LaGree appointed to second five-year term as theology dean

Kevin LaGree has been reappointed for another five-year term as dean of the School of Theology. An announcement was made to the faculty on Feb. 16 by Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Billy Frye.

"It has been delightfully exhilarating to serve as Candler's dean," said LaGree, "and I eagerly look forward to the challenges of the next five years. I am confident that, with Candler's extraordinary faculty and staff, we shall find creative opportunities within these challenges."

LaGree came to the School of Theology in 1991 with a background in the local church and as a practicing lawyer. His five years here have been marked by growth -- in finances, in the numbers and quality of students, and in the relationship with the United Methodist Church.

The fundraising goal for the School of Theology in The Emory Campaign had been set at $5 million in 1989. LaGree upped that goal to an ambitious $29.5 million. When the campaign closed its books, the School of Theology had raised $34.35 million, or 687 percent of the original goal.

"Addressing the fiscal condition of the school, creating a system to monitor that condition and then teaching it to the faculty" was one of LaGree's major achievements in his first five years, according to Jim Fowler, director of the ethics center, who also holds a joint appointment in the School of Theology. "He has given the faculty both a sense of ownership and appropriate responsibility for the fiscal responsibility for the school."

Luther Smith, associate professor of church and community, echoed that sentiment. "His work at financial stability has really brought about a stability in the morale of the school." Smith also noted that LaGree "has shifted back to faculty the expectation that we take responsibility for the direction of the institution. I think it is really important for us to feel that we not only have an investment, but we have a responsibility to be voicing the direction we think the institution should be going."

Fowler noted two additional areas in which LaGree has focused his attention: the recruitment and retention of students; and improved ties with the United Methodist Church. LaGree hired Mary Lou Boice as assistant dean of admissions and student services, bringing a new focus to the area. Boice was hired not only to recruit, but also to oversee a program to improve retention. The results have been impressive; from the fall of 1992 to the fall of 1995, the average GPA of entering students rose from 2.82 to 3.12. What is even more significant about that improvement, according to Boice, is that it happened even as the school admitted more students. "In the fall of 1990, we had 101 M.Div. students; in the fall of 1995 we had 148." Boice said that the school is now competing with Union Theological Seminary, Harvard, the University of Chicago, Garrett Theological Seminary and Boston University, "schools we were never competing with before."

Both Fowler and Boice noted that LaGree's efforts to strengthen and maintain ties with the United Methodist Church have been successful. It's an area, said Fowler, that "is important for many obvious reasons, but he has done that conscientiously and with a lot of energy."

LaGree has mapped out an agenda for the school for the next five years. "Candler must address significant challenges in the next five years," he said. "Chief among them are providing additional resources to enhance faculty teaching and research, continuing to improve the academic quality of the school, improving the effectiveness of our curricula as shown in the quality of our graduates, and expanding the Pitts Theology Library and renovating Bishops Hall."

The faculty was unanimous in supporting LaGree's reappointment, according to Fowler, and Frye is enthusiastic as he looks to the future. "Kevin LaGree is a terrific dean," he said. "I am immensely pleased that he has agreed to continue for another five years. It's very reassuring to know that both the School of Theology and the University will continue to benefit from his leadership."

-- Nancy M. Spitler

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