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Samford’s Corts slates retirement; search committee formed

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Thomas E. Corts has announced his retirement from the presidency of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., a post he has held since 1983. A search committee has been appointed, and if they elect his successor before his stated retirement date of May 2006, Corts will step down earlier.

Corts, 63, made his plans known during a joint meeting of Samford’s board of trustees and board of overseers April 14 and then told a larger audience of students, faculty and staff, saying it’s “time for fresh vision and new energy” in the president’s office.

“This work carries with it a lot of demands and time constraints, the following of a daily schedule,” he said, according to The Birmingham News. “It stirs up within you a lot of intensity and anxiety, and it keeps you running to try to achieve your personal best and to try to do your best for the university. I’d like to think I have earned a big, long sigh.”

During his tenure at Samford, the 17th president has been credited with leading the dramatic expansion of academic programs, improving pay and benefits for faculty and staff, increasing the quality of student housing, restarting an intercollegiate athletics program by reinstating the football program and adding women’s athletics, and overseeing major efforts to increase the school’s endowments, according to the Birmingham paper.

When Corts assumed the presidency 22 years ago, Samford’s endowment stood at $8 million and today it has grown to $258 million. Also, more than 30 new buildings have been constructed on the campus and Corts has signed and presented more than 17,000 diplomas.

“When I was a teenager, I thought a lot about which life was the more important: the life of action or the life of contemplation,” Corts said April 14. “Obviously, for three-plus decades I have been the head of an institution of higher learning. I have had no choice but to follow the life of action. I look forward to pursuing the vita contemplativa once I am out of office.”

Before he was Samford’s president, Corts served nine years as the head of Wingate University in North Carolina. He received both a master’s and a doctor of philosophy degree from Indiana University and earned an undergraduate degree at Georgetown College in Kentucky.

Corts also has served as president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and has most recently been a leader in the movement to amend Alabama’s constitution.

“I consider myself a very blessed man because I have been privileged to do what I wanted to do and what I felt was the work given me to do, and I have enjoyed it,” he said. “I have loved the students. This is a great faculty in terms of professional skill and in terms of personality. This institution has a great constituency in the people of Birmingham and of Alabama, and especially in Alabama Baptists.”

Samford is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention.

Joe Godfrey, immediate past president of the Alabama convention, noted Corts’ ability to strengthen Samford’s spiritual ties to the church.

“I believe he’s done an excellent job of building the school’s reputation as a place where quality education can be received, and I feel he’s done an excellent job of strengthening its Christian perspective,” Godfrey told The Birmingham News.

Although Corts faced criticism sometimes for allowing what was taught at Samford to be outside the belief system of most Baptists, Godfrey commended Corts for his efforts in correcting the situations.

“He adjusted and opened up the lines of communication to pastors and to Baptists to the point where our tie today is closer to the school than it has ever been,” he said.

A 17-member presidential search committee comprised of trustees, faculty members, alumni and one former trustee has been appointed. Albert Brewer, a former Alabama governor and retired law professor, and attorney and trustee Hobart Grooms will serve as co-chairs.

Founded in 1841, Samford is the largest independently supported university in the state of Alabama, offering 26 degree programs and more than 80 programs in eight schools.

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