Libby reflects on tenure as Stephens president

Friday, May 29, 2009 | 11:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:48 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 29, 2009
Wendy B. Libby is credited with plenty of accomplishments during her time as president of Stephens College, including a 93 percent student retention rate. When asked what one tip would she give incoming President Dianne Lynch, she responded, "Always speak from the heart."

COLUMBIA — Outgoing Stephens College president Wendy Libby can't pick just one favorite spot on campus.

Historic Lela Raney Wood Hall is an obvious choice. The site of the school’s convocation, as well as numerous alumni weddings and receptions, was restored during her tenure.

"It is such a center of activity for the community and the campus," Libby said. "We have redone the offices to recapture the grace and style of the Stephens of many years ago.”

Another favorite: the equestrian stables. 

“There is something very serene about being around these very large and powerful animals and the bond you develop being there and being kind to them," she said.

Libby, who steps down as president Monday, will become the first female president of Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., on July 1. Dianne Lynch, a former dean at Ithaca College, takes over as president of Stephens on Tuesday.

Libby acknowledged that the hardest thing about her departure from Stephens is leaving a women’s college.

“My husband reminds me that Stetson is 60 percent women,” she said. “I need to bring with me that same sense of ‘women who can do anything’ to the female student population there.”

Libby is credited with significantly revitalizing Stephens' image during her six-year term as president. She oversaw the restoration of several buildings, increased undergraduate enrollment and implemented the successful Renaissance Plan, a five-year strategic planning process that lifted Stephens out of a financial crisis.

She said she is proudest of the positive results of the college’s November 2007 re-accreditation review.

“It made clear that we had turned the institution around and had great prospects for the future," she said. "I’m also very proud that the college has once again become a partner with the city of Columbia and with the businesses and other institutions of higher education in town."

Doug Lange, vice president for business affairs, who worked with Libby at both Furman University and Stephens, said her greatest legacy to the college was re-establishing it as a strong women's institution.

"I think she's accomplished a lot. I think the biggest thing is at the emotional level — she gave the college hope and stability," Lange said.

"She is one of those people that is absolutely genuine," Lange added. "Honest as the day is long. She's a great boss and a great leader."

Linda Sharp, Stephens' registrar, called her "a ray of sunshine." 

"I believe in her legacy, bringing the college back to the community of Columbia," Sharp said.

Libby also reinforced connections with alumni, students and faculty, Sharp said. "Opening communication with the faculty and staff has been an important thing she's done here."

Amy Gipson, who worked with Libby for six years as vice president of marketing and public relations, said "she united Stephens to a common purpose and made Stephens vibrant again." 

Libby also served as adviser to a group on campus called the Ten Ideals that originated in 1921. Each year, 10 students whose activities represent the overall ideals of Stephens College are selected as personifications of individual ideals.

“Working closely with these women has given me a much more profound understanding of the value of women’s education," Libby said. "I don’t get nearly as much time with students as I would like, so this has been very fulfilling.”

The city of Columbia has also provided fulfillment for Libby, who said she loves its eclectic nature.

“I like that you can be going to the symphony one night and a country music concert the next night. You can also be eating catfish one night, then eating classical French cuisine the next,” Libby said. “When I think of Columbia, I think of what a small personal community it is, but also what a cosmopolitan feel it has because of the numerous universities."

Libby said that she will mostly miss the friendships that she has made while serving as Stephens’ president.

“Over these last couple of weeks we are saying goodbye to people who have been very dear friends of ours and that’s hard,” she said. “We look forward to them coming to see us in Florida and also to seeing them when we return to visit Columbia.”

Libby also praised her successor.

“She’s going to be a great president,” Libby said. “She has the energy and enthusiasm. She really understands what Stephens is all about. I’m leaving the college in really good hands. She’s a very quick study, and she will be able to make Stephens her own.”

Missourian reporters Michelle Pais and Evan Bush contributed to this story.

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