November 24, 2009
WOOSTER, Ohio - G.T. "Buck" Smith, a 1956 College of Wooster graduate, is again making national news in the world of higher education for his gallant efforts to lead Davis & Elkins College through a series of financial and enrollment challenges. The venerable 74-year old president is governing with an unassuming, folksy approach based, in part, on what he learned from President
Howard Lowry and others during his time at Wooster - first as a student and then as an administrator.
Smith, who transferred to Wooster from The University of Virginia in 1953, was profoundly influenced by his experience at Wooster, beginning with his arrival at the local train station where he was greeted by two upperclassmen, including the then student government president, Dick Brubaker. After settling in at the "Taylor Units" (World War II barracks located where Freedlander
Theatre stands today), Smith made his way to Galpin Hall, where a man he had never seen before reached out his hand and said, "'Buck' Smith, welcome to Wooster." The man was Don Shawver, assistant director of admissions, who had memorized the names and faces of the new students by studying the photos on their applications.
Smith soon made the acquaintance of President Lowry, who "touched everyone" by what he said and the way he said it, including in his bi-weekly chapel talks and annual Baccalaureate addresses. "He had a way of connecting with you and linking you to great ideas," says Smith. "And more than that,
many of us saw him also as a model for how to treat and honor others."
Smith has taken those lessons to Davis & Elkins, where his impact has been dramatic, particularly in the heightened spirit of the campus, in enrollment, and in the College's financial position. The entering class this year grew by 50 percent over last year, and applications for next year are more than seven times higher than 2007 because of a relationship-based approach to recruiting, according to a recent cover story in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The situation at Davis & Elkins appeared to call for an energetic "40-something" to lead it back to stability, but trustees favored the high-energy elder statesman because of his experience and person-centered approach. Smith, who had just retired as president of Bethany College, not only
accepted the invitation, but also turned down the $130,000 annual salary, choosing instead to donate his services to the small West Virginia school, where about 700 students are enrolled.
The keys to Smith's early success have been visibility and relationship building. He is rarely at his desk, but instead out and about on campus or in the local and wider community, chatting with students and exploring possibilities with faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the College. "The underlying thing for me is relationships," he says in The Chronicle article. "Hardly anything happens that doesn't have to do with relationships.
Smith's belief about the value of relationships comes directly from Lowry. In fact, the lessons he learned at Wooster had such an impact that Smith still has a portrait of the former president in his office. Aside from his wife Joni, also a 1956 Wooster graduate, Smith says that Lowry had the single greatest influence on his life.
After graduating from Wooster, Smith went to Cornell University where he received his master's degree with distinction in management. After two years working at Cornell, he began exploring a doctoral program when Lowry summoned him back to Wooster to serve as director of the then faltering Centennial Campaign in 1962. The campaign exceeded its $20 million goal in 1966 when, at age 30, Smith was named vice president for development, a position that would provide the foundation for future success in higher education.
In 1976, Wooster President Garber Drushal and Board Chairman Bill Pocock encouraged Smith to lend a hand as consultant to financially troubled Chapman College (now University) in California. A year later, the Chapman Trustees invited him back to serve as president, a position he held for the next 11 years. His tenure at Chapman was marked by a renewal of the College's spiritual and intellectual life, as well as a greatly enhanced financial position and significant expansion of enrollment. Smith Hall on the Chapman campus stands as a continuing expression of the University's gratitude for his and Joni's years of service.
Now presiding over his third college, Smith is following the same approach he learned at Wooster. And if his first 16 months are any indication, "Buck" is once again demonstrating his mastery of relationship building as he guides Davis & Elkins through rough waters and onto a secure spot on dry land.
1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. (330) 263-2000
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