By Bryan Betts, Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Carl Kohrt had already retired twice when he agreed to become Furman’s interim president last spring, and with Dr. Elizabeth Davis set to assume the presidency this summer, the former businessman from the class of 1965 is preparing to hang up his hat once more.
Kohrt’s departure from his leadership role will mark the end of an eventful transitional period that Kohrt described in an interview with The Paladin as a time in which the university has had to address financial realities while reassessing the institution’s identity and purpose.
“I think it’s been a year of some confidence building and some consistency of purpose,” Kohrt said.
“I think we were uncertain about what the institution stood for, in the sense of: Is it all athletics? Is it all academics? And also, what is the relationship to the community?”
Kohrt said that the year has been a learning process for him as he’s attempted to translate his experience as a business executive for the Eastman Kodak Company and Battelle Memorial Institute to addressing the challenges of higher education.
His goal, Kohrt said, has been to be transparent with students, faculty, and staff, in particular as the university has discussed the sustainability of its financial model following the announcement of a multimillion dollar budget deficit.
“[The president’s] office isn’t some mysterious place where decisions, uniformed or otherwise, are made without input,” Kohrt said. “I like to think that this reestablished the administration.”
Kohrt argued in particular that the university needs to be more disciplined about deciding which programs and initiatives to pursue. He also said the university can do a better job of distinguishing itself to prospective students and their families while noting that faculty have been increasingly active in talking to and recruiting prospective students.
“Imposing a little bit of more discipline on the processes that we do anyway,” Kohrt said. “I was surprised by the lack of some of that.”
“We think of it as an educational institution, but it’s a service business. I don’t mean that in any demeaning way, but there’s a way of thinking about how intensely personal higher education is.”
Kohrt has continued to serve on the Board of Trustees as interim president and will remain on the Board for another year to complete his term. He listed several items that are on the university’s agenda in the near future, including continuing to improve enrollment, marketing, and financial aid strategies.
He noted as well that the university has had a plan for some time to refurbish the residence halls, which he acknowledged is a “topic of angst amongst students right now.” Furman is not going to build dormitories, Kohrt said, but has nonetheless been saving money so that the university will eventually be able to make the renovations without having to take on additional debt.
Another issue Kohrt addressed was the need to evaluate compensation for faculty and staff. The Board, he said, believed that Furman offered competitive compensation but could be even more competitive relative to the university’s peer institutions.
“It’s just an area where we want the best, and we need to be able to compensate them fairly, which we do, but we need to be able to compensate them even better,” Kohrt said.
Kohrt and his wife, Lynne, will move out of White Oaks, the President’s Home, at the beginning of June so that Davis and her family can move in a few weeks later.
“They have to take inventory in case I walk off with the silverware or something,” Kohrt said.
Davis will officially assume her role as Furman’s 12th president on July 1, and Kohrt said he would be available to assist Davis as a “shepherd” while saying that she is well prepared to lead the university as a longtime college administrator.
As for his future plans, Kohrt said that he and his wife will return to their home in Lake Keowee, about 30 minutes from Furman, but will still return to campus to participate in events and other aspects of university life.
Kohrt said he expected that they would do some traveling within the country as well, while also trying to spend more time with their families and grandchildren.
But Kohrt said he’s also looking forward to the chance to take a break.
“We’ll see what happens,” Kohrt said. “We need to rest and we need to have some time to ourselves.”