Posted by William Nunnelley on 2005-04-14

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.--Samford University President Thomas E. Corts, who has led Alabama's largest private university for 22 years, will retire at the end of the 2005-06 academic year, or earlier if a Presidential Search Committee identifies his successor before then.

But Dr. Corts, whose tenure has been marked by progress in numerous areas for Samford, won't leave before further placing his imprint on the university he has led since 1983.

Even as Corts made his retirement date official Thursday, Samford Board of Trustees chairman Bill Stevens announced a fund-raising effort that Corts will inaugurate to add some $50-$60 million in campus facilities. At its spring meeting Thursday, the Board approved:

  • Construction of a 6000-seat arena/fitness center for intercollegiate athletics and major campus events such as commencement.
  • A second phase of restructuring for Ralph W. Beeson University Center.
  • Refurbishing of Seibert Hall for greater student use.
  • Building of a four-story parking deck adjacent to Wright Center, and 300 new parking spaces south of Seibert Stadium
  • Renovation of Samford heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems to make the campus more energy efficient.

Corts announced his retirement plans to a joint meeting of the Board of Trustees and Samford Board of Overseers, and immediately afterward to a gathering of students, faculty and staff. He noted that by May of 2006 he will have served 23 years, "time for fresh vision and new energy" in the president 's office.

"When I was a teen-ager, I thought a lot about which life was the more important: the life of action, or the life of contemplation," he said. "Obviously, for the 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."

He noted that the job of president "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 the best for the University. I'd like to think I have earned a big, long sigh!"

But before then, he added, "the Board has cooked up some terrific new plans. " He added, "I intend to get a lot accomplished" during the next year.

"I consider myself a very blessed man," Corts said, "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! 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."

Corts became Samford's 17th president after nine years as president of Wingate College in North Carolina. He is the longest tenured senior college president in Alabama and among member institutions of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.

"Samford is a finer university than it was in 1983," said Stevens. "Dr. and Mrs. Corts would be the first to say that this has been a team effort, but Samford has made a giant leap forward in the past 20 years--proportionally, it may have made as great progress as any university in America."

Highlights of his Samford years include the purchase of a London study centre, astounding growth in the endowment (from $8 million in 1983 to $258 million today), national recognition for Samford in such publications as U.S. News & World Report, construction of more than 30 new buildings, increases in overall and on-campus enrollment and progress in many other areas. (For a more complete list of major accomplishments during the Corts era, see accompanying article.)

Corts personally has signed and presented more than 17,000 Samford diplomas to students during his years as president.

Former Alabama Governor Albert Brewer and Samford Trustee Hobart Grooms will serve as co-chairs of a Presidential Search Committee (see separate story) that immediately will begin a national search for Corts ' successor. The committee was appointed by Stevens and other former chairs of the Samford Board of Trustees.

If a new president is chosen before May of 2006, Corts told the Board he is willing to step aside earlier to allow his successor to begin service, Stevens said.

At the information session following the trustee meeting, Stevens compared the Board's action on the construction projects to a "leap of faith. . . . Not since the campus was moved from East Lake to Homewood in the mid-1950s has our Board made this kind of courageous commitment to the future," said Stevens.

Architects are completing drawings for the arena now, Stevens said, with the plan to begin construction by the fall. The facility will seat 5,000 for basketball and volleyball and 6,000 for such events as commencement.

"Those of you graduating in May, 2007, and beyond should be able to celebrate graduation with your friends and families right here on campus," he said, rather than at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena, where Samford has held graduation since the 1990s.

The arena will be located west of Seibert Gym and Bashinsky Fieldhouse and north of Joe Lee Griffin Baseball Stadium. As part of the arena project, Samford will relocate its nine-court tennis center to what is now the football practice field on the western perimeter of the campus. Samford's football field will be covered with artificial turf so that it may be used for practice as well as games.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.