BOWLING GREEN -- In his final convocation address as Western Kentucky University's president, Dr. Gary A. Ransdell reflected on the past 19 years and asked WKU faculty and staff to "join me for the last chapter."

"We will get a lot done over the next 10 months," Dr. Ransdell told WKU faculty and staff at Friday's opening convocation.

Dr. Ransdell said he would focus on the following projects as he completes 20 years as president: defining a performance funding model for higher education in Kentucky; bringing a University of Kentucky Medical School to Bowling Green as part of a growing partnership between WKU, UK and The Medical Center of Bowling Green; addressing student persistence and retention; embarking on a $120 million upgrade of WKU residence halls; and awarding a new dining contract that would include renovation of the Garrett Conference Center.

"As I indicated in my campus message last January when I announced my retirement, I intend to quicken my pace and double up my efforts to achieve as much as possible before turning the reins over to my successor on July 1, 2017," Dr. Ransdell said. "I commit to you, each one of you, my total effort until then. I have every intention of presenting my successor with an institution which has a stable enrollment, high academic quality, a rebuilt campus, good positioning in a state performance funding model and a campus ready to launch its next capital campaign."

In looking back at WKU's transformation, Dr. Ransdell noted the following: investing nearly $1 billion in rebuilding the campus; raising more than $300 million in two capital campaigns and reaching a record $23 million in annual giving this past year; growing enrollment from 14,000 to 20,000; growing the university budget from $130 million to more than $400 million; adding engineering degrees, doctoral degree programs and online programs; establishing The Gatton Academy and the Honors College; and internationalizing the WKU experience.

"By any account, we are a more vibrant, civically engaged, high energy, ambitious and progressive institution than the complacent institution we inherited 19 years ago," he said. "We are not without our challenges today, but my successor will inherit a campus with momentum and quality -- and one which is poised to face the needs of a new generation of students."

Dr. Ransdell said everyone in the WKU family can take pride in the University's transformation and accomplishments.

"When Commencement occurs next May," he said, "the thing I will take the most pride in is the fact that more than 50 percent of the living alumni of this university have graduated during my presidency. That's some 60,000 degrees awarded since 1997."

He encouraged faculty and staff to join him for the last chapter over the next 10 months and to embrace and sustain the WKU Spirit that has been a unique feature of the university's 110-year history.

"I challenged you 19 years ago to help build a university for the ages," he said. "I actually believe we've done that."

Dr. Ransdell also thanked past chairs and current members of the Board of Regents and members of the Administrative Council for their support during his tenure.

He offered a heartfelt thank you to his wife, Julie, for her dedication and service to the campus community and to their family.

"This job has always been about WKU for both of us," Dr. Ransdell said. "This is where Julie and I wanted to be, where our passions have been and will always be."

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