Williams Reflects Upon Unusual Path to Presidency

Staff Report

When Dr. Owen Williams takes over the reins as president of Transylvania University on Aug. 1, it will be the realization of a lifelong dream.

“That’s why I say I have to pinch myself every morning,” he said. “Is this really true? Is this really happening?”

Dr. Owen Williams vists the Student Publications Office and speaks with the Rambler staff during a recent visit to campus. It was announced that Williams would replace President Charles Shearer on April 14.

After a 24-year detour on Wall Street, where he made a name for himself as an investment banker, Williams, 58, might not seem like the type who would have such aspirations – much less follow them all the way to Kentucky and to Transylvania University where he will become the school’s 25th president. But, he insists, he’s been heading in that direction for quite some time.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a young man,” said Williams, who will replace Transy’s longest-serving president, Dr. Charles Shearer, who is retiring.

Williams, a Baltimore native, is not new to academia. After leaving behind his successful banking career, he returned to his first love and earned a master’s of law from Yale Law School and a doctorate in history from Yale University. Previously, he received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College and a master’s in history from Cambridge University in England.

“It was really much more about wanting to live the life of the mind and wanting to be surrounded by others doing so as well,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“(His background) could have been a negative if he had been a Wall Street kind of person, but Dr. Williams is clearly an intellectual inside a Wall Street person,” said Dr. Jack Furlong, who was one of the professors who represented Transy faculty members on the presidential search committee.

William T. Young Jr., chairman of the Transylvania board of trustees, agreed that Williams’ diverse background is a positive attribute.
“He’s been at Yale for the past nine years or so, so he’s spent considerable time in academia,” Young said. “Also, any type of business experience with managing people is a plus, since that is a big part of the job as president at Transy.”

Aside from Williams’ diverse experience, which also includes about four years living and working in both Tokyo and Hong Kong, his personality identifies him as an academic, Furlong said. And like his soon-to-be predecessor, Williams exhibits a commitment to liberal arts education.

“(Williams) will be both a compliment and a complement to Shearer,” Furlong said.

Current president Shearer and Williams apparently share a similar love of reading.

“I collect books, which I must have seven or eight thousand (of),” Williams said. “So I really like my books. I love staying up late at night reading and writing.”

But while Shearer may have more time to tackle his reading list when he retires from the job on Aug. 1, Williams will find himself quickly immersed in running a liberal arts college.

“My mission for Transylvania will be to offer students as many opportunities as is possible for them to expand their horizons to become less afraid of the world and more open to its richness. That, to me, is what a liberal arts institution is meant to accomplish,” Williams said.

Williams said he has no plans to consider radical changes in university policies until he is more familiar with Transy. However, he is clearly accustomed to questioning both the social and political environment around him. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Unequal Justice Under Law: The Supreme Court and America’s First Civil Rights Movement, 1857-1883.”

“I like the idea of offering subjects that will force people to think differently about the world, that will force them into areas beyond their comfort zone,” he said when asked about the possibility of forming a Middle Eastern studies department at Transy.

Williams’ appointment followed a nationwide search. He will begin his term as president the same day Shearer’s retirement goes into effect.

Shearer stressed that he will remain involved in the Transy community, spending a lot of time on campus in his new office and perhaps even teaching a class in the winter term of 2011.

“Charles Shearer has built an incredible foundation in his long tenure, and I am fortunate to be able to build upon his many successes,” Williams said upon the announcement of his hiring. “I could not be more honored to become the next president of Transylvania University.”

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One Response to Williams Reflects Upon Unusual Path to Presidency

  1. Ken and Renee Matthews says:

    Dear Owen,

    Congratulations!

    Kenneth L. and Renee J. Matthews
    (Kenneth Matthews, from the old Wall Street Days
    currently living in Paris, France)

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