Penn State Intercom......October 10, 2002

Asbury to retire
effective June 30

By Annemarie Mountz
Public Information

Bill Asbury may be retiring as vice president for student affairs, but he's not slowing down by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he views his retirement as the perfect opportunity to step-up his already busy schedule of volunteer service leadership.

"The first thing I'm going to do is figure out how Jimmy Carter finds all the time to do all the work he does," said Asbury. "He's a good role model for someone who retires. While you may not agree with Jimmy Carter's politics, his example of service and leadership is a model that I would like to follow. My intent is really to be available for service to the University and also to the community."

Asbury, who will retire effective June 30, 2003, felt the timing was right for his move. As he told the Student Affairs staff in an e-mail to them announcing his decision, he decided to take the opportunities that converge this year to end his career at Penn State on a high note.

Some of the factors that influenced his decision are:

* his granddaughter's first birthday on Sept. 15;

* the completion of his unit's Grand Destiny Campaign goal on June 30, for which Student Affairs will have raised more than $20 million on an $18.4 million goal;

* the opening this fall of the MBNA Career Services Building, which has improved services to students;

* the expected completion of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center and Eisenhower Chapel expansion, which will more than double the space available for spiritual services;

* the consolidation of smaller units in Student Affairs into a more coherent group in Boucke Building;

* the expansion of the LGBTA Student Center, and the increase in space for the Center for Women Students and the Center for Adult Learner Services; and

* the awarding this year of the International Chapter of the Year award to Golden Key nternational Honor Society, meaning the group that Asbury has advised since 1989 has been recognized as being the best out of 320 chapters on five continents.

"Those things, plus the fact that I probably have now the best group of leaders in departments and units of Student Affairs that I've ever had, assisted in my decision," said Asbury. "I think Student Affairs is well-positioned to move forward, no matter who comes in as vice president."

Finding Asbury's replacement will be no easy task for President Graham B. Spanier.

"Bill has had a great impact on this University during his career," said Spanier. "His involvement in Philadelphia outreach, the University's Newspaper Readership Program and initiatives to reduce high-risk drinking have contributed greatly to an enhanced student experience. He has worked hard to listen and respond to the concerns and needs of the students outside of the classroom, as evidenced by his developing the Penn State Pulse, a formalized survey system to gather feedback on student issues, expectations, usage and satisfaction. I have talked at length this fall about making this a more student-centered University, but that's something Bill has been doing for more than 26 years. His retirement will create a void at this University that will be difficult to fill."

Although he has worn many hats during the course of his career, Asbury puts at the top of his list of achievements the things he has done with Golden Key.

"I've enjoyed being the adviser to Golden Key International Honor Society, because they are very smart students who are intellectually capable of doing lots of things in any field. The thing that we want to instill in them and encourage in them is to be involved not only in the University by providing service to other students, but also in the community itself."

That service theme has been consistent in Asbury's career. In addition to the many things he's done with the University, he also has been visibly active in the community. He is a former member of the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Board of Directors; former board member and past president of Centre HomeCare Inc.; past president of Kiwanis Club of State College; former member of the board of Leadership Centre County; and is a member of the board of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

While others are quick to praise Asbury for his achievements, he tends to deflect that praise and redirect it to others. For example, he credits student leaders with getting the ball rolling on two of his more prominent initiatives.

He meets every two weeks with the Elected Student Leaders group. He credits this group, which includes the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president, Graduate Student Association (GSA) president and the Commonwealth College Student Government (CCSG) president, along with the elected student trustee and the elected presidents of Greek councils, for coming up with one idea that has had a major impact on the students both at University Park and at the University's other locations.

"Over the years, that group has been influential in initiating the Student Activity Fee, which I hope is one of the legacies that I leave here. That activity fee has impacted greatly on student life at the University, and not just University Park. In fact, I think its greatest impact has been at our other campus locations," said Asbury. "It was a way for me to have that impact across the University that wouldn't have existed without the support of that group of students. A lot of people aren't aware of it, but that's where that idea was initiated."

Another initiative created with student input is the Student Affairs Executive Intern Program, which is offered once each semester. This program gives students the opportunity to learn how the University works.

"They learn about budgets, the Board of Trustees and University facilities, and they learn about the way academic policies are developed," explained Asbury.

The students also are involved in internships working with budget administrators, mostly in Student Affairs, where they work on a project that they and their mentors devise.

"We've had students who have been able to improve the quality of programs in each unit of Student Affairs," said Asbury. "Those students have gone on to do great things. The last two presidents of USG have been students who have gone through the program. I think most students who have gone through it have gone on to be chairs of committees like the University Park Allocation Committee, so creating that class and funding support for it has been a way to work with students."

Things have changed a lot in Asbury's nearly 27 years at the University. One of the biggest changes, he said, is the addition of The Bryce Jordan Center as an entertainment venue.

"Moving from Rec Hall to The Bryce Jordan Center has had a tremendous impact, both in terms of the space available and the types of events that occur on campus. The music and the entertainment that are availble to the community has expanded, making it even more of a metropolitan area than it was before. That's a big change in the community. We really have become more metropolitan than rural. The changing road structure also has belied the statement that 'State College is equally inaccessible from everywhere.' That no longer is the case."

Asbury also points to signs of growth and change in the downtown area.

"I always tell people that one of the more significant changes is that when I came here in 1976 there was no McDonald's, and now there are four or five in the area," said Asbury.

The growth in the local fast-food industry is a testament to the growth in population -- both of students and community members -- over the last two decades. With that growth has come increased diversity.

"We clearly have a more diverse student body. There are more international students. There are overall more students of color. There are more visibly identified lesbian, gay and bisexual students," said Asbury. "There are many more student organizations, as well. We now have more than 600 student organizations, so there's been a tremendous growth in opportunities for students to take on leadership and service roles, which I think is important."

Asbury works hard to impress upon students the importance of service, not just with words, but with his actions.

"I always felt that is was important to be involved in the community and when you're working with students, when you're talking about leadership and service like we do in every unit of Student Affairs, you also have to model that theory. If you do that, then you don't have to preach it so much, because the students see it in what you do."

Asbury also sees a major change in the relationship to the campuses and colleges that have taken place in the last five or six years under Spanier's leadership.

"That change also has affected the relationship of the staff of Student Affairs across the campuses. Many people aren't aware of the fact that just as there is one president for the University, there's only one vice president for Student Affairs for the University and so our relationship to our colleagues at each of the other 19 campuses where there are directors of Student Affairs had to be strengthened."

That's one of the challenges Asbury sees for his successor.

"How we deliver basic services, particularly as it relates to our campus locations, is going to be important," he said. "The leadership that has to continue in that area is going to be a challenge for the next vice president because there are lots of forces driving the campus colleges apart -- the forces to be independent, the forces to be four-year -- and therefore changing relationship of many of those campuses to University Park. And yet the Student Affairs staff at those campuses will never have all the resources they need to be able to deliver the set of programs and services that we think are important. So there has to be a continued partnership and policy and collegial relationship between the University Park staff and the campuses. That will be a challenge, given the budget reductions we've seen from the state."

Another challenge for his successor is the issue of the changing climate on campus. With the increased diversity, Asbury sees more potential for conflicts and friction as differing ideas and convictions intersect.

"But there also are opportunities for growth in that -- learning more about one another -- so the challenge will be how Student Affairs will play a very important role in building the kind of community where everyone feels like they are part of the community but recognizing that there will be increasing divergent perspectives on what that community should look like and how it should function."

In his retirement, expect to see Asbury involved in issues involving town-gown relations.

"For better or worse, our students are increasingly moving out of the Borough of State College. They're moving into Patton Township and Ferguson Township, and the issues of neighborhood relationships are going to expand into those communities as well. We've got to come together in a larger sense around the issue of quality of life. It's got to be a partnership in the community involving students, faculty, apartment owners and managers, and police from the region. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such group doing that."

If his track record is any indication, expect to see such a group form soon.

Annemarie Mountz can be reached at