Provost plans to preserve the university history through new title

David Lee, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, was named University Historian by President Gary Ransdell. The title will go into effect once Lee steps down from his role as provost. Kathryn Ziesig/HERALD

Rebekah Alvey

WKU Provost David Lee has been named the first official university historian by President Gary Ransdell. 

The position was announced in an email from Ransdell to WKU faculty and staff June 19. In the email, Ransdell said the last record of the university’s history was completed in 1986 by Lowell Harrison, a history professor at WKU. 

“Universities have their own story,” Lee said. “That isn’t going to be collected, preserved or shared if somebody doesn’t take initiative and responsibility to make sure that happens.”

Lee came to WKU in 1975 as an assistant professor of History. From there, Lee served from 1992 to 2015 as dean of the Potter College before being appointed as provost.

After many years in administrative roles, the project is a “recentering” for Lee and a way to return to his academic roots. 

“I set out to become a university history professor,” Lee said with a laugh. “I never set out to be a provost.” 

After 40 years at WKU Lee said he has a strong commitment here and the university has been a place of opportunity which makes the project important to Lee. 

University historians are not present on every college campus and has never been an official title at WKU. There are archives and Lee said there have been two previous records of the university history. 

“I simply think it’s a good practice for a university to have someone designated to preserving its past.” 

Lee said in the position he hopes to document a complete picture of WKU and describe multiple facets of the university. He said several university records are “bureaucratic” and only document presidents at the institution.

Lee intends to add a faculty and staff perspective to his account of WKU as well as the everyday student life. On a more broad scope, Lee said he hopes to show how WKU has fit into a larger change with comprehensive universities across the country. 

To achieve this goal, Lee said he will conduct oral interviews with past presidents, employees in athletics and technology installation, members of Board of Regents, faculty leaders and past presidents of the Student Government Association.

“I want to capture some of the nitty gritty of faculty, staff and student life,” Lee said.

In addition to oral interviews and records the archives will be useful in putting together the history. Because of the strength of the photojournalism department, Lee said the visual record of WKU is particularly strong. 

“We have had a fleet of undergraduate photographers snapping pictures of things for decades,” Lee said. 

Lee said there has been a lot of growth within the university and he is particularly interested to explore the changes in academic offerings and how technology drives higher education.

Lee said he hopes to share the history in a book but believes there needs to be other formats and deciding the best formats is part of the challenge of the position. 

Lee announced that he would stay on as provost throughout the leadership transition in Aug. 2016 but has already started working on the university’s history. Lee said he doesn’t plan on staying as provost much longer and will devote all his time to the history once he has stepped down.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].