Dr. Charles Paul Conn is in his 30th year as president of Lee University. During his administration, the university has seen significant growth: enrollment has increased from 1200 to over 5000, the physical campus has been substantially enlarged and rebuilt, and the school’s reputation as a regional leader has been established. In 2001 Conn was the recipient of the M.C. Headrick Award, given by the Chamber of Commerce annually to the most outstanding CEO in the Cleveland/Bradley community in Tennessee. He also received the 1996 Otis Floyd Award from the Tennessee College Public Relations Association, given to the most outstanding higher education executive in Tennessee.
Dr. Charles Paul Conn earned the Ph.D. degree in psychology from Emory University in 1974. Subsequently, he has spent three years at Harvard University as a postdoctoral student in the Graduate School of Education, studying with Lawrence Kohlberg (1978), David Breneman (1993), Derek Bok (1998), Suarez Orozco (2003), Robert Kegan (2008), and Rick Weissbourd (2013). He first arrived on the campus of what was then Lee College as a student, graduating in 1963. After completing graduate work, he returned in 1971 as a psychology professor in the newly-formed Behavioral Sciences department. In 1985 Conn was appointed by his predecessor, Lamar Vest, to serve as vice president for Institutional Advancement and rose to the presidency the following year when Vest was elected assistant general overseer for the Church of God.
Under Conn’s 30 year presidency, Lee has advanced on every front. Enrollment has grown from 1,200 to over 5,000; academic major offerings have risen to 52 with 120 individual programs; new and far-reaching initiatives have been introduced, such as service learning and study abroad; and the athletic program has moved into the NCAA Division 2. Students come from 49 states and over 50 countries.
Perhaps most compelling is the growth of the physical campus. When Conn assumed leadership, Lee College consisted of just over 20 acres, situated several blocks from downtown. Over the past 30 years, a renaissance has taken place with the addition of six times the acreage (now over 120 acres) and a building program that has seen the construction of nearly one major building every year. Notable building projects have included 16 residence halls, a new dining hall, student union, College of Education, School of Religion, School of Music, Humanities Center, Math and Science Building, Communication Arts building, and opening this fall, a $10 million School of Nursing. In addition to new construction, nearly every major building has been extensively renovated. In the last decade, Lee University has acquired a former elementary school and First Baptist Church campus and successfully amalgamated the adjoining parcels into the university campus plan.
In the mid-1990s, Lee University began the process of changing from a college to a comprehensive university. In 1997 the name was changed to Lee University and since then the flagship school of the Church of God has continued to garner recognition in academia, programs and student retention. Lee is regularly listed in the Top Tier of schools in the U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings. Last year, the university received a glowing review from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accrediting agency, a process which takes place every ten years.
The millions of dollars needed to advance the Lee University experience over the years have been raised through multiple capital campaigns, spearheaded by Conn. The first campaign, “Carry the Torch” in 1986-1988, raised over $2 million for campus improvements, including renovation of the former library into an academic building and the conversion of three blocks of a city street into a pedestrian mall. This fall, Lee University will close out its latest campaign, “Find Us Faithful,” a multi-million dollar, multi-year effort that has included the Communication Arts building, School of Nursing, Pangle Performance Hall, The Chapel, and acquisition and renovation of the former First Baptist Church campus. The September 30 event will be called “Celebration 2016.”