Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
Baird Tipson never pictured himself as a college president. He imagined himself in the faculty ranks, teaching, researching and cultivating tomorrow’s leaders in the classroom.
That all changed in the 1980s after he became an associate dean at Central Michigan University and then secured the provost position at Gettysburg College.
As provost, Tipson quickly found himself engaged in numerous conversations with the university’s president, a man he greatly respected yet disagreed with at times.
Such discussions soon prompted Tipson to consider tossing his own cap into the presidential ring.“If I never tried, would I always feel I walked to the edge of the precipice and then looked back?” he remembered asking himself.
He chose not look back. Instead, he leaped and landed in Springfield to lead Wittenberg University into the 21st century as its 12th president. The position marked Tipson’s first run as a college president, and what a run it was.
Throughout his nine years at the helm, Tipson significantly invested his time, talent and energy into transforming Wittenberg technologically, physically, academically and financially.
His desire to share the Wittenberg story, combined with his commitment to the liberal arts and the local community, also reconnected hundreds with the university and altered the campus landscape for years to come.
“I felt Wittenberg was the place I needed to be,” Tipson said, and “I feel good about what I did here.”
He is especially proud of the successful Defining Moments Campaign, the most ambitious fund-raising campaign in Wittenberg’s history, which raised $75 million.
Not only did the campaign increase Wittenberg’s endowment, but it also brought Hollenbeck Hall, Wittenberg’s technologically rich home for the humanities, and it allowed for the completion of the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center, which will enrich science in the liberal arts and empower countless generations of future doctors, researchers and scientists to lead on campus and off.
In addition, the campaign created new academic programs and endowed chairs, and improved technology across campus.
“I was told that we could never raise $70 million because we didn’t have a tradition of campaigning, but we surpassed that goal,” Tipson said.
“Throughout most of its history, Wittenberg has wrestled with financial challenges, and not only has it survived, it has flourished.”
Despite such success, nothing in Tipson’s past had prepared him to serve as Wittenberg’s chief fund-raiser when he first took office in 1995.
He earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Yale University and majored in religion and history at Princeton University.
He studied in Germany, was named a Rockefeller Dissertation Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow, and brought 25 years of experience as a faculty member and administrator to Wittenberg but no background in fund raising.
“I knew what the board expected, and I was concerned about my lack of experience in this area,” Tipson said. “I knew it would be a steep learning curve.”
Yet, he persevered, agreeing to be whisked anywhere at any time to meet with alumni and friends, and generating millions of dollars to ensure the university’s future and enhance the value of a Wittenberg education.
“Baird proved fearless in asking for support for the university,” recalls Wittenbeg board member emeritus Barbara E. Taylor.
“His belief in our mission and his utter and total honesty and sincerity won over even the most skeptical prospects, and endeared him and the university to those who already supported us.”
Chuck Dominick, vice president for advancement, agreed. “Baird’s success came from his absolute confidence in the worthiness of this cause and his insistence on approaching the job on his own terms.
His inherent sincerity and plainspoken approachability proved to be a compelling entre into the offices, minds and pocketbooks of many. We also found in Baird a leader who could relate to people on a very personal level.”
Jane Hollenbeck ’38, whose lead gift made Hollenbeck Hall possible, certainly discovered that about Tipson after the two met in 1995. Upon his arrival on campus, Tipson took one look at the massive, elegant president’s residence and decided to move into the modest dwelling next door.
In so doing, he endeared himself to Hollenbeck who had lived in that house as a young girl. Nine years later, their friendship continues.“Baird is the best thing that ever happened to Wittenberg,” Hollenbeck said.
Such personal attention defined Tipson’s approach to the campus as well.
“Baird stressed the equality of all of us engaged in implementing Wittenberg’s mission, whether groundskeepers, professors, cooks or vice presidents,” recalled Richard P. Veler, professor emeritus of English and the general secretary for the university under Tipson.
“That egalitarian attitude energized all of us — and emboldened a few of us to ring the Tipsons’ back doorbell when we smelled cookies or bread baking in Sarah’s kitchen.
One student even stopped by to borrow one of Baird’s ties to wear to a dance. Yes, athletes, vocalists, thespians, potters — the list goes on — students, too, like the rest of us, have found Sarah and Baird accessible and have appreciated their active participation in life at Wittenberg,” Veler explained.
Faculty also appreciated Tipson’s commitment to academics. A firm believer that the best decisions are those arrived at together, Tipson worked with the faculty throughout his tenure to prepare Wittenberg for future challenges.
The fruits of such a leadership style resulted in state-of-the-art facilities, numerous technological enhancements, including faster network capabilities and wireless connections, the creation of a faculty task force to examine future directions for Wittenberg, 96 new student apartments with all the modern amenities and a comprehensive, long-range strategic plan, which the board of directors approved in May.
“Whether faculty members agreed with any particular decision Baird made or not, we could always be sure of two things,” said Warren Copeland, professor of religion and Springfield mayor.
“We knew he would be honest in giving us the reasons for his decisions. More importantly, we could be confident that he understood and respected the learning and teaching that is our fundamental reason for being at Wittenberg.
For that he rightfully earned our respect and thanks.”
“From the moment I arrived on campus, members of the faculty and staff not only extended a warm welcome but were also consistent in their support for me as I strove to articulate and bring into being the enormous expectations this community has for itself,” Tipson added.
Springfield also welcomed Tipson, whose tireless support of the city significantly improved Wittenberg’s town-gown relationship.
Convinced that the success of Springfield and the university were intertwined, Tipson participated heavily in the community, working with such organizations as the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, United Way and the Business Advisory Council of the Springfield City Schools.
He also served as president of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and as president of the executive committee of the Community Leadership Academy Board, an organization Wittenberg created, which strives to develop young future area leaders to work effectively and cooperatively.
“Sarah and Baird Tipson have my gratitude along with that of the Springfield and Wittenberg communities for their nine years of devoted service and their very active participation in civic affairs,” said Richard L. “Dick” Kuss ’45.
“Upon his arrival, Baird immediately dug into this community that I love,” added Mayor Copeland. “He cultivated local relationships key to Wittenberg, but he went much further.
He made Springfield his home and in so doing set the tone for everyone associated with Wittenberg; this city is our home. I especially appreciated his clear public support for public education in general and for Springfield City Schools in particular.”
An active spokesman at both the state and federal levels for increased funding for higher education, Tipson also frequently testified before the Ohio Legislature in the hopes of securing a long-range funding plan aimed at preserving a stable funding base for higher education and providing a technological infrastructure for all private and public schools.
“We independent colleges want to be part of the solution,” Tipson said. “I think we already are part of the solution.”
Additionally, Tipson worked with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO) and the Southwestern Ohio Consortium of Higher Education (SOCHE) in lobbying for more effective tax support of public universities because he believed that a more competitive higher education system would improve Ohio’s economy and thus the financial stability of all Ohio colleges.
“The states that have been most successful in making the transition to a knowledge economy are those that years ago made a long-term commitment to fund higher education as the path to build their economies,” Tipson explained.
Tipson’s belief that Wittenberg’s distinctiveness stems in no small part from its 160-year relationship with the church also made him a sought-after speaker at area churches and at church-related conferences nationwide.
Furthermore, Tipson’s presidential colleagues in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC), Wittenberg’s athletic conference, gave him the responsibility of articulating their position — returning Division III to its core values — first at an NCAA focus group and subsequently at the national NCAA conference this past January.
“We didn’t win on every point, but we did institute reasonable limits on length of season and practices in the non-traditional season, and we approved a system to monitor our adherence to our policy of no athletic scholarships,” Tipson said.
“Taken together, our actions reaffirm our commitment to the principles upon which Division III was founded.”
Throughout his tenure, Tipson displayed a similar drive in his effort to preserve Wittenberg’s unique form of education, the result of which is an even stronger institution solidly poised for future success.
“I don’t know about the future, but I do know that the traditions we hold dear are worth the fight,” said Tipson, who plans to continue to fight for the liberal arts as Washington College’s 26th president.
Although he will miss walking up the hill to his office at Wittenberg, along with the football games, theatre productions, choir concerts, sheer beauty of campus, student-oriented faculty and staff as well as the community, Tipson leaves confident in the knowledge that Wittenberg is better than he found it nine years ago.
“The groundwork is laid for the university’s continued improvement,” Tipson said, and “Wittenberg is in a much better position toward the finish line.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112