John E. Klein
The Student Center officially opened in February 2013.
The cheering crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder, filling the lobby of Main Hall as Randolph President John E. Klein handed the giant scissors to Student Government President Zara Sibtain ’13. Smiling, they cut the ribbon together, officially opening the College’s new Student Center to the campus community.
The completion of the alumnae-funded $6 million renovation in February was a historic moment in the life of the College—a moment many believed best symbolized the College’s positive emergence from a very difficult transition to coeducation.
“What a difference six and a half years can make,” said Becky Morrison Dunn ’70, chair of the Board of Trustees, about the day of the Student Center dedication. “On this date, everyone on campus was enthusiastic about our College and optimistic about its future. This Student Center is a tangible symbol of the transformation that has happened since the coed decision.”
Randolph’s journey through the transition was not an easy one, nor was it without conflict, controversy, and upheaval. But looking back, Board members are confident it was necessary to ensure the College’s future.
John E. Klein stands in the Michels Plaza in front of the Student Center.
“The past years will be seen as one of the most critical periods in the history of the College,” Peter Dean, a member of the Board of Trustees, said recently. “We faced up to the fact that the College was not doing as well as it could, and we made the necessary decisions to implement changes and sustain the institution for the future.”
Trustees have credited Klein, who will retire in June after serving the College since 2007, for leaving a legacy of renewal, growth, capital improvements, and optimism about the College’s future. “John Klein did more than lead this College through the transition,” said Lucy Williams Hooper ’73, trustee emerita and chair of the Board from 2007–2012. “He really built a foundation upon which the institution could grow and thrive.”
‘It felt like the perfect storm’
Jolley Bruce Christman ’69 delivers the news of the 2006 decision to admit men.
William Waugh Smith, frustrated with Randolph- Macon College’s refusal to admit women, founded Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 1891 as a way to provide women with the same educational opportunities as men. Over the years, R-MWC built a reputation as one of the premier women’s colleges in the South. In the ’70s, however, the dynamics of higher education began to change as formerly all-male institutions across the nation opened their doors to women.
During the decades that followed, maintaining enrollment became increasingly difficult, especially for an all-female college in a small city. In an effort to increase enrollment numbers, R-MWC provided students with a higher amount of financial aid, which substantially decreased the institution’s operating revenues. The result was an endowment draw far above what was considered prudent or sustainable.
The market for a single-sex education was dwindling, and more students were transferring away from the College to attend larger, coed schools near metropolitan areas.
In 2003, the College underwent an extensive strategic planning process aimed at finding a way to maintain R-MWC’s single sex status and put it on a sustainable fiscal path. In 2005, when the results from the strategic planning process revealed the College’s future as a single- sex institution was grim, the Board began to explore coeducation. After a year of focused study, the Board announced on September 9, 2006, its decision to change the course of R-MWC’s history—a move the Board, which was comprised mostly of alumnae, made reluctantly.
“It was a very somber moment in the life of the College,” remembered Dunn. “We knew it was the only decision we could make in order to give the College the chance to survive. But there were tears in our eyes.”
Students boycott classes in protest of the Board’s pending coeducation vote
Following President Kathleen Gill Bowman’s retirement in June 2006, Virginia Hill Worden ’69 was chosen to serve as interim president. During the 2006–07 academic year, committees worked diligently to prepare for the transition—even while the on- campus and off-campus communities were in upheaval.
The year was marred by controversy, including protests, strikes, and a constant barrage of negative media as students and alumnae voiced anger over the decision. Lawsuits were filed to challenge the coed decision, opening up a drawn-out legal battle.
When the Board chose Randolph College as the new name of the institution, the decision complicated already tenuous relationships with alumnae and created marketing problems associated with recruiting students to an unknown school.
In the midst of the challenges, the College’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)—scheduled to be on campus in the early fall to review a new master’s program—notified the College that it would also conduct a special review of the College’s finances. At the end of 2006, SACS placed the College on warning for financial reasons.
Students and alumnae protest the coed decision in 2006.
“It is going to end up being one of the most essential turning points
in the history of the College.” – Peter Dean, Board of Trustees
R-MWC had to convince SACS to lift the warning, fight two lawsuits about going coed, deal with ongoing strife on campus, prepare for a new name, repair damaged relations with alumnae, decide how to significantly increase the endowment, and recruit the first coed class— all while finding a new president willing to take on the daunting problems.
“It seemed as if I had been training for this job my whole life.”
“You could say it felt like the perfect storm,” said Trustee Peter Dean. “But I also felt like it was a storm that we had to get through and that we knew would pass. It is going to end up being one of the most essential turning points in the history of the College.”
Klein arrived on campus in August 2007, just three days before the first coed class. He knew there were challenges ahead but felt that he and his wife, Susan, could make a difference. “It seemed as if I had been training for this job my whole life,” Klein said.
A 1967 graduate of Princeton University, Klein earned a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Prior to coming to Randolph, Klein worked as a teacher in Beirut, Lebanon, as a lawyer for a New York law firm, as an international business executive for 28 years, including 18 years as CEO, and as chief operating officer for Washington University in St. Louis. He also served on the boards of two independent girls’ schools, one of which merged with a boys’ school during his board term.
The College’s trustees felt that Klein’s experiences and strengths well-prepared him to lead Randolph.
In December 2006, College leaders revealed R-MWC’s new name.
“John Klein was the right person to be president of Randolph College, and we were lucky enough to bring him here,” said Susan Braselton Fant ’84, a member of the Board. “His business background was essential to help us understand where we were and where we had to go. He was able to make the tough decisions and get us where we needed to be to achieve financial sustainability and to help the College grow for the long term.”
‘The future of the College was at stake’
Klein knew he had his work cut out for him. Responding to the SACS accreditation warning topped the list. “It was a matter of survival,” Klein said. “There was so much we had to do in a short amount of time. The future of the College was at stake.”
As Klein focused on the report to SACS, which was due three weeks after he arrived, the community had to adjust to a new name and the addition of men on campus.
For the next three years, Randolph’s close community would be divided, with some students who had enrolled under the single-sex R-MWC and others who came to the coed Randolph. The controversy and worldwide economic meltdown created multiple challenges for the admissions office. Instead of increasing as hoped, enrollment initially dropped.
Meanwhile, the Board searched for a way to increase the endowment, which would place the College on a firmer financial footing and also ease the concerns of SACS. After nearly a year of trying to find alternative solutions, in October 2007, Board members finally decided to sell four pieces of the College’s extensive art collection. While the specific works were chosen to limit the negative impact on the cohesiveness of the collection, the inclusion of the beloved Men of the Docks by George Bellows escalated problems for Randolph. Alumnae, staff, faculty, and students saw the decision as another loss.
Randolph’s first coed class wore shirts proclaiming, “I am proud of the W.”
The group spearheading the litigation over the coed decision joined forces with those angry about the sale of art, and another lawsuit was filed. Although the College planned a November auction of the four paintings, a surprising decision by the Virginia Supreme Court allowed the plaintiffs to file an injunction preventing the sale of the paintings. The lawsuit was dropped a few months later, and one painting was sold, but by then, the economic meltdown in 2008 had undermined the art markets, and Randolph’s opportunity to gain the most value for the artwork disappeared. Plans remain in effect to sell the remaining three paintings when the American art market allows.
Klein took much of the heat for these decisions, along with members of the Board. “Through it all, you had to keep listening to our constituents and to keep reminding yourself that even though we may be on different sides of the issues, we all shared a deep love of the institution,” Hooper said.
The focus of Klein’s leadership became the phrase, “continuous improvement.” “If you are going to raise the bar, you can’t keep doing the same things the same way,” Klein said. “Every day, we had to ask ourselves, ‘How can we do things better?’”
Change, he added, is hard at any level. And one of Randolph’s biggest obstacles was facing many changes all at once. “It creates fear and uncertainty,” Klein said. “There was so much to be done, and not everyone agreed with all of the changes we were going through. It made making progress even more difficult.”
But the efforts soon began to pay off with significant improvements. In December 2007, SACS lifted its financial warning. The following June, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Randolph’s favor on the two coed-based lawsuits, which had been appealed to the higher court.
In 2008, a new Facilities Master Plan was adopted, which provided the framework for current and future physical plant needs. The new plan, which was created by a committee of faculty, staff, and students, was crucial for the College as it planned for its future as a growing coeducational institution.
“Creation of a campus plan shows that the College is looking to the future and is managing its resources prudently,” said Rick Barnes, a Randolph psychology and environmental studies professor and chair of the Master Plan Steering Committee.
A legacy of success
John and Susan Klein pose with several Davenport Leaders during a first-year Orientation session.
Careful and strategic long-term planning became a guiding force for the College, and life on campus grew more positive with each passing year. By 2010, Randolph was on an upward trajectory and seeing important progress in all areas of campus, including enrollment and giving. Though finances were still limited, the College’s administration began strategically investing available resources into projects and programs that would increase enrollment and reap the biggest reward for the College. The College adopted a new mission statement in 2010 and updated its Strategic Plan in 2011.
During its regular review by SACS—five years after being put on financial warning —Randolph received full reaffirmation of its 10-year accreditation in 2011, meeting or exceeding every requirement for academic quality, financial stability, student life programming and retention, and athletics and fundraising initiatives.
Building for the future
The $6 million Student Center renovation has transformed campus life since opening in February.
Despite limited resources, Klein’s tenure brought major improvements to the College’s campus and facilities. A new field and track stadium and new tennis courts were built, and major landscaping enhancements were made throughout campus. The main floor of the library received an extensive renovation, including the creation of a consolidated Academic Services Center.
Main Hall lobby and corridors were also rejuvenated with new paint, furnishings, and other touches. Other improvements included moving the Campus Store onto campus to a newly renovated space near the dining hall. That renovation also included the creation of Caldwell Commons.
Enrollment increases and the anticipated additional future growth have prompted the College to address residence hall needs. Last summer, the College began renovating residence halls, including the installation of air conditioning, new furniture, and other amenities. In addition, the Fitzgerald Global Community Center was created in Bell Hall. Randolph also recently purchased a nearby apartment complex, which will be renovated and opened to students in the fall of 2014. Except for the debt that funded the new field and track stadium, the financial support of alumnae made these improvements possible without causing the College to incur additional debt.
“This has always been a beautiful campus, but it looks better now than it has during any time I have seen it,” Peter Dean said. “I’ve been amazed at what we have been able to accomplish on an extremely difficult budget while also cutting costs.”
By far, the most significant improvement to campus was the renovated Student Center, which opened in February 2013 after a 20-month renovation.
Fundraising efforts led by Klein secured the $6 million necessary to complete a transformational project that included large gathering spaces, a second floor dedicated to student entertainment, additional conference rooms, a theatre, and a two-level fitness center.
John and Susan Klein stroll through the newly finished Michels Plaza outside the Student Center.
The entire project was funded by a small group of alumnae and their families. Trustee Mary Michels Scovanner ’77 provided the funds for brick walkways and an outdoor plaza, complete with a fountain and ampitheatre seating, which has helped to dramatically change the appearance of the College’s back campus.
“We have this fabulous new Student Center that nobody even dreamed was possible,” said Don Giles, a trustee. “John went out and pretty much single handedly raised most of the money. This facility has brought every part of campus together.”
Bobby Bennett, the College’s director of capital projects, said Klein’s tenure will be known for the improvements to facilities made under his leadership. “Education-wise, our faculty and academic program have always put us in the top tier,” he said. “Now we are bringing our facilities up to meet those same standards.”
Changes to the campus environment have gone beyond buildings, added Bennett, who has served the College for 17 years.
“We’re leaps and bounds from where we were,” he said. “It’s a different environment. Instead of feeling like we are going to keep struggling to make it, everybody sees that we are making it. We are moving forward. Randolph is a good place to be, and that says a lot about how far we’ve come.”
A commitment to the liberal arts
Marian van Noppen ‘12 performs in a Randolph musical.
Academically, Randolph has been able to strengthen its offerings while maintaining a deep commitment to the liberal arts and to an individualized focus.
Randolph’s mission statement, adopted in 2010, reflects the institution’s rich heritage as R-MWC and commitment to providing the educational experience needed by tomorrow’s students: “Randolph College prepares students to engage the world critically and creatively, live and work honorably, and experience life abundantly.”
New majors and minors were created, the business program was expanded, some existing curricula were revamped, and new faculty members were hired. A Bachelor of Fine Arts degree was added, and the master’s program in education has experienced dramatic growth.
Randolph continued to enhance its liberal arts programs to help students cultivate opportunities for careers and graduate study. In 2012, the College organized the Center for Student Research and the Center for Ancient Drama to promote research, the Greek Play, and other hands-on learning experiences.
Randolph’s fine arts program has also grown. The dance program continues its long tradition of bringing successful visiting artists to Randolph, and the theatre program has begun producing more shows, including musicals.
Members of Songshine and Voices perform the school song at the 2013 Commencement.
Students continue to excel in art, even curating an entire exhibition at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College in 2012. The College has continued to purchase important pieces of art for its collection. In addition, the music program has begun a new chamber orchestra that performs with professional orchestra members.
As has been the norm for 122 years, the College continues to place an emphasis on community. Students are encouraged to pursue their passions, and the close relationships with faculty and staff help facilitate this.
The commitment to students has not gone unnoticed. In addition to regularly being recognized by national guidebooks for its outstanding educational program, Randolph was recently ranked first in the nation for the accessibility of its professors by Newsweek.
Preserving the ‘essence of R-MWC’
Reassuring and reconnecting alumnae who were worried about how life would change on campus became an immediate priority for the College after the coed decision. The Kleins put a special emphasis on alumnae relationship building and traveled to 75 chapter events across the United States during their tenure, often coordinating these visits to include stops at nearby independent schools to meet college counselors and prospective students.
Klein talks with alumnae and a staff member during the 2013 Reunion.
“Both John and Susan spent countless hours visiting alumnae around the country and devoted many weekends to alumnae and alumni events on campus,” said Heather Ayers Garnett ’86, the College’s director of alumnae and alumni. “It speaks volumes about how invested they are in our alumnae and alumni and our entire community. Alumnae and alumni have recognized their devotion to the College and have responded by sending hundreds of letters of thanks to the Kleins, not just recently for John’s retirement, but during their entire tenure.”
The College also increased efforts to connect with younger alumnae and alumni, and a new program started a tradition of class banners and special class events to engage students while they are still on campus. While Reunion is still the largest event, a new fall Homecoming is now drawing an increasing number of alumnae and alumni.
“The campus looks better,” Garnett said. “It feels more energetic and more like the community we’ve had in the past. There’s a sense of optimism among faculty, staff, students, and alumnae.”
“This is an institution poised to move forward, to take charge, and to continue to provide
vita abundantior to all of our students.”
- Cathy Greer ’73, Board of Trustees Chair
Jan Meriwether, vice president for institutional advancement, said the Kleins’ impact on Randolph extends beyond financial stability. “John and Susan’s passion for our students and programs is contagious and has helped John be amazingly successful at encouraging and motivating our constituents to be incredibly generous,” she said. “Their hard work has helped strengthen Randolph and put us on the right path to meet our long-term goals.”
While some things have changed during the transition, alumnae returning to campus often find the things they loved about R-MWC, including the traditions, friendships, faculty relationships, and challenging academics, remain a vital part of campus life. “I hope over the next 10 to 20 years, people who were disenchanted or angry will be able to see that the essence of R-MWC has been preserved and enhanced in Randolph College,” said Cathy Greer ’73, a Board member. “I certainly see that and could not be prouder of this College. This is an institution poised to move forward, to take charge, and to continue to provide vita abundantior to all of our students.”
The life more abundant
The addition of men to Randolph’s campus brought new athletic teams for men and women. During the spring of 2007, coaches had to convince students to be pioneers and take a chance on fledgling programs. The hard work and strict standards Randolph’s coaches set for their teams during those early years continue to pay off for both men’s and women’s teams.
Capital improvements like WildCat Stadium and the new Student Center have significantly improved the aesthetics of back campus.
“When students decide to play at the D-III level, they know they are students first and athletes second,” said Alexis Wagner, the head women’s lacrosse coach. “The work in the classroom has a direct impact on their playing time as well as their participation in practice. When you are building a program, you have to start with that culture and maintain that culture as you get more competitive.”
Men’s soccer, men’s basketball, and women’s softball have all made championship runs. Soccer made history in 2011 by winning the ODAC championship and earning a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16 bracket. Two coaches also received ODAC Coach of the Year honors.
“Our coaches make sure our students know that academics come first, and they help them build the skills they need to manage a competitive athletic schedule and a rigorous academic program,” Klein said. “The coaches set the bar high for their athletes. They knew the type of student they wanted to recruit, and they put together teams that have defied the odds.”
Men now make up about 37 percent of Randolph’s student body, and enrollment has grown. Klein expects enrollment to be about 700 students in fall 2013 for the first time since coeducation. The goal is for enrollment to continue heading toward the 1,100-student goal in the coming years.
Randolph students are as serious about academics as their R-MWC sisters, but the coed environment has also created a more energetic campus. “Students are more visible and livelier,” Dean said. “When one walks into the dining hall, there is a perceptible and audible buzz of noise and conversation. We have gone from a College that was a suitcase school to a College where students ask, ‘Why would anyone want to leave on weekends?’ This is exactly what we wanted.”
Over the past six years, students have been the driving force behind the emergence or revitalization of many organizations on campus. For instance, students grew the Organic Garden into an integral part of campus, created a fair-trade coffee shop called the Red Door, brought the College’s radio station, WWRM, back to life, and formed Voices, a coed a cappella group, to complement Songshine, the long-time female a cappella group.
Being involved in student life has been a treasured part of the Kleins’ daily life on campus. The couple made a point of attending as many performances, athletic competitions, and other events as possible. The involvement did not go unnoticed. “Last year we gave them the Spectator-of-the-Year award for always being there to support our students and our school,” said Jake Hood ’14, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “They were always there cheering us on.”
Part of the challenge of Klein’s presidency was honoring the College’s history while also preparing it for the future. “It was a mixture of staying true to what was important and moving on to what will be the future of the College,” Dean said.
View of the Student Center from the Michels Plaza.
Recent graduates are grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of the College’s history. “Randolph gave me opportunities that, still to this day, I’m surprised I was able to take advantage of,” said Carl Coffey ’11, a member of the first fully coed class. “The close-knit environment that women had cherished at R-MWC naturally transitioned to Randolph after the coed switch. Things started off rocky, but by graduation, my classmates and peers had become some of my closest friends.”
Though he and his classmates sometimes grumbled about the small classes which made it “hard to hide,” Coffey now sees what he gained. “Had I gone to a larger institution, it would have made it more difficult to get the one-on-one attention and the ability to connect with professors who realized my potential and made a point to give me tough love and hard discipline when I needed it,” he said.
For students like Zara Sibtain ’13, the College’s history as a woman’s college added an unexpected bonus. “The traditions we have on this campus help us bond, not only with our own class but with all the classes,” she said. “It’s a bond that you form for a lifetime. What has made this place so special to me is our community and how connected we are with everyone, not just students but with faculty and staff. You form these relationships, and that’s what you value the most.”
It was important to the Board of Trustees, especially those who were alumnae, that the spirit of R-MWC remain alive and well at Randolph College.
“Just as R-MWC was before it, Randolph College is about teaching students to live the life more abundant,” Hooper said. “Our motto still rings true, and I don’t think it could be any more perfect.”
A new chapter begins
John and Susan Klein
With the transition to coeducation finally complete, Randolph is prepared for the next stage of its journey. “Between the lawsuits, the accreditation warning, the recession, and the effort required to bring a fractured community back together, those early years were extremely difficult for all of us,” Klein said. “But they are behind us now, and Randolph is in a different place and experiencing growth and positive momentum. I am proud of where we are today. We still have work to do, but I have full confidence in our future.”
The challenges Randolph faced created a difficult presidency, but Klein was able to be successful, trustees said. “When we look at his multiple accomplishments, John will be one of the most, if not the most, distinguished presidents that we will have had,” Fant said.
In 2012, Klein announced his decision to retire at the end of June 2013, and the Board of Trustees began a presidential search. In February, the Board named Bradley W. Bateman, provost at Denison University, as the president-elect.
During the announcement, the Board paid tribute to Klein for turning the College around. “We would not be here today without John Klein,” Dunn told the audience. “Klein’s legacy,” she added recently, “will forever be that he led the College through the dark times and set a bright course for the future of the College.”