U of O President Niece announces 2013 retirement

Release Date: 3/28/2012

Clarksville, Ark. - Dr. Rick D. Niece, the third longest serving president in University of the Ozarks history, has announced he plans to retire at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.

Dr. Rick Niece

University of the Ozarks President, Dr. Rick Niece, is the third longest serving president in the school's history. He has announced plans to retire at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Niece, who was named the university's 24th president in 1997, will step down on June 30, 2013, after 16 years of dedicated service and leadership at the helm of the Clarksville, Ark., campus. Only the presidencies of F.R. Earle (1858-1891) and Dr. Wiley Lin Hurie (1923-1949) lasted longer in the university's 178-year history.

"I have been blessed with a long, productive, and distinguished career in education," Niece said. "Education is magical. I began my professional life as a high school English teacher, and I now complete it as a university president. Every position in between those career bookends has been meaningful. Throughout the years, I have never been heard to say, 'I am going to work.' I always say, 'I am going to school.' The subtle, yet pronounced distinction between the statements speaks volumes. Sherée and I are grateful to so many for so much. These years at Ozarks and in Clarksville gave us more than we have given, taught us more than we have taught, and honored us more than we deserve."

The University has announced that its Board of Trustees has formed a search committee composed of trustees, alumni, faculty, staff and students to select Niece's successor. The committee, which is led by trustee Chris Allen of Clarksville, will review candidates and recommend finalists to the trustees. The committee hopes to have the finalists on campus by November and a new president chosen by January.

Under Niece's leadership, the private, Presbyterian-affiliated university has seen student enrollment increase 19 percent, the endowment grow by more than 200 percent, and the number of full-time faculty increase from 28 to 48. The university has also added several new facilities, including four apartment-style residence halls, the Walker Hall teacher education and communications center, the Rogers Conference Center and the Mabee Student Fitness Center.

David Rawhouser, chair of the university's Board of Trustees and a 1969 graduate of Ozarks, said the college has reached new heights under Niece's leadership.

"Over the past dozen years, I have had the honor to work with Dr. Niece through the Board of Trustees," Rawhouser said. "Maintaining a high quality college program in today's ever changing educational world is a challenge. Many positive changes have occurred on campus. Facilities have been built to meet the needs of today's students, the campus has never looked more beautiful, our endowment has grown, technology is growing to match that of the world around us, and the education received by a student today remains at the high standards established by our founders. Much of the credit for that must go to Dr. Niece's leadership of a highly engaged, dynamic faculty and staff."

Niece's tenure has been defined by unparalleled fund-raising success. The University has raised nearly $140 million over the past 15 years, including the completion of two major campaigns - the $60 million PRIDE & PROMISE Campaign in 2003 and the $40 million PROMISE OF EXCELLENCE Campaign in 2011. Ozarks has also been ranked as a "top-tier" campus by U.S. News & World Report for 13 consecutive years and a "Best Value" by the magazine 12 times.

"University of the Ozarks is a more respected and vibrant institution of higher education because of Rick Niece," said former U of O Board of Trustees Chair Judy Borck of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. "Through his participatory form of leadership, everyone feels more a part of the University, especially the students."

Other campus improvements under Niece's leadership include new building and campus map signs, the Smith-King Plaza, new campus entryway signage on College Avenue, the Broyles Flag Plaza, First Lady Park, additional campus parking, and a $1.6 million street and drainage-improvement project with the City of Clarksville. There have also been extensive landscaping enhancements throughout campus as well as plans for a pedestrian safety area along College Avenue.

"With his positive attitude and strong work ethic, Rick Niece would have been successful in any career he chose," said Gary Luhr, executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. "As a college president he truly found his calling. He loves being around young people, and he excels at leading by example. The results of his leadership can be seen in all of the ways that matter - enrollment growth, student performance, campus improvements and a whole lot more. His impact on so many young lives will be seen and felt for years to come, in Arkansas and far beyond."

Niece and his wife, First Lady Sherée, have hosted more than 40,000 students, alumni, faculty, staff and University friends in the President's Home over the last 15 years in events that include alumni gatherings, freshmen and senior dinners, movie nights, and Super Bowl and Pumpkin Carving parties. The couple has also helped strengthen ties with the Clarksville community through such efforts as inviting weekly civic club meetings and youth sporting events to be held on campus.

"While always a strong leader for the University, Dr. Niece has also remained an engaged educator. He always knows the names of the students on campus, and finds common ground when talking with anyone," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said. "Whenever I visited University of the Ozarks, I could be certain he'd be ready to discuss our shared passion for Detroit Tiger baseball. Rick's a great person who will continue to represent the campus well, even in retirement."

"Dr. Niece is among the most dynamic, engaging leaders our state has seen," said Rex Nelson, president of the Arkansas Independent Colleges & Universities. "I'm not talking about just the University of the Ozarks. I'm talking about the entire state. All Arkansans benefited when this Ohio native came here in 1997. He has not only raised millions of dollars for Ozarks, but has recruited students, recruited faculty and kept morale high while building one of the finest liberal arts institutions in the country. Those of us who have become friends with Rick and Sherée through the years consider them family."

One of the more popular traditions started by Niece is having coffee, tea and hot chocolate available every day in the President's Office for students and others in the campus community as well as donuts, bagels and muffins on Mondays, Fridays and during finals week.

"Even on that inauguration day, it was clear to me that Dr. Niece had a passion for quality education and a passion for his students," Rawhouser said. "You could sense that he would soon know the name of every student on campus, what their individual goals were, and that he would find a way to help them achieve those goals. One of Dr. Niece's strengths is building relationships. I have seen it over the years with the Board of Trustees. I have also seen the partnership grow with the City of Clarksville and surrounding areas. He presents a positive image of the University with both local and national organizations. These relationships prosper because Dr. Niece knows the value of helping others reach their goals."

A native of Ohio, Niece served as interim president at Walsh University in Ohio before coming to Ozarks. He earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and his master's degree and Ph.D. from Kent State University. Niece has been named International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education Educator of the Year (2005), Chief Executive of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for District IV (2003), National Most Supportive President award from Students in Free Enterprise (2003) and Arkansas Non-Profit Executive of the Year by the Arkansas Business publishing group (2002). He is a director on the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and is a former board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. He has authored two books, Side-Yard Superhero, released in 2011, and The Band Plays On, which will be released this summer.