WWU President Bruce Shepard to retire in 2016

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard will retire next year, after leading the university since 2008.

He’ll leave at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year, giving the university Board of Trustees time to conduct a national search for a new president.

“Serving Western has been a richly rewarding privilege and so this has not been an easy decision,” Shepard said in a press release. “Yet, transitions always come and, after much reflection, I believe it is time for Western and for Cyndie and me. We are deeply grateful for having the opportunity to serve Western, look forward to an exciting final year, and know that, over the years that then follow, we will always proudly be Vikings.”

Shepard is the 13th president of Western Washington University. Before coming to Western he served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay from 2001 to 2008 and as provost at Eastern Oregon University from 1995 to 2001.

Shepard’s tenure has been shaped in part by the recession and what he called “a deteriorating budget situation.”

In his first year at Western, Shepard made the decision to end the university’s football program as costs for it and other athletic programs were climbing faster than revenues.

In a 2009 press release, Shepard said “I have made this decision with a heavy heart as I am well aware of the profound consequences it has on the student-athletes on the football team, their dedicated and hard-working coaches, and on our passionate supporters on campus, in the community and region and on our alumni.”

More recently, Shepard advocated for higher education funding and in 2014 refused to offer a proposal to the state Office of Financial Management for how the university would handle a 15 percent budget cut.

Under Shepard’s leadership, Western had unprecedented success in gaining private financial support. The Western Stands for Washington fundraising campaign has raised $54 million since October 2014 and is on its way to exceeding a new goal of $60 million.

Other achievements of Shepard’s presidency include expanding Western’s outreach by creating the Western Washington University Center at Olympic College in Poulsbo, and expanding partnerships with universities in China, South Korea and Mongolia.

Shepard also sought to make the university more ethnically diverse, a topic he brought up in an opening convocation speech his first year on the job and every year after.

“If we are as white in ten years as we are today, Western will have failed as a university,” he said.

Shepard’s tenure at Western included changes to all university colleges. Notable examples include transitioning university engineering technology programs to full-fledged and accredited engineering programs and strengthening computer science to meet growing state needs in those fields, and creation of the university’s Institute for Energy Studies, which was conceived as an idea in 2010 and started offering an energy policy minor in 2012. The program now offers two bachelor’s degree programs.

Shepard is a third generation Californian and he plans to move to California after retiring, said Paul Cocke, Western Washington University communications director. Shepard’s wife Cyndie is also retiring from her position as director of the university’s Compass 2 Campus program, which encourages at-risk kids at local schools to stay in school and go on to higher education. She founded the program in 2009.

In an email to alumni, Shepard said he announced his retirement early to allow the board of trustees to prepare for the transition.

“Preparing for a presidential transition provides a unique opportunity for the people who are Western – importantly including more than 100,000 Viking alumni, donors and advocates – to consider and reassess the University’s critical mission and how that is to be best served in a significantly changing world,” he wrote in the email.

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or olazenby@bbjtoday.com

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