Campus remembers Cale’s accomplishments

President William Cale

As he looked out the window of a second-floor Bibb Graves Hall office, William Cale reminisced memories of the last 10 years.

Since January 2005, Cale led UNA as president, and campus saw the addition of The Commons, a new science building, two new residence halls and pay increases for faculty and staff.

“I hope my presidency is going to be remembered for bringing UNA together as a community that shares a common goal and a common purpose of academic accomplishment and excellence by working together — everybody — students, faculty and staff,” Cale said.

In March he announced his retirement effective July 1, but he remains at UNA in a consulting role as president emeritus until Dec. 31.

“My fondest memory would probably be when we finally got all the funding pieces together for our science and technology building and broke ground,” Cale said. “There are a lot of nice memories, but maybe that’s the one I’ll take with me and remember the most.”

Cale earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Pennsylvania in his home, Philadelphia. He went on to obtain a Ph.D. in zoology and systems ecology from the University of Georgia.

His administrative career began in 1985 at the University of Texas at Dallas as head of the Department of Environmental Sciences. He moved up in the administration to dean and college master of the School of Natural Sciences.

He also served in positions of executive vice president for Academic Affairs, and CEO and dean at other universities before becoming UNA president.

He said he remembers the day the call came to offer him the job.

“I knew when the board of trustees was meeting, and I knew there were four of us that were being considered,” Cale said. “So, I went to work that day, of course, and I sort of waited all day for the phone call either telling me I got it or I didn’t.”

So, finally the day came and went, and I went home late in the day — like I don’t know 5 p.m. or maybe after — I was called and told that the board had selected me to be president.”

He said his first reaction on that unforgettable day was “hallelujah.”

“I really wanted to come here, and I think like the candidates in the search you just witnessed, once we came to visit and saw the environmental quality, the warmth of the people and the issues that the campus faced, I felt like it was the perfect fit —that I could really do good things here,” he said.

He said he spent his first day discussing plans for the future with the central administration.

“I tried to put their minds at ease that I was not coming onto the campus with any view toward immediate administrative changes — that we would all try to work together, and that I would set out over the short period of time what some expectations might be,” he said. “I began to build a relationship with the people that were going to report to me.”

The remainder of the day was spent unpacking boxes and meeting the people who run the president’s office: administrative assistants Regina Sherrill and Brenda Baker.

“I tried to figure out a little bit about how the office worked from Brenda and Regina, who have been in the office for a long time,” Cale said. “They are terrific.”

Sherrill said the legendary “circuit- riding preacher” of the 1800s has nothing on UNA’s “Segway-riding president.”

She said one of her best memories of working in the office with Cale is the day Segway, Inc. donated a vehicle to UNA and gave Cale a riding session.

“He was a quick learner and often would strap on that helmet and take off for a meeting across campus,” she said. “In his retirement scrapbook we devoted a whole page to pictures of him riding that Segway.”

Baker and Sherrill said Cale’s calm demeanor and assurance in their job capabilities made working in the office a pleasure.

“Dr. Cale’s personality was such that once he realized Regina and I knew our jobs, he just let us do them without looking over our shoulders to make sure the job was done,” Baker said. “However, he was always there if we had questions and would stop and take the time to work with us through any situations that would arise in the office.”

Baker said shortly after Cale came to UNA, this proved true one day when she made a mistake in the office.

“I don’t even remember now what it was,” she said. “I was beating myself up over it when Dr. Cale came into my office, and I told him how mad I was at myself for making the mistake. He leaned back in the chair and said ‘OK. What is the worst that can happen with this mistake?’

“I replied that it was just a stupid mistake and wouldn’t affect anything in the office. He then said ‘Brenda just don’t sweat the small stuff.’ That made me realize that he would be a good president for our office and for the university.”

Cale said one of his proudest accomplishments is bridging the gap between administration and faculty.

“When I came to UNA, there were enormous salary issues among faculty and staff and when I looked at the state of Alabama, it was embarrassing really where we were — especially for our faculty, but also for our staff,” he said. “We got salaries back where they should be. It was a number of years ago before we ran out of money in the state.”

The salary increases total more than 20 percent with additional bonuses given periodically since 2005.

Cale credits the efforts of the Faculty and Staff senates for initiating change.

“For the staff, we brought in a consultant and studied every nonfaculty job at UNA, and the consultants figured out what the norm would be for all those positions,” he said. “We implemented a process, which is still ongoing, to bring every staff member, by the time they worked here five years, to the midpoint for whatever that salary range is for that job.”

He said many staff members were making less than starting salary for their positions before the changes came.

Cale’s former classroom experience made him attentive to concerns of faculty and staff members, said Interim President John Thornell, who worked with Cale as vice president for Academic Affairs and provost from 2009 to the time Cale retired.

“He has a keen understanding of the issues and concerns that affect faculty,” Thornell said. “During budget cuts he understood the importance of protecting the core mission of the faculty and did everything possible toward that end. He also understood how important it is to show support for faculty by attending their academic events and affirming their accomplishments. He showed unwavering support for my office and the goals we set in place.”

Cale said the experience he brought to UNA was one of the most valuable tools during his presidency.

“To have an understanding and empathy for what it means to be a productive faculty member allows you to critically evaluate the things you need to do to continue to enhance the school,” he said. “It allows you to sit with equal footing with the faculty and talk about what is good and what is weak and have credibility when you discuss this.”

Former SGA President Laura Giles, a graduate student, said Cale’s direct involvement on campus also extended to the interest he took in students.

Giles said one of her best memories of Cale came when she was giving a campus tour to students and their families during Preview Day her junior year.

“We were in front of the fountain, and I was telling these people about the president’s house and the perks of being at a small school letting students get the opportunity to know the president,” she said. “All of a sudden the people in the tour group were laughing and when I turned around, President Cale was standing behind me.

“He asked me how I was doing and got the chance to meet those students and their families. It confirmed everything I had just said.”

Cale said his classroom experience also gave him a better understanding of what is important to students.

“One of the great joys of a school the size of UNA is the president and everybody else has the opportunity to meet students, get to know them, get to know their names and interact with them,” he said.

Giles said Cale’s care for the students is evident.

“He’s very personable,” she said. “He really cares about my future and the success of all the students. He knows what I want to do in the future and would do anything to help make sure that happens.”

Cale said student initiatives also play a major role in improving UNA.

The facility fee students pay each semester, an SGA initiative, makes possible projects that keep the university’s physical plan intact, he said.

“I give the students so much credit for thinking about the future — for doing things that don’t necessarily impact their lives immediately, but impact the future,” he said. “Those that follow you will be the beneficiaries of what you have done.”

As campus turns its attention to President-elect Kenneth Kitts, Cale said he knows the university is “in good hands.”

“I think with Kitts’ background and John Thornell’s expertise, the academic side of UNA is very, very strong,” Cale said. “And, there’s wonderful faculty leadership too. I know they’ll keep the momentum in place.”

He said the biggest challenge the future and current administration face is the financial health of the U.S.

“It all falls into the category of the finding the right balance between raising tuition and fees, what’s happening in the state and external fundraising,” he said. “I think that’s the central challenge.

He said one of the best pieces of advice he ever got was “always be willing to listen, but never be willing to take somebody else’s problem as your own.”

Cale now turns his focus to retired life with his wife, BJ, but says he looks forward to remaining an active member of the UNA community.

“I’m looking forward to having time to pursue things that interest me and have been unavailable to me because of the schedule of the presidency,” he said. “I like to play duplicate bridge, I like to play golf and I like to read. We haven’t traveled in years.”

Thornell said he and Cale developed a friendship during their time working together, and he expects they will see each other on the golf course from time to time.

“I think we leave the school in a very good place for the next president,” Cale said. “We all talk about taking it to the next level — that’s a cliché — but I do think UNA is in a good place.

“The problems Dr. Kitts will face are the kinds that other schools around the schools are facing, but he doesn’t face any particular internal challenges as long as he establishes a good relationship with the people who are here. And I know he will because he’s just going to be that kind of person.”

Cale said he with a sense of accomplishment from the “rewarding, fulfilling, challenging” experience of the presidency.

“Most of the credit for that goes to the people that work here,” Cale said. “They’ve done an amazing job.”