Radford University’s President Penny Kyle is retiring in 2016, two years earlier than expected

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires
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Radford University is in the market for a new president. After nearly 10 years at the helm, President Penelope W. Kyle plans to retire on June 30, 2016, two years earlier than expected.

Kyle signed a five-year employment extension contract with the university’s board in July 2012, which took effect in July 2013. However, the university announced Monday that the contract had been amended to June 30, 2016. Kyle could not be reached for comment regarding the change in her departure date.

The university’s board of visitors approved Kyle’s plan to retire earlier at a meeting on Saturday, and a press release about the decision was posted to the school’s website Monday.

Appointed in 2005, Kyle is Radford’s sixth president and its first woman president. A corporate lawyer and former executive director of the Virginia Lottery under three governors, she is credited with having a wide range of connections in Richmond that helped the mid-size school in Southwest Virginia gain visibility and funding for new capital projects.

"Much of Radford University's achievements under President Kyle can be directly attributed to her tireless efforts to build upon and improve the university's relationships with the General Assembly and the commonwealth's elected leaders," Rector Michael A. Wray said in a statement. "Her advocacy has resulted in unprecedented support for Radford University in funding capital construction and renovation projects and introducing new degrees and programs that address the needs of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

According to the university, Radford has secured approval and funding for more than $330 million in capital projects, including new construction and renovation, since Kyle’s arrival. In 2008, Radford opened the Covington Center for Visual and Performing Arts. In fall of 2012, that was followed by a new $44 million, 110,000-square-foot building for the College of Business and Economics. A new student wellness center opened in December. Currently under construction are two academic buildings, including a $52 million, 143,600-square foot facility that will serve as the new home to the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences.

During Kyle’s tenure, Radford also beefed up its programs. It obtained state approval for the university’s first doctoral degree in counseling psychology. More recently, the university gained approval for doctorates in physical therapy and nursing practice plus a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

At an alumni appearance in Richmond two weeks ago, Kyle was her usual high-energy self, chatting up alums and wearing her trademark school color: a bright Radford red. In remarks to the group, she noted the new buildings and spoke with excitement about Radford’s expectation of hitting a fulltime enrollment of 10,000 for the first time in the school’s history this fall.

In 2014, the school had a full-time enrollment of 9,081, according to figures from the State Council of Higher Education.  That was a stronger showing than in 2009, when Radford was the only public four-year institution in Virginia to post a decline in the number of freshman enrolled, which caused an overall drop in enrollment for that year.

With the announcement of Kyle’s retirement, the board said that it has begun the search process for a new leader. "The board anticipates a search process that will involve the broader RU community of faculty, staff, students and alumni," said Wray. "Today's announcement ensures ample time to identify the new president and will allow an orderly transition.”

Kyle, a native of Galax, said, “I am proud to have played a part in the transformation of Radford University …After much deliberation and looking back on the tremendous accomplishments we have achieved together for Radford University and our students, I have given consideration to identifying a good timeframe for transition of the presidency.”

Kyle’s tenure was not without bumps.  A $1 million “stay” bonus approved by the school’s board of visitors in 2009, and which Kyle became eligible for in 2013, proved controversial, coming at a time when the salary of some of Radford’s faculty ranked below their peer institutions.

Kyle was entitled to the bonus on July 1, 2013, when a new five-year employment contract took effect that was supposed to run through June 30, 2018.  Asked how the amended contract would affect Kyle’s financial incentives as president, Joe Carpenter, Radford’s vice president for university relations, said in an email that “my understanding in these cases is that she would not receive those incentives applicable to the president after she retires as president on June 30, 2016 (such as deferred compensation, automobile, auto allowance, university housing, annual physical, tax/financial planning, etc.).

According to a state salary database compiled by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Kyle’s total compensation for the 2013-14 state fiscal year was $309,000. Her base salary was $154,991 and her non-state funded salary was $154,009.

Several elected officials, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, issued statements praising Kyle Monday. “President Kyle has had a remarkable career in public service as well as the private sector. As the sixth president of Radford University and the first woman to serve in that post, she has had a tangible impact on the campus and its students,” McAuliffe said.

While governor of Virginia, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner appointed Kyle director of the Virginia Lottery and supported her selection as president of Radford.
“Since 2005, President Kyle has overseen remarkable growth in Radford’s academic program, its campus facilities and in its educational reputation. Under her leadership, Radford University now is consistently ranked one of the best colleges in the Southeast,” said Warner.  “The university also was an early leader in the national movement toward development of more environmentally friendly ‘green’ campuses.”

Asked what Kyle might be planning in retirement, Carpenter said, “She has not indicated any plans at this point; I think it’s too early.”

The president’s focus through the remainder of her tenure as president “will remain the many projects and tasks underway at Radford University,” he said.

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