Lamar University’s fifteenth president, Dr. Kenneth Evans, has announced his retirement from LU effective June 30, 2021. Evans informed Dr. Brian McCall, the chancellor of the Texas State University System, which Lamar University is a member. The chancellor’s office will commence a nationwide search.
Evans joined Lamar University in July 2013 with a focus on improving support for faculty research and teaching, design and implementation of new programming, campus beautification and recruitment and retention of high-quality students.
“It has been a highlight of my career to have had the honor of working with Ken and Nancy Evans. Their impact on Lamar University is remarkable,” said McCall. “Under Ken’s leadership, the university has strengthened its academic and research programs, developed unique academic niches, increased enrollment to an all-time high, moved to a new athletic conference and launched an unprecedented campus expansion and beautification effort, to name just a few achievements. Lamar University is better because of their service.”
Under Evans’ leadership, more new construction was completed on campus than in the past 40 years. The Wayne A. Reaud Building was completed in September 2016 to house administration and the Reaud Honors College; the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, completed in early 2017, was built to serve as a conduit for industry and university interactions, projects and business incubation; and an 85,000-sq. ft. Science & Technology Building with state-of-the-art instrumentation and equipment and a makerspace was completed in April 2019. Also, in 2019, Lamar University’s Vincent-Beck Field was completely renovated following the completion of the new softball complex that was completed in 2016 A Welcome Center will open this spring, culminating a five-year plan to create Lamar University’s first official front door off Cardinal Drive. The plan included working with the Texas Department of Transportation to create freeway ramps leading to and from campus and the purchase of the long-established concrete plant that stood adjacent the campus off Cardinal Drive. The purchase of property brought the campus acreage to 300.
In addition to new construction, Evans and his team oversaw a complete renovation of the Setzer Student Center and Quadrangle, as well as the first floor of the Mary and John Gray Library. Numerous classrooms across campus, the President’s Suite at the Montagne Center, Music Annex Building, Landes Auditorium and the Science Auditorium were all updated. Evans initiated maintenance schedules for residence halls, added new parking for students and updated the south-central power plant infrastructure. He also brought Starbucks to campus, a student favorite, as well as a personal favorite.
With LU’s first lady, Nancy, who passed away in 2018, Evans was committed to further enhancing the aesthetics of LU. Together they supported the establishment of the Public Art Committee. Nancy worked tirelessly on the committee and helped acquire numerous works of art for buildings, public areas and green spaces to enrich the university’s cultural life. As a master gardener, Nancy also worked in LU’s flowerbeds and provided vision for remodeling and renovation projects and started the Women and Philanthropy program to promote philanthropic education, leadership and advocacy by empowering women to be active participants in the giving process.
Evans saw a need to partner with the surrounding neighborhood for the betterment of the entire community. Early in his tenure, he established a South Park task force that ultimately became the Greater South Park Neighborhoods Partnership. The partnership now works together to build a community that has made significant improvements in roads, lighting and other critical infrastructure vital to the community’s health and wellbeing. Through that partnership, Lamar University began tutoring in the neighborhood schools, and Nancy Evans began a “Reading Wednesday” program. Through her involvement with the schools, the idea for high-tech STEM-centric spaces was born. LU has partnered with community leaders and organizations to create and build the Nest, innovative learning labs now established in eight Beaumont ISD schools. The Nest labs are dedicated in memory of Nancy Evans.
Consistently Evans’ focus has been on the student experience with a “one student –at –a time” mindset outlined in LU’s 2015-2020 strategic plan, and in the second strategic plan Evans brought the university through for 2020-2025. With that mindset, he quadrupled the number of students who study abroad each year as well as created an Office of Study Abroad for the university. He increased efforts in recruitment and retention of students, especially international and transfer students. In the Fall Semester 2013, LU enrollment was 15,293; LU’s enrollment in Fall Semester 2020 was 17,447. Today, LU has students from 48 states and 17 countries.
To enhance the student experience, Evans sought to streamline the faculty research and grant funding process. Efforts to make the grant proposal process more efficient resulted in nearly a 40% increase in external grants submitted in 2020 to $17.4 million. Evans has also ensured that Lamar University undergraduate students have the opportunity to conduct research. Through his leadership, the Office of Undergraduate Research has been strengthened to help students of all disciplines find and develop opportunities to engage in collaborative research with faculty members and other mentors in the academic disciplines.
During his time at LU, Evans established several centers to enhance student learning and meet regional needs. The Center for Advances in Port Management, established in 2015, prepares the port and marine terminal industry for 21st century challenges through advanced education and research. The Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast supports the creation, preservation and transmission of knowledge about Southeast Texas. The Center for Educational Innovation and Digital Learning advances the application and impact of digital learning and infuses digital education in both K-12 and post-secondary environments. The Center for Midstream Management and Science serves as a bridge between Lamar University and the midstream industry including oil and gas transportation, gas processing, terminals and storage.
More recently, Evans launched the President’s Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Equity to work collaboratively with the entire university community in transforming LU into a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, welcoming and supportive learning, working and living environment for its members.
Evans also supported LU athletics including a move to the Western Athletic Conference from the Southland Conference to expand LU’s brand to an additional six states and to be included in a membership of institutions with growing enrollments and in locations with emerging economies.
“It has been a privilege and honor to join the faculty, staff and administration of Lamar University to collectively strive to advance LU and most importantly serve our students these past seven years,” said Evans. “I take with me fond memories of the people I have known and the work we have collaborated to complete.”
Through numerous hurricanes, wind events, a plant explosion, social injustice and a global pandemic, Evans was undeterred in his efforts and commitment to further Lamar University’s mission to engage and empower students with the skills and knowledge to thrive in their personal lives and chosen fields of endeavor. His programs and initiatives ensured high quality academics, innovative curriculum, a diverse student population, accessibility, student success and leading-edge scholarly activities that contributed to transforming the communities of Southeast Texas and beyond.
The Texas State University System Office will retain a search firm by February 1 and begin the process of a nationwide search. Dr. Evans will remain president until a new president is on board, most likely this summer.