The president of Wofford College has announced he will retire at the end of the 2013 academic year. Dr. Benjamin “Bernie” Dunlap, who has led the Spartanburg college for over 12 years, made the announcement at a board of trustees meeting Tuesday.
Dunlap says he wanted to give the board a year’s warning so they’ll have time to search for his replacement. He plans to take a yearlong sabbatical before returning as a humanities professor.
“It wasn’t so much a matter of age as a feeling that 13 years in office is long enough to do the things that you have to do,” Dunlap said in a Wednesday interview with South Carolina Radio Network, “If you don’t get them done in 13 years, you’re probably not going to do them.”
Dunlap is a Columbia native who graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and got his doctorate from Harvard University.
He later held academic appointments at Harvard before moving back to South Carolina to be an English professor at USC. He said he took a teaching job at Wofford in 1993 after giving a commencement address at the school. “I was kind of a James Bond-like professor. My ‘007 privileges’ included teaching whatever I wanted to teach or as much as I wanted to teach.”
Dunlap said he did not want to become an administrator, but was persuaded by his predecessor, longtime Wofford President Joab Lesesne, to take on the job in 2000.
During his tenure, Wofford increased its faculty by more than 50 percent and also grew the number of students enrolled at the college from 1,100 to 1,500.
Wofford’s endowment has also increased exponentially and has seen a record number of donations– now averaging $12 million per year. Dunlap gave credit to Lesesne, however. “He had teed all of these things up. All I had to do was swing and not miss the ball.”
Dunlap said he was most proud of how the college climbed the rankings ladder over the past decade. Wofford was recently listed as the #23 Best Value School in the country by U.S. News & World Reports.
He plans to turn things over to a successor in June 2013. After that, Dunlap plans to take a year off before returning as the school’s Chapman Family Professor in the Humanities.
“It’s protocol for a retiring president to vamoose for at least a year to let the new president get her or his feet under them,” Dunlap said.
He said he also plans to devote more time to other commitments, such as his role as a senior moderator for the Aspen Institute and for the Liberty Fellowship of South Carolina.