By Bill Robinson
Not long after he became Eastern Kentucky University’s 11th president six years ago, Dr. Doug Whitlock thought the relatively new Student Services Building needed a different name.
Because services to students are designed to support their success, he asked that it be renamed the Student Success Building.
In the future, however, the building where students go for orientation, advising, financial aid and other activities critical for their success will be called the Charles D. Whitlock Student Success Building.
The permanent tribute to Whitlock’s more than 40 years of service to Eastern and its students was announced Friday evening at a dinner in his honor.
EKU Regents Chair Craig Turner was handed a large, flat package as he called for Whitlock to join him on the platform where he had delivered one of a succession of tributes.
“This is a big check,” said Turner, who as most other speakers had, laced his comments with humor.
When he and Whitlock removed the wrapping, it turned out to be an artist’s rending of the Student Success Building, illuminated at night with the new name attached.
The naming was appropriate, Turner said, because it honored Whitlock’s commitment to students’ success.
“Is there anything more important that we can do than honor the life of service of Doug Whitlock?” he said.
Counting his time as a student, the president had been associated with EKU for some 45 years, the regents chair noted. That translates into 315 dog years, he added to the audience’s amusement.
When Whitlock enrolled as an EKU student, apples and blackberries were fruits, webs were spun by spiders and only birds tweeted, which shows how far Eastern, higher education and the world had come since then, Turner observed.
“No one loves Eastern more than Doug Whitlock,” Turner said, switching to a more serious vein. As an administrator, Whitlock had served five of the 10 EKU presidents who preceded him.
Under his leadership, Eastern had achieved recognition from such national publications as U.S. News, Forbes, Military Times/Edge and G.I. Jobs as well as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Turner said.
Also during Whitlock’s tenure, the university saw completion of the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity, the EKU Center for the Arts and the first phase of the New Science Building. Eastern also began an alternative fuels technology research program.
Dr. Sheila Pressley, chair of the faculty senate, announced that the senate was recommending the regents bestow the title of president emeritus on Whitlock.
As president, Whitlock always listened to faculty, she said, and in some cases changed direction based on their advice.
State Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, an EKU graduate, said Whitlock may be the only president of a university in his hometown.
“We’re proud he was one of ours,” she said on behalf of the community.
Dr. Aaron Thompson, a former EKU administrator who is senior vice president for academic affairs with the state Council on Postsecondary Education, said Whitlock with his “gentle attitude and zest” was able to take students, faculty and administrators to levels of attainment they did not think they could reach.
Dr. Wayne Andrews, on behalf of the state's higher education community, said Whitlock’s colleagues valued his wise counsel, the institutional memory and historical perspective he possessed from his long years of service in Kentucky.
Madelyn Street, Student Government Association president and student regent, said the next president will have big shoes to fill in measuring up to Whitlock's care and concern for students.
Hardy Tribble, former president of the EKU Alumni Association, who was a senior when Whitlock was an EKU freshman, said fellow alumni appreciated his impact on their alma mater.
Eastern’s ship was listing, Tribble said, when the regents called Whitlock out of retirement to take the helm.
“They realized the person needed to right the ship was already on board,” he said.
Whitlock said the call to assume first the interim and then full presidency, came as a great surprise. The evening's tributes had been embarrassing to him and amusing to his wife, children and grandchildren, the modest Whitlock said.
He praised the three former presidents, Robert R. Martin, J.C. Powell and Hanley Funderburke whom he cited as mentors. Martin had allowed him to make mistakes as he grew under his mentoring, Whitlock said.
His rise from student to president showed that the power of maroon, the university's color, is real, he said.
Andrews was not the only college president to attend the dinner. He was joined by the University of Kentucky’s Eli Capiluto and Kentucky State’s Mary Evans Sias.
Attendees, who represented a who’s who of Richmond, paid $50 each for the dinner, all of which went toward the Doug and Joanne Whitlock Scholarship Fund. Aramark Services Dining Services covered the meal cost so that all proceeds, about $16,000, would go toward scholarships, said Dr. Skip Daugherty, Whitlock’s executive assistant and master of ceremonies for the evening.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.