Ransdell continues working on final day as president

President Gary Ransdell is still working on his final day as president of WKU after 20 years. Starting Jan 1., Ransdell will be the CEO of the Semester at Sea program. Rebekah Alvey/WKU Herald 

Rebekah Alvey

From cleaning out his office to attending events and meeting with incoming President Tim Caboni, Gary Ransdell was still getting things done on his final day as president of WKU.

During the spring semester, Ransdell ensured that he would be working as president and getting things done until midnight Friday, when he retires and his 20-year tenure as president officially ends.

Just during the summer, Ransdell signed a 20-year contract with Aramark for food service on campus; passed the FY17-18 budget; met with Gov. Matt Bevin to sign the Higher Education Performance Funding Act into law; broke ground on a new medical school campus with the University of Kentucky; and received a conditional acceptance to join the University of the Arctic, which studies environmental issues in the arctic.

“It’s been a full summer,” Ransdell said Friday morning as he reflected on his final day in office. 

Everything Ransdell accomplished over the summer were things he felt he needed to “check off before I checked out.” 

In addition to the work of a university president, Ransdell has attended scores of events and farewell ceremonies hosted by the WKU Alumni Association and various other organizations. 

It has been an emotional time, Ransdell. At other universities, transitions such as this can be a painful or difficult time, however it has been a fun and celebratory period for him. 

“It’s a little awkward that it’s all about Julie and me,” Ransdell said, referring to his wife. “It’s about a smooth, celebratory transition of leadership.”

Caboni officially inherits the title of president on Saturday. Ransdell said he has had meetings with Caboni, but intends on going through many of the different aspects of WKU to make sure he is aware of everything.

While he intends to share some insights to make Caboni’s experience successful, Ransdell said the future will be purely Caboni’s vision and he has no expectations of what will happen. 

Throughout his tenure, Ransdell said, he worked to change the university through academics, campus revitalization and increased international outreach. Out of everything, Ransdell said, most people will remember him by the physical changes on campus. 

But Randell said he is most proud of the intangible change in attitude about WKU. 

What is that change? “The increased ambition, the attitude of confidence to be bold and to become something greater, stronger and of higher quality as a university,” Ransdell said. 

When he first arrived on campus, Ransdell said, WKU was a complacent regional university. Today, he said, the university is ambitious, has a national and international scope and strives for bold goals.

“We raised our sights, and it took 20 years, but we achieved a vision,” Ransdell said.

For his final day in the president’s office, which once served as the home of WKU’s founding president Henry Hardin Cherry, Ransdell wore a blue tie with whales and boats on it. He said he thought it was most appropriate for the day, as Ransdell will become CEO of the Semester at Sea program Jan. 1 and plans to stay in that position for five years.

“It certainly won’t be a 20-year presidency,” Ransdell said with a laugh. 

He said he is excited to continue his passion for global learning with new students and faculty every semester. The position is a chance to pursue his love of travelling, learning other cultures, global issues and global solutions.

Ransdell said he will also enjoy the challenges of the position, such as of balancing the large budget, recruiting students and faculty, and making sure the ship stays out of weather and geopolitical danger. 

After his time at Semester at Sea, Ransdell intends to return to Bowling Green and be an active volunteer and alumnus. He said while they grew up in Louisville, he and Julie have always intended to settle here.

Ransdell said Bowling Green has been shaped by the spirit and energy of the university and he has worked to strengthen the city as much as WKU.

“Bowling Green is our home,” Ransdell said.