New UE President Arrives

The 23rd president of the University of Evansville, Dr. Thomas A. Kazee, and his wife Sharon come to Evansville prepared to build on the University of Evansville’s tradition of excellence with wardrobes befitting the job: closets full of purple.

Kazee comes to UE from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., home of the purple and white Paladins, where he currently serves as the provost and executive vice president. A paladin is a “heroic warrior.”

Prior to his arrival at Furman in 2003, Kazee served for 18 years on the faculty at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., including a decade as chair of the Department of Political Science, and four years as dean of the college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. (It was in Sewanee where the Kazees first built a purple wardrobe since the university’s colors are purple and gold.)

Kazee was selected by the university’s presidential search committee led by UE trustees Steve Harkness of Cincinnati and Barbara Price of Evansville. The Board of Trustees voted April 9 to offer the post to Kazee, and he and his wife were introduced at a 2 p.m. press conference to an enthusiastic crowd in the Bernhardt Atrium of the Schroeder Family School of Business Administration Building.

Kazee received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, in 1974, and a doctorate in political science from Ohio State University in 1978. Kazee will assume his duties June 1, replacing Dr. Stephen Jennings, who is retiring after nine years as UE president. As is UE tradition, the Kazees will reside at the university-owned Guthrie May home on South Lombard Avenue.

Niel Ellerbrook, chairman of the UE board of trustees, introduced Kazee. Ellerbrook joked with the crowd consisting of UE faculty, students, members of the media, university trustees, and community leaders that so distraught was he over announcing Jennings’ retirement this time last year, that he “went ahead and announced (his own) retirement” from his post as CEO of Vectren. Ellerbrook’s last day as Vectren CEO is May 31 — the same day Jennings retires.

Throughout Ellerbrook’s introductory remarks about the Kazees, he emphasized Kazee’s proven track record, energy, and enthusiasm.

Kazee says he has known UE for a while; he has been well aware of its tradition of excellence and its high rankings. “The metrics are all there,” Kazee said. “The passion and commitment that I have seen for this university is truly inspiring. I use that word rarely, but I use it here as we were truly inspired.”

While acknowledging he has much to learn about the university and would not attempt to state at this early date what his plans for UE might include, he said he intended to show that UE is “the best place in the world to get an education.”

“This university can do amazing things,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Kazee’s wife Sharon is the vice president for arts and academics and dean at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and currently is completing her doctoral work at the University of South Carolina. They have two children: a daughter, Nicole, who is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a son, Geoff, who will begin work this summer as a turf management specialist at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.

“I am looking forward to championing this school with my husband, beside my husband,” Sharon said. “Each time I spoke with someone new (during the search process), I fell more in love with this place. It just feels right.”

The Kazees also were attracted to UE’s urban campus. “I accused Steve Harkness of stage managing the scene,” Kazee said, referring to the sights that greeted him when he pulled in the drive for a visit: students enjoying a sunny spring day on the lush UE lawn. “I thought any minute Cecil B. DeMille would jump out and say, ‘Cut,’” he says.

In his seven years at Furman, Kazee has been the chief academic officer, supervising the work of vice presidents and directors in various offices, including enrollment, student life, computing and information services, sustainability, grants administration, and institutional research. He served as acting president during the 2006-07 academic year and has been directly involved in fundraising for Furman’s $400 million capital campaign, “Furman Matters,” which has raised $304 million to this point. His efforts have led to substantial donations to support Furman’s nationally recognized Asian studies program, faculty development activities, and new science technology as well as two major new scholarship programs, including a $14 million gift from the Duke Endowment to create the Townes Scholars program.

As the author of numerous journal articles and editor of Who Runs for Congress: Ambition, Context and Candidate Emergence, his work looks at what shapes American congressional election outcomes. An advocate for the liberal arts, Kazee won Davidson’s Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award and served as an NCAA faculty athletics representative.

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