Dan Lambert's decision to step aside as president of Baker University is a major loss for Baker, for this area, for higher education and, particularly, for the field of private, church-affiliated universities.
He has done a superb job in leading the nationally recognized liberal arts school. Its academic standards are excellent; Lambert and his associates have been able to maintain sound enrollment numbers; and, the school's graduates reflect well on the institution.
Baker University trustees will be challenged to find an equally talented and dedicated individual to lead the school, provide the vision and sustain the excellent student/faculty morale that exists today throughout the handsome Baker campus. The new president also will need to be involved in many civic and community programs.
Lambert will have served 18 years as president of the United Methodist school, the oldest university in Kansas. He came to Baker after 17 years at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where he served in many roles including professor, administrator and vice president.
During his years at Baker, he has had numerous opportunities to move to other universities, but he always elected to stay at Baker. During his Baker presidency, there have been many major improvements on campus -- the renovated library, the Collins Sports Center, the Osborne Chapel, which was moved from England to the Baker campus -- and there are plans for a major new science facility. During Lambert's tenure, Baker also has added several graduate degree programs and a nursing school.
In addition to his commitment to Baker and Baldwin, Lambert also has developed close ties with the surrounding area and has taken an active role in bettering the local economic climate. Baker has a far greater presence and awareness today among Lawrence residents than was true before Lambert took over.
He has played a major role in trying to facilitate completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway and has agreed to allow the badly needed road to pass through the Baker Wetlands. He is sensitive to the many issues associated with the debate over the road and its proposed routes either on the current 31st Street or about 400 feet to the south.
He has offered his support and assistance in helping to develop the area into a true wetlands gem, something few cities of any size could ever have. It would be a local, as well as a national, treasure, attracting attention from throughout the country.
Some individuals or groups that have an interest in the wetlands have gone to great lengths to avoid any public disclosure of having a presence in the area, but Lambert and Baker have been out front throughout the long debate about the location of the road. Lambert has done everything he can to help see the road completed in the wetland area.
Asked once what had been one of his greatest challenges, he was quick to say, "Kansas University." By this he meant leading a smaller university in the shadow of a great state-aided university and the challenge of Baker students paying significantly higher tuition than students at KU. However, even with this challenge, he remains a staunch supporter of the Jayhawks and, whenever possible, has been quick to offer his assistance to KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway or previous KU leaders.
Eighteen years is a long time to serve as a college/university president or chancellor. The demands are great, and those in academic leadership jobs have to deal with egos, jealousies, turf wars, selfishness and insecurity. In the academic community, there is no easy way to dismiss poor, unproductive or troublesome faculty members who have tenure. Lambert also has had the continuous challenge of securing private fiscal support and recruiting students. Few presidents or chancellors serve as long as Lambert has at Baker and, in many cases, if they do try to hold on that long, it is detrimental to the institution.
This has not been the case with Lambert because his passion for Baker University is just as strong today as it was the first day he moved into his office. Granted, the years have worn on him, but he remains a tremendously effective leader for the university. He would rather leave one day too soon than stay on one day too long.
Having made the announcement of his intention to retire at the end of the 2005-06 school year, some might think the soft-spoken Lambert would slow down and take it easy. Chances are just the opposite will occur because he will want to have his last year as president be the best of his 18 years at the school. Baker University, its students and faculty, Baldwin and others will reap the benefits of his commitment to Baker and higher education.