Betty Siegel, 1931-2020

Pioneering university leader who went on to promote higher education’s social responsibility remembered

February 27, 2020
Betty Siegel, 1931-2020

The long-serving second president of Kennesaw State University has died.

Betty Siegel was born in Cumberland, Kentucky in 1931. She earned her first degree in English and history at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, a master’s in education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD in education at Florida State University. She went on to postdoctoral study in clinical child psychology at Indiana University and taught both there and at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina.

Brought up in a family environment of high expectations for her, Professor Siegel soon began making her mark. After joining the faculty at the University of Florida in 1967, she soon became the first woman to serve as dean of academic affairs for continuing education (1971-76) and then the first female academic dean in the School of Education and Psychology at Western Carolina University (1976-81). This in turn led to a position as president of Kennesaw State, making her the first woman to take on such a role in the University System of Georgia. She was to remain there for a quarter of a century, from 1981 to 2005, making her one of the longest-serving female university presidents in the US.

When Professor Siegel joined KSU as its second president, it was a small state college offering 15 undergraduate degrees to just 3,500 students. By the time she left, it was offering 55 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to almost 18,000 students. Over and above that, she was committed to developing the sports teams and campus housing typical of well-established American universities. “We used to have the term ‘parking lot, classroom, parking lot’,” she once recalled. “I didn’t want our students to come and just have an in-class experience. I wanted them to have a total experience. I wanted them to have a life-changing experience.”

When Professor Siegel stepped down from the presidency in 2005, Thomas Meredith, chancellor of the Georgia system, praised her “truly outstanding” record, adding, “We all love Betty for so many things. She is known nationally for her infectious smile, her big coloured glasses, but most importantly for her competence.”

Alongside her work at KSU, Dr Siegel was the co-founder of the International Alliance for Invitational Education and the co-author, with William Purkey, of Becoming an Invitational Leader: A New Approach to Professional and Personal Success (2003). After retirement, she also convened the Oxford Conclave on Global Ethics, to explore the role of higher education as “a change agent for social responsibility”. She died on 11 February.

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