Dr. Larry Williams, fifteenth president of Northeastern State University, was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City on October 18.
Recipients of this prestigious honor are nominated for outstanding achievements that have benefited higher education, and the board of directors for the Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society chooses 11 honorees each year.
Dr. Williams became president of NSU on July 1, 1997, and brought to the job an impressive resume of leadership in higher education and service to his community. Since taking the helm, he has guided the state's fourth-largest university to new levels of achievement.
At an early age, Dr. Williams learned from his father the work ethic that has shaped his thinking through 38 years in higher education - "if you owe a man eight hours, give him nine." As a college student, young Larry Williams embarked on a career in higher education literally from the ground up. His first job on the campus of Central State University (now UCO) was as a groundskeeper. He earned his bachelor of science and master of business administration degrees while working diligently at a variety of jobs, and later was awarded his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. In June 1996, he graduated from the Institute for Educational Management Program at Harvard University.
Dr. Williams began his administrative career in higher education in 1967 in the Accounting Department of the Comptroller's Office at Oklahoma State University. Two years later, he returned to work at Central State and advanced through the ranks to become vice president for Administration in 1984.
In May 1987, Dr. Williams was named the Interim President of Southeastern Oklahoma State University and was appointed by the Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges to become the University's fifteenth president on August 15, 1987.
During the next decade, Dr. Williams is credited with revitalizing the Durant campus. He restored integrity to the President's office, built loyalty among faculty and staff, and committed the resources of the university to advancing academics. Logistically, he achieved success by decreasing administrative costs, increasing faculty salaries, and adhering to his trademark philosophy, "it's impossible to stand still - you're either progressing or you\'d5re losing ground."
His commitment to institutional development followed Dr. Williams to Tahlequah where he and his wife Pam have dedicated their time and energy to various projects that have broadened the university's scope and resources.
Under his leadership, the institution has placed a high priority on developing academic programs, services, and financial resources specifically geared to benefit students. In keeping with a student-oriented philosophy, he has worked diligently to expand and improve the university through capital bond projects, including the establishment of NSU Broken Arrow, the state's fastest growing university campus. Voters approved a one-half cent sales tax in 1998 to launch construction on Phase I and funds from the Vision 2025 package will facilitate Phase II, bringing investment in NSUBA to $55 million.
Capital improvements have changed the face of NSU's Tahlequah campus. Currently, a $10 million Science Center is under construction, adjacent to the Science Building which will also be refurbished with funds made available through the statewide bond issue. Renovations to Doc Wadley Stadium were financed through a $2 million one-half cent sales tax passed by the voters of Tahlequah, and construction of a new indoor practice facility on the stadium grounds was made possible through private funding. In 2000, the state-of-the-art Mike Synar Center opened in Muskogee. Each of these construction projects represents improved opportunities for NSU students, and are considered by Dr. Williams to be important tools in a students' quest to earn a quality education.
Also under his direction, Northeastern has implemented an enrollment management model that works to continually improve enrollment numbers, student retention, and graduation rates. In the past five years, headcount enrollment has increased nearly 18 percent (from 8,121 to 9,572), and the number of first time entering freshmen has increased 39 percent, due in large part to Dr. Williams' emphasis on expanding student services and scholarship opportunities.
Last year, Dr. Williams directed a comprehensive review and restructuring of all academic functions of the University. The resulting merger of two academic colleges streamlined several academic programs and resulted in lower administrative and operating costs. While consolidating resources, the University has added eleven new degree programs since 2000 that address student, community, and business needs.
An experienced college administrator, Dr. Williams has long been an advocate for expanding education resources and placing needs of the students first. While some higher education leaders subscribe to the "publish or perish" philosophy that quite often takes faculty from the classroom to pursue research, Dr. Williams adheres to the concept of "develop or die." In today's higher education climate, this takes on a double meaning - to help students develop their full potential in order to become active, productive members of society and to develop the institution's resources so that more progressive learning and cultural opportunities are available to serve its patrons.
Dr. Williams promotes community involvement both on and off campus among faculty, staff, and students and serves as an example of commitment to leadership. He holds memberships in numerous professional and state organizations, and has been the recipient of many awards and honors during his distinguished career. In recent years he was honored as a Distinguished Former Student by his alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma.
For the Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges, he has served several terms as chair of the Presidents' Council. Under the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Dr. Williams has twice chaired both the statewide Council of Presidents and the Legislative Affairs Committees. He serves on the Budget, Legislative, and Capital Bond committees.
Dr. Williams is a 1991 graduate of Leadership Oklahoma and has been a member of the organization's advisory board. He is an active member of the Oklahoma Academy, fulfilling various leadership roles. In addition to numerous civic and organizational memberships and an impressive array of awards, he is a member of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and serves on the boards of directors for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority and the Oklahoma Arts Institute. He serves on the BancFirst Advisory Board of Directors and also chaired the Gable Field Oversight Committee responsible for administering funds for renovations to NSU's Gable Field.
Dr. Williams, a native of Cushing, is the son of Morene Williams and the late Louis Albert Williams. He and Pam live in Tahlequah on the main campus of NSU. Their five children are Rev. Natalie Ford, a minister in Owasso; Dr. Sharla Bryan Colbert, a physician in New York City; Vanessa Cobb, an elementary school teacher in Southlake, Texas; Nicole Streich, a speech language pathologist in Tulsa; and Brad Williams, a business/community liaison with Workforce Oklahoma in Tahlequah.