In a letter to faculty, staff and friends of the university, Russell noted that he had been in informal conversations with the executive committee of the university’s Board of Trustees for several months and felt that now was the right time for him to retire and for McMurry to transition to new leadership. Addressing the immediacy of his decision, Russell noted that the summer months would provide an interim leader critical time to prepare for a new academic year.
In Russell’s announcement he offered thanks and praise to many at McMurry. “My gratitude runs deep to our faculty and staff and to the countless alumni, donors, community friends and church leaders who share my conviction that the United Methodist-affiliated tradition offered here at McMurry University really matters.”
During Russell’s eleven years as president, McMurry completed its largest capital campaign and made major improvements in campus living and learning facilities.
Board of Trustees Chairman, Chuck Fallon a 1985 McMurry graduate said, “On behalf of the Board, I congratulate Dr. Russell on his retirement as President and offer my heartfelt appreciation for the many significant accomplishments achieved during his time at McMurry. The hallmarks of a university presidency often endure long past the departure of a leader. We are better positioned in the sciences and a number of disciplines with a growing endowment, a more diverse student body and a stronger commitment to both the intellectual and spiritual lives of our students. We are proud of our highly experienced faculty, staff and administration who are well positioned to lead the university through this transition to new leadership. “
McMurry’s endowment grew under Dr. Russell’s leadership, weathering the financial crisis of 2008 and downward trend faced by so many private and public colleges and universities and rebounding to its current level of just under $65 million. That growth was fueled in part by the $7.7 million raised in support of student scholarships during McMurry’s Shaping the Future campaign that concluded in 2010.
Russell has been a champion of enhanced opportunities for experiential learning, undergraduate research and internships and has been a driving force in McMurry’s new connections to Abilene’s growing bio-science sector. An aerospace engineer by training, who spent 33 years in the United States Air Force, Russell came to McMurry from the West Virginia Institute of Technology where he was Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. His love of math and science is well known at McMurry where he partnered with the Abilene Independent School District to establish a science and math magnet school for 5th grade students. Russell encouraged linkages between academic disciplines like chemistry and biology and business and history. Those components have taken on increasing importance in McMurry’s learning environment.
Facility improvements made under Russell’s presidency include the Finch Gray Science Building, Bynum Band Hall, Jay-Rollins Library, Hunt and Martin Residence Halls, Seidel-Swagerty Tennis Complex, and Wilford Moore Stadium. The Furr Welcome Center was built to give visitors a more accessible and visible entry to the campus.
Student life at McMurry includes the option to participate in weekly chapel services and an array of mission and service programs both domestically and abroad which complement the institution’s commitment to its Methodist roots and servant leadership. All have grown in the eleven years of Russell’s presidency. Russell is an active member of St. Paul United Methodist Church and even with the demands of a university presidency; he has made time each week to teach the Beacon Sunday School class.
McMurry began a transition to full-membership in NCAA Division II under Russell’s leadership, a decision that is designed to increase the academic profile of those who enroll and enhance the retention and graduation rate at McMurry.
With Russell’s departure occurring just after the close of this academic year, a special event is being planned for this fall to honor his service to McMurry and to the city of Abilene where he and his wife Gerri have been active in civic and non-profit organizations.
Lynn Yearwood, a 1970 McMurry graduate, will serve as Interim President while the search for McMurry’s next leader occurs. A member of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Trusteeship Committee, Yearwood is a retired executive who has held key leadership roles in health insurance management including Vice President of Operations at General American Life Insurance (later Great West) and Chief Operations Officer and Vice President of Technology at
HealthLink, a subsidiary of Anthem. She has had management and budget responsibility for multiple office locations across the country, including oversight of 1,000 employees and $50M budgets.
Dr. Weldon Crowley, a 1957 McMurry graduate and member of the Board of Trustees and its Trusteeship Committee will serve as chair of the Presidential Search Committee.
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