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If you ask the average student on Radford’s campus about President Kyle, you are likely to hear the common refrains about “her exorbitant salary” or how she “changed Radford from the way it used to be.”
There is a modicum of truth to some of this, but in the ten years since she has assumed the top position at Radford, the school has undergone a renaissance that has seen it become a leader in a number of fields. True, President Kyle can rub students the wrong way at times, but it is her results that will remain after she has left.
The accolades that surround the school since 2005 speak for themselves. According to the RU Fact book 2014, New Freshmen Fall Applications have risen over 32 percent in the past decade. Despite this fact, our retention rate has remained the same over that time span.
More students are coming to RU and more students are staying, earning degrees and raising the profile of the school. Speaking of the school’s profile, the buildings that have gone up since President Kyle took office have breathed new life into this campus.
Beginning with the COBE, Radford has begun the slow transformation from “Virginia’s party school” to a respectable member of the higher education community. According to a New York Times article by
Kevin Carey that tracked the rise of George Washington University, the best way for an American University to improve its’ position is to raise tuition and build up. Radford has done one of these things very effectively, while avoiding the other.
Despite the fact that there seems to be 24 hour construction going on around campus, the school still ranks at the bottom of Virginia’s four year universities in terms of price. In an era where student debt in America has surpassed $1 trillion and outstrips credit card debt, the school has remained cognizant of cost while still giving students the necessary facilities to compete in the 21st century.
The system isn’t perfect however. In a recent Q and A with the student body President Kyle acknowledged that in order for the school to remain financially viable, they had to admit roughly 10,000 students per year. As a result, the admittance rate and academic qualifications of incoming freshman classes are not as high as others in the community.
In fact in a recent ranking of the top public universities in America, Radford lost a significant amount of points for its lax barrier to entry. President Kyle stated that Radford has a “profile problem,” and in order to raise our brand awareness, the school would begin a multiyear advertising campaign.
Everything under President Kyle has not been perfect. She sours some students with what they perceive to be a haughty attitude, and the issue of her salary is constantly raised. Additionally, students on campus will often refer to the time before Kyle as a more relaxed, less restrictive era. Certainly the community isn’t the way it once was, and issues such as Quadfest or a dry campus are a sticking point with many.
President Kyle has also emphatically stated at multiple points that there would not be a Radford football team as long as she remained president. In her defense, the only football team in the state that turns a profit is Virginia Tech. The world is changing and Kyle is bringing Radford into modernity whether it wants to go there or not.
The true failing in the perception of Penelope Kyle is on the part of the students. Most people have never met her, despite the fact that she hosts multiple public luncheons, meetings, and dinners every year. True, she could be seen more on campus, but she is in attendance constantly at basketball and baseball games.
Students who are involved on campus and buy into this community have come to know her and those who are not simply continue to trot out the same old phrases. Perhaps our President doesn’t have the best relations with the faculty, and her demeanor can be off putting to some, but that comes with being a strong leader.
Her connections in the business community and the state legislature have seen an influx of money and prestige unknown to this campus in the 90 years before she came. I for one walk around these days and see progress. It is not all pretty, some athletics had to be cut, and we can no longer lounge on the quads with a beer, but the foundation that has been laid for the next president is solid.