elected to the Berea City Council in the fall of 2016, one of the first community leaders to reach out to me was President Roelofs,” said Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley. “He invited me and others on the City Council to a reception at his and Laurie’s home, and also to the Christmas concert. I sensed Lyle’s sincere desire to work more cooperatively and collaboratively with the City of Berea from the very beginning, even before I took office as freshman city councilmember.”
As a result of these achievements, Berea College has had an unprecedented rise in rankings of national liberal arts colleges, including in Washington Monthly, U.S. News and World Report, and Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education.
“Of course, none of these accomplishments could have happened without the contributions of so many wonderful Bereans,” Roelofs said.
In preparation for a search for the 10th Berea College president, the Board of Trustees has hired Academic Search—a leading search firm and the one that brought Roelofs to Berea—to facilitate the process. The Board of Trustees has also appointed a search committee that includes trustees, faculty members, staff and students.
“While I and many others are saddened by the approaching departure of President Roelofs, we also know this is a very exciting time for Berea College as we launch a search for our 10th president,” Zeigler said.
Throughout the winter and spring of 2022, Academic Search and the search committee will begin seeking input from the entire Berea community—trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, students, friends and more—on what characteristics and skills the College is seeking in Berea’s next president. A new president will begin July 1, 2023.
“The Board of Trustees is deeply grateful for the excellent leadership and care that Lyle and Laurie embody,” Zeigler said. “I look forward to the next two years of continued good work as we ensure the future of our mission in service to our students.”