President Byrd’s last term

by Ben Rodgers

After announcing his resignation last April, President John Byrd will be retiring at the end of this academic year. The Simpsonian sat down with him in an interview to review his time here at Simpson and what he plans to do during his last semester as president.

Even with his time as president coming to an end, there are still multiple projects Byrd is seeing underway before he leaves Simpson.

“There are two or three things that I have been particularly focused on,” said Byrd

“One is the Cowles project we’ve been working on for a couple of years now,” said Byrd. “Once we understood that the swimming pool was going to be a part of the YMCA project, we knew that our swimming pool was available to be reconfigured into a great new fitness center, so we are working very hard to finish that new project, and we would like to break ground on that yet this school year.”

Another project that Byrd has worked diligently on in his time here is the closing of C Street. 

“We’ve been working to close C Street for a couple of years, and we’ve been making our way through that process,” said Byrd. “I want to continue to be involved in that project with the hopes that we’ll be able to complete our negotiations and work with the city by the time I’ve left in May.  We’ll be converting then the middle part of the street into a pedestrian plaza that will connect the two sides of campus.”

The final project Byrd has overseen is the new start-up incubator that has been started by the college. This incubator has been a partnership with the Indianola Municipal Utilities and Indianola Development association to help bring small businesses to campus.

“That’s important to me because it will provide great opportunities for our students to be able to take theory to practice,” said Byrd.

Looking back on his eight years at Simpson, Byrd highlighted some of the accomplishments that the school has achieved within his time as president. When speaking to the Simpsonian about these accomplishments, Byrd stated they were not only his accomplishments but also a community effort.

“There’s very few things that I did, they were very much a community approach, a team approach to what we’re doing,” said Byrd.  “If there have been accomplishments accomplished while I’ve been here, it’s been because of lots of people.”

Byrd stated he was very proud of the work the faculty has done in his time here, for instance creating the Engaged Citizen curriculum.

“This is a huge undertaking, and our faculty did a beautiful job rethinking our curriculum from top to bottom, but keeping a strong liberal arts emphasis, but really working hard to understand what the world is asking for from our graduates and making sure it’s delivered in our curriculum.

In his time here, Byrd helped raise the number of students of minorities and those from out of state.  The year Byrd took presidency; the number of out of state students at Simpson was at 7 percent.  Since then, there has been a rise from 20 to 22 percent.

“From the beginning, that’s been on my agenda institutionally and on my agenda personally to improve the geographic reach of the college,” said Byrd. “I knew that Simpson was plenty good to recruit students from all over the country, and we simply needed to develop plans to market Simpson and make people aware of it.

Along with the rise of minority and out of state students, Byrd said he was also very proud of the schools retention rate since he has been here.

One of the biggest accomplishments may be marked by the building and opening of the long awaited Kent Campus Center.

Byrd said having the Kent Campus Center is vital for both recruiting students and campus life.

“When you’re recruiting students from all over the country and from outside the immediate area, you need a great meeting spot, a campus living room that facilitates students social connections,” said Byrd.

“It adds to the social fabric of the college,” said Byrd. “It’s a recruitment tool if that’s a way to look at it, but it’s also a retention tool.  I think having this facility helps students feel comfortable about staying here.

Byrd says the opening of the Kent Campus Center will be a day that he will always remember.

While there were numerous accomplishments during his term as president, Byrd also stated there were hardships.

“Things have gone very well over the last eight years, but the biggest challenge has been the economy.  As I’ve let people know on this campus, Simpson has been doing all the right things, but out in the real world the economy took a tumble back in 2008 and 2009 and hasn’t quite yet recovered.”

With the unexpected low number of enrollment back in back in 2011, Byrd stated the college had to make decisions that were not easy regarding the budget; however, he feels that since then the college has bounced back.

“I’d like to think we’re coming out of this economic turmoil and that we’ll continue to be healthy,” said Byrd.

With hard economic times and other issues, such as the discussion of the worth of the college degree and the ability to earn degrees online or from technical institutes, the Simpsonian asked Byrd what Simpson would have to do to adapt to this changing environment.

“I think there are lots of ways that Simpson might adapt to the changing environment, but as the environment changes Simpson will have to adapt,” said Byrd.

Byrd believes one way to keep up is by continuing to offer adult education through evening, weekend and graduate programs as well as online programs. 

“I suspect that we will continue to look at ways to address that changing environment by providing programs and services that the students of today and hopefully the students of tomorrow are looking for.

In retirement, Byrd is looking forward to do some traveling with his wife to both Australia and New Zealand. He also wishes to spend some time in the western United States and hopes to pursue his hobbies of reading, cycling and the outdoors.

Byrd sated the hardest part of leaving Simpson College is leaving its people. 

“I love the students here, and faculty and people in the community have all been great. Simpson is a very special place.”

“Simpson for me has been the thrill and opportunity of a lifetime. I have just so thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and I’m just very, very happy I came.”