BOWLING GREEN — Even with a broken ankle, Carol Cartwright has kept up the relentless pace that has marked her three years as president of Bowling Green State University.
“She’s a human dynamo,” quipped Col. John Moore, Jr., chairman of BGSU’s board of trustees.
The university’s 10th president, who officially retires at the end of the month, is credited with giving student recruitment and retention a badly needed jumpstart, creating a master plan to update the physical campus including the construction of two new residence halls and two new dining centers that open this fall, among other initiatives.
In a wheelchair after snapping two bones in her ankle during a trip to China in April, Ms. Cartwright is to address trustees at her final board meeting Friday morning.
“I was consistently amazed at President Cartwright’s energy level,” said Kristine Blair, former chairman of the Faculty Senate. “She just was someone who could always seem to get it all done.”
Ms. Cartwright says she ready to get a little less done.
“I just had my 70th birthday. My husband’s a little older,” she said. “It’s time for us to have more time.”
A longtime president at Kent State University and the first female president of a state university in Ohio, Ms. Cartwright retired from Kent State in 2006 then was tapped by BGSU trustees to serve as interim president upon the departure of Sidney Ribeau in the summer of 2008.
She didn’t intend to be at BGSU for long, but she said she’s glad she stayed.
“I am thrilled that it worked out this way because we have been able to accomplish a great deal with a good team of people,” Ms. Cartwright said Thursday during an interview in her office just prior to a campus-wide reception for her.
Colonel Moore doesn’t need prompting to list Ms. Cartwright’s accomplishments.
Under her tenure, the university turned around several years of enrollment declines, he said, signing up one of the largest freshman classes in its history last fall. This fall, officials expect an even larger number of freshmen.
In the past year, BGSU has undertaken its largest construction effort to date with some $200 million in projects under way. While the Wolfe Center for the Arts and the new Stroh Center were planned before her arrival, Ms. Cartwright came in and immediately went to work on a revamp of residence halls.
Of course, there was also that nationwide economic downturn to deal with.
“She was here during some very interesting times with the troubled economy and state assistance to universities in question,” Colonel Moore said. “She did an excellent job of moving the university into a position where it was well-postured for the future.”
That certainly wasn’t easy.
Ms. Cartwright names the budget crisis among the biggest challenges she faced, dealing with it among the hardest decisions she had to make as president. The university made cuts – including layoffs, furloughs, and an early separation program for employees — while at the same time it began investing in areas like student recruitment in order to reap long-term benefits.
“We’ve had to downsize a lot of areas that are not as core to the academic mission so that we could add in areas that are central to delivering on the mission, and we know that those decisions touch people’s lives,” she said.
“You cannot cut your way to prosperity,” Ms. Cartwright added. “You have to be cutting in some areas deeper in order to free up resources so you can invest.”
She was disappointed that BGSU faculty voted, under her watch, to join the American Association of University Professors.
“I was unable to persuade them to give us a longer chance,” Ms. Cartwright said. “We were well aware of the issues they were concerned about and we were concerned about them too…We felt that we were moving on improvements and if we had had a few more years we would’ve been able to demonstrate that.”
David Jackson, president of the BGSU Faculty Association, said the vote to unionize was not a vote against the president.
“For us it was never about personalities or individuals. It was never personal,” he said. “This had to do with the faculty — no matter who the administration was — wanting to strengthen their voice over their work life.”
When her job is completed next Thursday, Ms. Cartwright said she and her husband, Phillip, will move back to their home in Kent, Ohio. She plans to retain her seat on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the board of directors for National Public Radio as well the boards of First Energy, KeyCorp, and PolyOne Corp.
And, while Ms. Cartwright said she expects to continue her involvement in higher education — part-time or even as a volunteer — “I have a feeling I’m going to be in rehab for a while,” she said with a laugh.
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