Eastern Kentucky University’s January 9 Board of Regents meeting was uncharacteristically emotional as the Colonel Community bid a fond farewell to outgoing Chair Craig Turner.
The board unanimously elected Regent Lewis Diaz as Turner’s successor. A Cuban native, Diaz is EKU’s first minority Board of Regents Chair. He graduated from EKU with an undergraduate degree in 2000 and a master’s degree in 2002. Today, he is a partner at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, a national law firm comprised of more than 650 attorneys with locations from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, California.
“I know that I can’t be Craig Turner. That job is taken and adequately performed,” Diaz said. “But I can promise you, Craig and everybody else in the room, I will give it everything I’ve got, I will serve with passion and with pride, and I will never apologize for expecting Eastern to win.”
Wednesday’s meeting was Turner’s last. He chose to retire last year after serving nearly 13 years on the Board of Regents. The former chair’s emotional farewell remarks drew a standing ovation from the attendees gathered in the EKU Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theater. At the close of the meeting the board passed a resolution naming Turner as Chair Emeritus.
“Every story has a beginning and an end. Between those, we have a collection of moments,” he said. “There was a moment 12 ½ years ago that truly changed my life.”
That moment was his appointment to the board by former Gov. Ernie Fletcher in 2006. Turner reflected on the personal and professional growth he’s experienced during his tenure.
“I’ve enjoyed a very fulfilling moment to serve as your chair. It has allowed me to work with regents who, I can assure you, care. We have a president who cares. We have staff who care. And we have faculty who have a deep love for the students that they help mold,” Turner said.
EKU’s President, Dr. Michael T. Benson, offered a personal sendoff for Turner. He told those gathered that, in just six years knowing each other, Turner had become both a valued colleague and a close family friend, one who has left an indelible mark on EKU.
“It has been said that truly effective leaders have the ability to translate vision into reality,” Benson said, noting that the outgoing board chair is an expert in that arena — there are few places one can go in Central Kentucky without seeing “the hand of Craig Turner.”
Turner’s firm, CRM Companies, develops, owns and manages commercial properties all over the region. He was instrumental in many of the revitalization projects on EKU’s campus, including negotiating the public-private partnership that resulted in EKU’s newest state-of-the-art residence halls. He and his wife, Madonna, donated funds for Turner Gate, which has become the new face of the University.
“Craig has turned his vision toward Eastern, and what has happened these past five years is nothing short of remarkable. Thanks to his outstanding support and unwavering commitment, we have achieved what many thought was impossible,” Benson said.
Turner thanked the president and the board for their kind words, and said Diaz, the rest of the board and the University could handle all challenges in his absence.
“Surprises and challenges remain around every corner. The secret to success is to be prepared to deal with those surprises,” he said. “I believe Eastern is prepared. Eastern is in good hands.”
In other business, the board:
- Heard a report on student success detailing several points of pride for the University. In 2018, EKU awarded 2,974 degrees, up drastically from 2,300 10 years ago. Additionally, EKU’s 50.88% six-year graduation rate (2012 freshman cohort) and 32.7% four-year graduation rate (2014 freshman cohort) set new records for the University. It was the first time EKU has exceeded a four-year graduation rate of 30%.
- Accepted an audit by Crowe Horwath that found nothing of significant concern but reiterated the scope of the budgetary challenges caused by rising state pension obligations. Financial reports noted that EKU’s revenues were down slightly year over year, but so were expenses, and that the University was on similar financial footing to last year.
- Presented commendations recognizing EKU’s Division of Public Safety and EKU Conferencing & Events for helping keep the campus safe and welcoming during the October 13, 2018, visit of U.S. President Donald Trump.
- Received progress updates on the renovation of the Powell Student Center and construction of the new Recreation & Wellness Center. Powell is on schedule to fully open in January 2020 and the Recreation & Wellness Center should be complete by November or December of 2019. Both are on budget.
- Voted to demolish three small, disused Oak Street rental properties which were previously used as student housing.
- Scheduled their next regular board meeting for February 22, 2019.