35 years, TCU's first provost William H. Koehler retires, leaving behind
a legacy of excellence and a deep love of university.
By Rick Waters '95
before lunchtime late in the spring semester, and the provost is sitting
in his third-floor Sadler Hall office, looking out the window. He has
just been asked to think about his legacy.
personal achievements has never been his style. Tackle a project and results
follow. That's his style. Even when he joined the TCU faculty 35 years
ago as a tall, dark-suited, dark-tied chemistry professor -- the sort
who stands in front of the class, pointer in hand, and goes about the
day's business -- his style was to "work hard and the results speak
for themselves." Basking in those results makes him uneasy.
decades is a long time to serve in one place, and the legacy question
Make no mistake,
Dr. William H. Koehler has plenty to tell: How he oversaw multimillion-dollar
renovations to classrooms, laboratories and residence halls. How he paved
the way for computer science and engineering programs. How he fought to
make the piano program an all-Steinway school. How he straightened out
numerous student-athletes on the brink of academic failure (and then shook
their hands at graduation semesters later).
the words come: "The good things that have happened during my tenure have
happened during my tenure, not because of it."
first. That's what you get from Bill Koehler.
"I look at
the position of the institution, and nationally it's far better known
and considered more prestigious than in any time in history," he says.
"That's not because of me, but because a lot of people -- the governing
board, chancellors, committed faculty and staff -- have worked to make
colleagues know his impact. From athletics to academics to campus improvements,
he has served the university through four administrations, influencing
nearly every corner of TCU with a passion for excellence and a deep love
of university. In May, his tenure comes to a close; 24 of his 35 years
have been as chief academic officer.
has been a major force for academic achievement at TCU," says Chancellor
Victor Boschini. "He is widely recognized for championing the teacher-scholar
model, stressing quality teaching coupled with discovery and publication
of new knowledge. It's become the signature of the educational experience
held himself to a high standard, establishing a culture of excellence
at TCU," adds Mike McCracken, dean of the College of Science and Engineering.
"It's a reflection on his own personal style and his expectation of others.
Consequently, it has become the standard."
has been a steady improvement in the quality of the university, from faculty
hires to facility upgrades, with a constant focus on the education and
care of students.
of the academic culture is a direct result of years in administration
and the lecture hall. Koehler came to TCU in 1969 as an assistant professor
of chemistry and became known as a tough but fair teacher. After seven
years as a full-time faculty member, in 1976 he moved into administration
as director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, where he
coordinated much of the faculty's scientific exploration. A year later,
he became associate dean for graduate studies and research. Then in 1980,
he was named president of the TCU Research Foundation and vice chancellor
for academic affairs. In 1994, he received the additional title of provost.
In each administration,
Koehler adapted well to the new chancellor. He helped smooth the academic
expansion of the Jim Moudy era, raised funds to drive the fiscal growth
of the William Tucker era, championed technological improvements to existing
facilities and advocated the construction of new ones during the Ferrari
era. And as TCU's newest chancellor settles into office, "no one has been
more gracious to me and helped me avoid more pitfalls than Bill Koehler,"
Boschini said during Fall Convocation in September.
one of his strengths is in putting together and keeping together an excellent
team," said Tucker, whom Koehler credits for his career in administration.
"You can see that through his relationships with the deans and faculty.
He had some exceptional people as colleagues. And all of them working
together played a major role in the size and quality of TCU."
loyalty to the institution is unparalleled, says Leo Munson, associate
vice chancellor for academic support.
he's made has been for the best of the institution for today and tomorrow,"
Munson said. "From the '80s to today, TCU's respectability has increased,
its selectivity has increased, its size is larger. And he was doing this
all the way back in the '80s when other schools were mired in economic
woes. Not TCU. We grew a little bit every year."
impresses his colleagues with his ability to manage the daily rigors of
academic life. He saw TCU as a research institution but as an undergraduate
institution first. Therefore, nearly every faculty member teaches undergraduate
classes, a fact that sets TCU apart in higher education.
of details made him an expert monitor of technology enhancements around
campus, including a $30 million upgrade to classrooms and laboratories
in every academic building in 2002-03.
that classroom renovation," Munson said. "He was the driving force behind
modernizing our campus, and annually his No. 1 goal in budget discussions
is to add full-time faculty positions."
the university announced in May that it will add Koehler's name to the
Center for Teaching Excellence.
charged him with restructuring the university's schools and colleges to
better organize academic programs, Koehler suggested expanding from five
to seven, allowing each to develop its own uniqueness. Then he hired new
deans to run them.
when Koehler entered his office one morning in the mid-'80s, closed the
door and said he wanted to close undergraduate admission for a year.
gulped," Tucker recalls. "By then we were growing as a university but
admissions in the late '70s and early '80s had languished a bit, and what
he was suggesting had never been done before in the modern history of
the university. But his argument was extraordinarily convincing. We already
had a splendid class in hand, and by closing admission he believed we
would make TCU even more desirable. So we discussed it and took the leap,
and it served TCU very well for many years. We saw a jump in the number
and quality of applications, particularly in SAT score, after that. It
was a move that showed daring and wisdom on his part."
played a major role in strengthening the management and effectiveness
of TCU athletics, almost unheard of among university academic officers.
When the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995, he was a leader in charting
a plan to revitalize the athletic program, hiring key administrators and
helping attract top-notch coaches.
some outstanding administrators and coaches because Bill Koehler had a
vision of a nationally respected Division I-A athletics program and worked
to fulfill it," says Athletics Director Eric Hyman.
was the bridge between the academic and athletic communities. "TCU doesn't
have two campuses -- one for athletics and one for academics," Munson says.
"We have one campus. That's special. Not everybody has that, and Bill
Koehler accomplished that."
speaks for itself.
the school board
Bill Koehler want to be the president of the Fort Worth school board now?
young at heart to go home and plant tomatoes," he joked. "I'd go stir
this spring with the Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Business Press, both
of whom endorsed him, Koehler spoke passionately about the position as
an opportunity to improve the community and give back to a city that has
afforded him a comfortable life.
people have an obligation to make their communities better when opportunities
come along," he said before the election. "This is an opportunity to contribute
something to the place I've lived for 35 years."
And his nearly
four decades in education make his leadership and administrative skills
valuable to the district, which is recovering from construction scandals
and financial blunders.
so too, electing him on May 15 with a whopping 79.9 percent of the vote.
He begins his school board duties this summer. "I am excited about the
opportunity to be a part of making the community better and affecting
the lives of its young people for the better," he said.
garden can wait.