“Betz” President in the Nation to Retire
Don Betz announced Friday he will retire as president of the University of Central Oklahoma at the end of the next academic year, with the last day of his eight-year run being June 30, 2019.
Betz was named UCO’s 20th president in June 2011 by the Regional University System of Oklahoma Board of Regents and has since overseen the implementation of several major initiatives to improve student engagement and campus facilities.
“I have been honored to serve as UCO’s president,” Betz said in a statement. “It is an exceptional, student-centered institution energized by its devoted faculty and staff, and educating Oklahomans for 128 years. I can think of no greater investment in Oklahoma’s future than encouraging our citizens’ passion for learning, leading and serving.”
With a career in education spanning more than 45 years, Betz previously served as the president of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah from 2005-2008, as UCO’s provost from 1999-2005 and as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa from 1994-1999.
Although he may be retiring, Betz said that his goal for the next year remains the same as it has been: working toward making UCO one of the nation’s top metropolitan universities as outlined in the Vision 2020 strategic plan he introduced in 2013.
This plan outlines a set of strategies focused on supporting transformative learning and UCO’s role in Oklahoma’s metropolitan community between 2013-2020.
The efforts toward these goals, made under Betz’s tenure, brought the university national recognition in 2016 when UCO was listed as one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 universities where students feel most engaged.
“Will there be any change of trajectory? Not really,” Betz said. “We already have a great plan laid out, but there will be a new focus and that will be on the opening of three new buildings in the next year.”
Along with the upcoming opening
of the Sports Performance Center in September, the STEM Teaching and Research Center in October or November and the south wing of the Liberal Arts Center in June 2019, Betz has overseen several other major campus projects during his tenure.
He oversaw the opening of the Transformative Learning Quadrangle on campus and UCO’s downtown campus at Oklahoma City’s Carnegie Center in 2015. In 2017 he saw the completion of Old North’s restoration project after the original structure was shut down in 2001 due to safety concerns.
Support for undergraduate research and student-centered learning has also thrived during Betz’s presidency. He supported the founding of UCO’s nationally acclaimed Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR), created in 2012, and the undergraduate research-focused Office of High Impact Practices in 2014.
Throughout his presidency, Betz has also been an engaged supporter of student activism and causes. He recognized the establishment of UCO’s first Indigenous People’s Day in 2016, oversaw the opening of the BGLTQ+ Center in 2017, spoke out in support of students impacted by President Donald Trump’s repeal of DACA and spoke up for freedom of speech on university grounds last semester when controversy erupted over creationist Ken Ham being invited to speak on campus.
Betz, 73, said that nothing prompted his decision to retire other than that he felt that now was about the right time for him to pass the position on to whoever will come next.
“I’m of a certain age now that many of my colleagues and many of my friends have been retired for quite some time,” Betz said. “I absolutely love what I do and my passion for UCO is still strong; there’s a point where you realize it’s time to do it.”
The 21st president of UCO will be selected by the RUSO Board of Regents. While the process is only just beginning, Betz said he intentionally gave a year’s notice to ensure that the Board had time to find a candidate that would be a right fit for the university.
“I have an interest in ensuring that this university continues to thrive,” Betz said. “So, to the extent that [the Board of Regents] will allow me to be involved, you can count on me being involved.”
For the selection process, the regents will form a search committee and advertise the position nationally, according to RUSO Executive Director Sheridan McCaffree
“We are grateful for President Betz’s leadership. He has done an outstanding job growing the engagement of UCO’s students, alumni and donors,” McCaffree said. “His forward thinking for innovation, collaborative research and increasing STEM graduates is evidenced with the new Interdisciplinary STEM Teaching & Research Center. He leaves very big shoes to fill for UCO’s next president.”