Wednesday, August 15, 2012
University of West Georgia President Beheruz N. Sethna announced his retirement effective June 30, 2013, which will bring to an end a dynamic tenure of 19 years.
Sethna was the catalyst for many of the changes that elevated the school from a modest liberal arts college of 7,947 students in 1993-94 to an institution with full university status whose full-time equivalent enrollment has grown by 50 percent since his arrival. It has also conferred more than 20 doctoral degrees in the past year, including its first Ph.D.
“When I arrived at West Georgia, the prevailing opinion was that I would be here for a couple of years and move to a bigger, better, more prestigious place,” said Sethna. “They were correct; I did. Together with the faculty and staff, we created a bigger, better and more prestigious university.”
Sethna’s service to higher education in Georgia also includes teaching undergraduate courses as professor of business administration at Richards College of Business and holding the interim offices of Senior Vice Chancellor from 1999 to 2000 and Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer from 2006 to 2007 at the Board of Regents.
“Dr. Sethna has elevated the reach, brand and esteem of UWG throughout Georgia, the Southeast and nationally, said University System of Georgia (USG) Regent Ken Bernard. “Dr. Sethna was and is passionate about teaching, and this carried over in all his efforts, both at USG and throughout his tenure at UWG. In fact, he made it a priority that all administrators taught as part of their jobs. He will be missed, but his presence as a faculty member will be immensely valuable to UWG.”
Sethna said the decision to retire was complex. “It has been my honor to lead UWG through this stage of its life. But I believe it is time to pass the torch of leadership.”
Sethna is currently the longest-serving president among four-year institutions/universities in Georgia.
“I will continue at UWG in my capacity as professor of business administration,” said Sethna, 64. “In addition to being able to spend more time with my family, I intend to spend summers teaching English and science at Balgram, an orphanage school in India.”
Sethna earned his Ph.D. in Business (Marketing) and a Master of Philosophy degree at Columbia University in New York. His other academic credentials include a Bachelor's degree with Honors in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. He has been named a distinguished alumnus of both these institutions, arguably the most prestigious undergraduate and graduate schools in India.
He is believed to be the first person of Indian heritage to head a university in the United States and the first ethnic minority to do so in Georgia.
Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner remembers working with Sethna nearly every week since his appointment in 1994. “You can’t measure the impact that President Sethna has made on the institution, the region and even the state. He fell in love with the community and made West Georgia his life’s work. I would hate to be the one to follow in his footsteps.”
He has received Resolutions of Commendation from the Senate of the State of Georgia and the Board of Regents and has been named among the 100 Most Influential Georgians six times: 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He also received the prestigious Cornerstone Award from the Board of Regents.
UWG Foundation Board of Trustees member Phillip Kauffman has known Sethna since he arrived in Carroll County more than 18 years ago. He compared Sethna to some of greatest sports and business legends of our time.
“Dr. Beheruz Sethna is to what once was a college and is now the University of West Georgia what Michael Phelps has been to the swimming community. He is what Bill Gates has been to the business community. He did more in the last 18 years than was done in the previous 82 years.”
Kauffman, whose three sons and a daughter attended UWG, noted the expansion of the campus, its new buildings and facilities, and the improvement of academic standards. “First came the academics, then the physical appearance of the campus. Look at it today,” Kauffman said.
While Sethna attributes the accomplishments realized under his tenure as a team effort, the following achievements hold special meaning for him.
In the last 18 years, Sethna guided the University to:
• Achieve designation as a member of the robust tier of doctoral comprehensive universities;
• Grant its first Doctorate of Philosophy in July—the first Ph.D. conferred in Georgia outside of its four research institutions;
• Secure approval to be classified as a SACS Level VI university—its highest level; this is the same SACS level as Emory, UGA, and Georgia Tech;
• Obtain approval for and create Georgia's first and only Board-approved Honors College;
• Start Georgia's first Advanced Academy for exceptionally-gifted high school students who have received Goldwater and Marshall Scholarships and gone on to the best universities in the world, such as Yale and Oxford;
• Award more Bachelor’s, Master’s, Specialist and Doctoral degrees than every other administration combined;
• Earn national recognition in the field of academic debate, having bested such institutions as Harvard more than once, and winning two consecutive national championships;
• Increase its endowment to about 10 times the 1994 level; and
• Realize its first major college-naming endowment—the Richards College of Business.
From its humble beginnings as an agricultural and mechanical school in 1906 to a leading university, the University of West Georgia has been renamed twice under Sethna’s tenure—each change reflecting the school’s growth and aspirations.
Paul Cadenhead, a life member of the board of trustees, praised Sethna as a visionary who respected the past.
“He has a sense of the heritage of the university and the promise of the university. That is a rare commodity,” said Cadenhead, who graduated in 1944 when the school was a junior college.
“The university is a monument to him. He came when it was just a college and he made it into the great university that it is today. He’s taken on the big guys—like Harvard—and beaten them in certain categories. In raising the educational standards, in the physical expansion and in regional and national recognition, he’s made the university what it is.”
Its recent growth spurt includes:
• A new nursing building, expected to be completed by fall 2013, which will feature training labs with cutting-edge technology;
• The visual arts building which opens this month;
• A robust athletic complex comprised of a University Stadium for football, a baseball venue, expanded practice facilities, and The Coliseum for basketball, volleyball, sport management classes and special events;
• The Greek Village, a residential housing complex for students in social fraternities and sororities, opened in August 2009;
• Center Pointe Suites, a new residence hall located in the center of campus which opens this fall and will house more than 600 first-time students; and
• Construction on a new residence hall and dining facility underway on the east side of campus.
United Community Bank President and CEO Tim Warren has known Dr. Sethna for 17 years through community projects, but most recently through serving on the board of trustees for the past six years.
“Dr. Sethna's impact on UWG and our community can best be described as a visionary who has the intellect, drive, and management skills to realize that vision. He transformed UWG into an academic giant while increasing the size of the school. That growth had an immediate and lasting impact on our local economy and quality of life in the West Georgia region as the university generates millions of dollars for our local economy annually. Dr. Sethna is also personally involved in civic clubs and organizations, and more importantly he encourages the staff and professors to become involved in our community, and to take on leadership roles that make a positive difference in our region,” Warren said.
Robert Stone, a life member of the board of trustees and founder and chairman of SMI, Inc., worked closely with Sethna on the University Stadium project.
“His presence has been fantastic,” said Stone, who was an assistant professor of management from 1969 to 1977.
From the first day of Sethna’s arrival on campus, he has been involved in every facet of UWG life. He has helped students move into the dormitories and overseen explosive growth.
“He is a very personable guy. He has the students’ best interests at heart. He is not a typical university president who sits in his ivory tower surrounded by books. He is a very hands-on leader. He is involved in every aspect of the university," Stone said.
"We are going to have to be extra careful—whoever is on that search committee—I hope they can find someone who can continue his vision or at least can parallel his vision," he said. “I miss him already."
Sethna has been married for more than 37 years to Dr. Madhavi Sethna, UWG faculty member in media and instructional technology. Their two children have followed in their parents’ footsteps of academic and professional achievement. After graduating from Georgia Tech and Emory Medical School, Dr. Anita Sethna became a Facial Plastics and Board-certified ENT surgeon who heads Emory Facial Center. Shaun Sethna is a Patent Attorney with a major international consulting firm in Houston. He is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Columbia University Law School.
“We continue to dream and achieve impossible dreams at West Georgia. I will never stop wanting more for it and its students, faculty and staff and will remain as charged, as passionate and as enthusiastic about UWG as I was when I set foot on campus,” Sethna said. “It has been my honor and my privilege to serve as the president of the University of West Georgia.”