By Stephanie Bauer, News Editor
When Rod Smolla announced his retirement this spring, Carl Kohrt received what he referred to as “the famous phone call” asking him to step in as president. As Kohrt remembers it, the first thing he did was call his wife.
Their decision: “It’s Furman. Of course we’ll make it work.”
Originally from Illinois, Dr. Kohrt was recruited in 1961 to play football at Furman. After playing for a year, he decided to become a chemistry major, but since being a student athlete at that time was especially difficult, Kohrt said he chose to leave team and focus on chemistry.
Kohrt graduated magna cum laude in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Soon after he married his hometown his friend, Lynne.
Kohrt went on to earn a master’s degree in management science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago. He then worked at the Eastman Kodak Company for 29 years, retiring as executive vice president, but later came out of retirement to serve as president and CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit trust. Kohrt retired from Battelle after seven years.
Since his graduation from Furman, Kohrt has remained close with the university. Aside from many generous donations to the school’s science program, he was a longtime member of the Board of Trustees and served as its chair for two years. One of his three sons also graduated from the university.
When President Smolla announced his retirement, the Furman University Board of Trustees unanimously elected Dr. Kohrt to be interim president. He came out of retirement one more time to take the job.
“My goal always has been, as an alum, donor, and now the president, to help the university — and help its students—be as successful as it can possibly be,” Kohrt said.
Kohrt said his goal as interim president is to more or less “keep the ship steady.”
“We value excellence,” he said. “[I’m] focused on continuing the excellence.”
Kohrt said that one way he plans to improve Furman during his time as president is by “recruiting another class of students that will be diverse and do well at Furman.”
“If I have one thing to focus on it will be that Furman wins in the marketplace of hearts and minds of students and parents,” he said.
The Board of Trustees formed a search committee in June to handle the process of hiring the next president, and the committee will have its first meeting this week.
The last time Furman had a presidential transition was after David Shi retired. Because he gave warning, the search could happen in his final year as president so it was completed by the time he retired. This time, Furman needed an interim president in order to take enough time to do a proper search.
“[The Board of Trustees wanted to] put someone in who can give us some time and breathing room to make good decisions,” said Connie Carson, Vice President for Student Life and a member of the search committee. “[Selecting Kohrt] allows us to continue the momentum of current projects. And he already knew the campus.”
The last time an interim president was needed was after the presidency of Robert Daniel in the 1930s. John Plyler acted as interim president, and after one year, he took on the full-time job.
So is Kohrt the right man for the permanent job?
“I’m not an academic, but I don’t know that the president has to be,” said Kohrt. “They just have to be respectful of knowledge. I’m not competing with the faculty.”
While Kohrt appears excited about the prospects for the year ahead, he said he didn’t apply for the permanent position.
“The university has Lynne’s and my commitment for as long as they need us, period,” said Kohrt. “But not longer than five years.”