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Retiring President Reflects on 31 Years at William Woods University

Jahnae Barnett has a motto: The greatest risk we run is if we take no risk.

She said this to faculty members and leaders at the University of William Woods before the institution launched its now successful cohort model, bringing William Woods professors and courses to students in rural Missouri. She said it again before the former women's university took the leap to become a student


After a long career as president of the small private college in Fulton, Missouri, Barnett will take a personal risk and ask the college to take another. She announced last month that she plans to retire in December, in the middle of her 31 years as president. William Woods will seek a new president for the first time in decades.

Barnett, William Woods' first female president, will leave behind a list of accomplishments, having grown the university from an undergraduate women's college of 800 students to a coeducational university that enrolls more than 2,000 students and offers a variety of programs. graduate and undergraduate. .

His mandate is noteworthy in part because of its length. Many college presidents spend less than 10 years at a single institution. In 2016, the average tenure for a college president in their current job was 6.5 years, according to a 2017 study by the American Council on Education.

But Barnett's many years as president of William Woods were also productive. In an interview, he reflected on some of his greatest accomplishments, including establishing the LEAD Award program, which awards students up to $ 5,000 for tuition to attend cultural events. She also increased the college's endowment, eliminated the college's long-term debt, and became the first college president to open American Royal, an equestrian show in Kansas City, Missouri.

 William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri / Courtesy of William Woods University "class =" caption b-lazy "style =" width: 500px; height: 324px; float right; margin: 10px; "title =" William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. Courtesy of William Woods University "data-src =" .jpg "src =" data: image / gif; base64, R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw == "/> <strong> From a small university to an expanded university </strong></p><p> Barnett first came to William Woods as chairman of the economics department in 1973. in vice president. After 17 years in college, she was named president in 1990.</p><p> A year after her presidency, the superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf suggested that she start an American Sign Language program at William Woods. The two campuses are only one mile apart.</p><p> The American Sign Language program would help increase William Woods enrollment, but the superintendent's suggestion also paved the way for the integration of gender in college. The American Sign Language program is funded by federal dollars and, as a condition of that funding, the university was required to admit men into the program.</p><p> William Woods became a coeducate in 1996 and admitted 50 men into its incoming class that year. Barnett is still in contact with some of those graduates. One of them approached her recently.</p><p> “I was recently communicating with this young man. I was in the first group of men, ”he said. “He made shirts that said 'The Fabulous 50' and had everyone's name on the shirts. He recently wrote to me and said, "Do you still have that shirt on, Dr. Barnett?" I said yes. "</p><p> The university's decision to admit men was not financially motivated and it was not an enrollment game, Barnett said. It was about creating a social college experience for William Woods students in Fulton. Despite being the largest city in Callaway County, Fulton is home to fewer than 13,000 people.</p><p> "I had a lot of conversations with young people, young women, who didn't really have a social life," Barnett said. "If we had been in St. Louis or Washington or New York, we could have done it that way, but in a small community, they didn't have a social life."</p><p> The decision was surprisingly good, she said. he only received an inappropriate response to the news. He had received further rejection after converting the faculty into a university three years earlier.</p><p> "[Alumnae] we were afraid that we would become a major university, like the Univers Missouri community, the University of Illinois, and that William Woods was no longer going to be this nice, small, intimate place. where we could go and get our education, ”said Barnett.</p><p> <img

“ I grew up in the south. So I understood that education is usually not accessible if you are in rural areas, ”said Barnett. "It was a bold move, but it certainly helped our enrollment."

After the cohort model, William Woods created his graduate, online, and study abroad programs. Although William Woods is a liberal arts institution, Barnett calls it a career-oriented university, and many of the university's graduate programs reflect that. William Woods graduate students can earn degrees in various areas of educational leadership, health management, and business administration. Williams Woods also participates in the Show-Me Guard Officer Leadership Development, or Show-Me GOLD program, which trains students to become members of the Missouri National Guard.

Barnett is particularly proud of the LEAD Award program, which was established in 2000. Today, the program offers a tuition discount of up to $ 5,000 for residential students and $ 2,500 for commuters attending a number of sporting events, seminars , concerts, movies, comedy shows, performances, art exhibitions and other cultural events every year. Tuition at William Woods for the 2021-22 academic year stickers at $ 25,750 before financial aid.

Barnett used to host black tie dinners as part of the LEAD program.

“I still get emails from kids who graduated years ago and they say, 'I went out to eat with my employer and I know exactly what to do because of those black tie dinners,'” he said.

 Jahnae Barnett talks to students at a black tie dinner she organized. / Courtesy of William Woods University "class =" caption b-lazy "style =" width: 500px; height: 250px; margin: 10px; float: right; "title =" Jahnae Barnett talks to students at a black tie dinner she hosted. Courtesy of William Woods University "data-src =" "src =" data: image / gif; base64, R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAAABAEAAAAAA = "/> In addition to expanding the university's academic offerings, Barnett helped improve the university's finances. During his tenure, William Woods' modest endowment increased from $ 5.7 million to $ 19.6 million dollars thanks to fundraising efforts. The university recently received a $ 2 million donation from one of its board members.</p><p> Potential donors welcome visits from college leaders, Barnett said .</p><p> "I was just cultivating relationships, and they loved what we were doing," he said. "The two previous presidents didn't travel like me."</p><p> When Barnett took office, the university had been operating in the red for several years. He quickly brought in a new CFO, who, he said, "could draw blood from a turnip." They audited all expenses and consolidated some positions after employees retired or left college.</p><p> “If a staff member retires or says they're going to move on, we don't automatically replace that person,” Barnett said. “We bring it back to the budget committee, and you really have to explain why this position cannot be incorporated or is significantly necessary for the success of the institution.”</p><p> <strong> A practical president </strong></p><p> In many ways, Barnett was a student at William Woods herself. One year, she approached the theater department to put on a community show and ended up starring in the play as a character named Violet Lampshade. He performed alongside the president of Westminster College, a liberal arts college less than a mile away from William Woods, who played a sheriff.</p><p> “I loved doing the theater production. It was fun, ”he said. "I had to wear a long black wig and a big red boa."</p><p> <img

" I felt like I should, "he said." So I went to the stables and asked a teacher who had You've been a teacher with me, can you teach me to ride? ”

Barnett took lessons with the students. In time, she became the only university president to open the American Royal and successfully went on a hike , trot, gallop, slow gait and run on a flat horse mado Copycat at the Kansas City, Missouri horse show

He has learned more than horseback riding. Each year, Barnett attends a class taught by all of William Woods' teachers.

“I would sit down and go to a communications class. I would sit down and go to an art class. And it was really just as a participating student – they knew it was coming, ”Barnett said. “I did everything I could to make myself accessible. And they really responded. ”

Being an accessible president has always been important to Barnett. She recalled a time early in her presidency when she learned that she had to work harder so that students saw her as a normal person and not as a larger-than-life university official.

“One day a student came to my door at home to deliver something, and I opened the door and she said, 'Dr. Barnett? You're in jeans, '”Barnett said. "I said, 'Oh my God, I have to correct this.'"

She brought her concern to an alumni meeting.

“I said, 'I can't get the kids to see me now. They just see me as a president in a three-piece suit, "Barnett said." And one of the students said, 'Get yourself a dog.' "

He did. That year, Barnett adopted a standard poodle. called Cognac. In blue sweatpants or jeans, he would walk with Cognac around campus and students would stop to meet him. He was also a troublemaker, he said.

"My house was on campus and the soccer field I was in front of our house. One day on the weekend, I was sitting in the back and I was in an armchair reading, and I had Cognac with me, but I guess I was not paying attention, "she said." And I heard two young people say, 'Dr. Barnett?… We're bringing Cognac back because we can't play our soccer game. Keep collecting the balls. "

 Jahnae Barnett speaks at the beginning. Courtesy of William Woods University "class =" caption b-lazy "style =" width: 300px; height: 449px; margin: 10px; float: right; "title =" Jahnae Barnett speaks at the beginning. Courtesy of William Woods University "data-src =" "src =" data: image / gif; base64, R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAEAAEAw = = "/> When asked what advice he had for his successor, Barnett focused on monitoring campus culture and communicating regularly. Barnett maintained an open door policy throughout his presidency, which he said is a one of the most effective things he ever did. If his door was open, and it often was, students, faculty, and staff could walk into his office to chat.</p><p> Barnett also convened several advisory groups. Like most university presidents, he meets with a 13-member cabinet comprised of the university's chief financial officer and vice presidents for student life, academic affairs, communications, and other areas of the university.</p><p> It meets once a month with a faculty advisory board, called the FAB, which is made up of faculty members from each major academic discipline. meets regularly with a group of students called PXX, or President 20. The students serve as an advisory council to Barnett.</p><p> People are the most important thing to Barnett.</p><p> "You have to be able to communicate, and they have to see you and they have to believe in you," he said.</p><p> Barnett plans to move to Santa Fe, N.M., after his term ends in December. You will continue to try to live by the advice you give to graduates on graduation day.</p><p> "If the rest of your life is not the best of your life, then we have failed," he tells them. "And we did not fail."</p></p></div>
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