The Tennessee Board of Regents honored retiring Dyersburg State Community College President Karen Bowyer during the board’s quarterly meeting Thursday in Nashville.
The board unanimously approved a resolution of appreciation for her service. The resolution (attached) outlines the highlights of her leadership of the college and her career serving students, and expresses the board’s appreciation for her many contributions to the college, her students, the TBR system and the state.
Dr. Bowyer announced in May her plans to retire at the end of the year after 37 years of service as president of Dyersburg State and nearly 50 years of service to higher education. She is the third president in the college’s 52-year history, the first woman to serve as president at a public college or university in the state and longest-serving president in the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) system.
Regent Greg Duckett, the longest-serving current member of the board, read the resolution and made the motion for its approval. He said he has known Bowyer since his service on the board began in 2006.
“When I first came on the board, she wasted no time making sure that I knew the importance of Dyersburg State Community College. Her heart has been on that community. I want to personally and professionally say, Dr. Bowyer, thank you for all you have done,” Duckett said.
Other members made similar observations:
Board Vice Chair Emily J. Reynolds: “On the night of Nov. 11, the Chancellor and I had the opportunity to head over to Dyersburg for their dinner honoring Karen. It was a great evening, and the theme of the emcee all evening was her ‘relentless’ nature. I was reminded of that this morning when Regent (Mark) George and I were having a conversation with Dr. Bowyer as we all arrived and he said, ‘Are you winding down, getting ready to leave?’ And she said, ‘Oh no, I’ve got two or three weeks left. We’re working on proposals. I’ve got work to do!’ So there’s no telling what else she’ll get over the finish line. It is your hallmark and you have set an example for all of us.”
Regent Joey Hatch: “Five years ago, my first board meeting was at Roane State Community College, and I was a rookie and a newbie stumbling around trying to figure out where to sit. You invited me to your table and patiently answered several questions I had and you were so gracious. And then about a year later when we made our first visit to Dyersburg for our quarterly meeting, I remember all the business folks stood up and talked about Dyersburg State and also about how important you have been in the history of that school. I appreciate all that you have done for Dyersburg and for the state of Tennessee.”
TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings added, “As Regent Reynolds said, we had an opportunity to travel over to Dyersburg and help celebrate with the community and hear many great words said about Dr. Bowyer – all true. She’s also been a great friend and I will miss her. I want everyone to take note again that she was the first female president of any (public) college in the state of Tennessee, not just in our system. She broke that ceiling for all of us, and you have left this place so much better than it could have ever been.”
Dr. Tydings presented Bowyer with a gift box filled with notes from fellow college presidents across the state, TBR staff and others. “What these envelopes contain codifies everything that everyone has said about you. It is full of notes and letters from people across the state expressing their feelings about you,” the chancellor said.
After the presentation, Bowyer took the podium and briefly reviewed some highlights of her time as an educator, including at the University of Memphis where she began her TBR service as an instructor of mathematics in 1972. She also spoke about how times have changed for women in higher education administration.
“When I came to a board meeting back in 1984, there may have been one other woman in the room. It was very different from now,” she said, noting that Tydings became the first woman to serve as TBR chancellor five years ago. Now, the presidents of seven of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges are women, as are nine of the 19 members of the Board of Regents and four of the eight TBR department heads.
“I grew up in a region similar to Northwest Tennessee, Western Illinois, also along the Mississippi River. People there had similar trouble with transportation, with getting an education, with opportunity, so I guess it was in my genes.” Bowyer said one of her first goals was the establishment of new Dyersburg State campuses in Covington, Trenton and Union City, to make higher education more accessible and remove some of the transportation challenges.
She also excelled in fundraising, establishing the college’s first Annual Fund Campaign in 1985, which over 36 years has raised nearly $31 million. She led the establishment of the Dyersburg State Community College Foundation in 1988, which began raising money for an endowment fund that now totals nearly $12 million.
Bowyer worked with every TBR chancellor since the system was created by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1972, beginning with Dr. Cecil C. Humphreys, who was president of the University of Memphis (then Memphis State University) when she began work there as a mathematics professor. He was soon named the board’s first chancellor.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Bowyer told the board. “The college is positioned to keep growing. There’s lots of room for improvement. I’m working with President-elect (Scott) Cook. He will hit the ground running Jan. 4 and I will help him any way I can. I thank you all, board members and staff, for all of your support over the years.”
Following a national search, the board last month appointed Dr. Scott Cook as Bowyer’s successor and the fourth president of Dyersburg State, effective Jan. 4. He is provost of Madisonville Community College in Kentucky, and previously was a senior administrator at Motlow State Community College in Tennessee.
After board members and staff gave Bowyer a second standing ovation when she concluded her remarks, Reynolds said, “We are so grateful for your service. We love to make history – the right kind of history – and Karen Bowyer, you have made great history for this state.”
The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.