Limbert to retire as MUW president

COLUMBUS – Mississippi University for Women President Claudia Limbert said Monday that she plans to step down in June after eight years as the school’s leader.
She said she made the announcement now to give the state College Board plenty of time to find her replacement.
Limbert, 68, who has seen her share of controversy since taking over in 2002, said Monday morning during a hastily called news conference from the MUW campus that she was stepping down at the end of her current contract to spend more time with her family and to focus on writing.
“My MUW family has taken me on a fantastic journey and for that I will always be indebted to them,” said Limbert, the school’s 13th president. “Looking back on our work together, I am truly honored and humbled to have been a part of it all.”
The Board of Trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning will discuss the pending vacancy during this week’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, which will be held at Alcorn State University.
Earlier this summer, the College Board filled the posts of chancellor at the University of Mississippi and of commissioner of higher education. In 2008, the 12-member College Board also had to fill presidential vacancies at Mississippi State and Mississippi Valley State.
On Monday, College Board members focused on praising Limbert.
“She is a remarkable person and her contributions and service to this institution will never be forgotten,” said College Board President Scott Ross of West Point.
College Board member Amy Whitten of Oxford cited Limbert’s compelling personal story that has clearly guided her unique approach to academics and institutional life.

First to earn college degree
Limbert, a Missouri native, entered Bethel College at age 35, and became the first in her family to earn a college degree. She later earned graduate degrees in English and creative writing and held several administrative posts at Penn State University, DuBois, before being selected by the College Board to oversee MUW.
“She has shown a tremendous amount of leadership and courage in dealing with very difficult issues for the benefit of the future success of the university,” said College Board member Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo. He said Limbert had earned and received the board’s full support.
But not all supported the direction she was guiding MUW. She has been in what seemed to be constant battles with many MUW alumni, who took her to court in an unsuccessful effort to block her disassociation with the long-established MUW Alumni Association. Many in the same group also opposed efforts by Limbert and others to change the name of the school.
“I wish her well in whatever endeavor she goes into,” said MUW alumna Kay Cobb of Oxford, a former Supreme Court justice who has opposed many of Limbert’s actions.
When asked more specific questions, Cobb would say only, “I hope her replacement is more focused on the university’s women’s mission, which is statutory.”
Many alumni have voiced concerns that Limbert was not embracing the heritage of the university and trying to distance the school from its history as a university created in the 1880s to educate women.
Perhaps her most controversial endeavor was trying to change the name of the university. That issue is still pending before the College Board.
After a process involving representatives of university constituencies, Limbert had recommended naming the school after Sallie Eola Reneau, who led the effort in Mississippi for women’s higher education in the 1800s.
The school, founded in 1884, admitted men in 1982, and males now make up nearly 16 percent of the enrollment. In pushing for a new name, Limbert said MUW no longer reflected the school’s mission.
A news release from IHL pointed out Limbert’s accomplishments, including:
– A 17.5 percent increase in enrollment from fall 2002 to fall 2009 to nearly 2,500 students.
– An increase in endowments from $16 million to $27 million during the same time period.
– More than $5 million in federal grants for academics and other campus projects.
– Recognition in various national rankings, including a U.S. News & World Report No. 7 ranking in 2009 out of 80 southern schools in the “Commitment to Teaching” category.
Limbert also was praised for her response to a devastating tornado that slammed the campus only four months after she assumed her presidency.
“Clearly, Dr. Limbert’s record speaks for itself,” Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said. “She is a shining example of an educator we should all seek to emulate because her head and her heart are in exactly the right place.”
Limbert replaced Clyda Rent, the school’s first female president who also had her share of controversy. While Limbert was opposed by many alumni, Rent’s conflicts were primarily with university faculty.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal