BLUFFTON - Bluffton University's first female president announced yesterday that she plans to retire at the end of the 2005-2006 school year.
Lee Snyder, 64, became president of the former Bluffton College in 1996, marking the first time a woman had been named president of any Mennonite college or university.
A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon and James Madison University in Virginia, Ms. Snyder said it seemed like the right time to retire for her personally and for the university.
"Bluffton is at such a good place," she said. "It's growing. We have some exciting new programs. We have strengthened our academic program. All kinds of new things have happened. It seemed to me it's time for the next leader to take Bluffton to a new level."
University officials said the 1,100-student liberal arts school grew tremendously during Ms. Snyder's tenure. The college, which was renamed Bluffton University last year, has had record enrollment for the last three years. It now offers master's degree programs in education, organizational management, and business administration and offers classes off-campus in Archbold and Piqua, Ohio.
Bluffton's assets grew from $20.2 million in 1996 to $36.1 million in 2004.
Its operating budget has increased from $16.6 million to a projected $30.2 million for the next school year.
"President Snyder has led Bluffton University during a period of unprecedented growth and vitality with much grace, wisdom, and vision," Morris Stutzman, chairman of Bluffton's board of trustees, said in a statement. "From the beginning of her presidency, she reminded us of the vision of the early founders and encouraged us 'to expect great things.' "
The university recently built an academic center as part of a $16.5 million capital campaign and spent $5.65 million to expand the student center and renovate other academic facilities.
Ms. Snyder credited Bluffton's "close-knit residential community" with enabling the college to face tragedies that have occurred over the years, including an arson at a women's dormitory that injured 14 students in 1998 and the collapse of a scaffold during a high school band camp on campus the same year that injured 10 students and two adults.
"Those really difficult things happen," Ms. Snyder said. "We lost a student this spring in a car accident. Those are very indelible experiences for students. We always pull together and try to be there for one another."
Ms. Snyder said it was difficult to know whether she had brought a different perspective to Bluffton as its first woman president.
"I know that my own leadership philosophy is to work as a member of a team so this is not about a single person," she said. "This is about an extraordinary leadership team that I've been working with."
After her retirement, Ms. Snyder said she and her husband plan to move to Virginia to be close to their two daughters.
Bluffton's board of trustees plans to form a search committee consisting of representatives of the Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite church conferences as well as faculty, alumni, students, and members of the local community to select her successor.
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