By Gerard Flanagan, news writer and photographer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Dr. H. Keith Spears, chancellor of university system advancement at Campbellsville University, is retiring effective July 1.
Spears informed the university’s Board of Trustees of his decision during their April board meeting Tuesday, April 25. His retirement comes after more than 14 years of service to Campbellsville University.
Spears came to Campbellsville University in April 2009 after three decades of service at his alma mater, Marshall University and a two-year stint in West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin’s Department of Education and the Arts. He began at Campbellsville University as vice president for graduate and professional studies, serving in that capacity from April 2009 to Aug. 2015.
“The first meeting of my first day at Campbellsville, I knew that I had made the right decision,” Spears said. “I was encircled with a sweet spirit of Christian higher education. I am very pleased to have been part of the growth of this institution, made possible by the extraordinary faculty and staff, who never lost sight of CU’s potential.”
Spears also served in the roles of vice president for communication, senior vice president and assistant to the president before becoming the 11th president of the university in January 2021.
Spears, who was then appointed as the university’s first chancellor in Feb. 2022, will retire as the former president and chancellor emeritus of Campbellsville University.
“The growth of Campbellsville University over the past 14 years has been nothing less than profound, and Keith Spears is largely responsible for the inspiration and creativity that built these programs,” Dr. Joseph Hopkins, president of Campbellsville University, said.
“As a mentor, he has woven vision and innovative spirit into those of us around him. I am delighted that Keith will remain alongside us offering counsel and guidance in his new role as a consultant.”
During his time at Campbellsville University, Spears was instrumental in developing the university’s off-campus graduate business programs, taking the university to record-breaking enrollment years. He also oversaw the expansion of the university’s Louisville Education Center and online programs.
Spears also helped Campbellsville University establish its presence on the West Coast with the development of the Phillips Graduate Institute at CU’s Los Angeles Education Center. He also took Campbellsville University into Canada with the establishment of the Windsor Education Center.
Spears developed the Campbellsville University Research Company, through which the CU System of partner institutions is being advanced.
Spears, with experience as a general manager of television and developer of four FM radio stations, has an extensive background in mass communication and broadcasting. He helped upgrade the radio and television facilities at the university’s Department of Mass Communication. He also bolstered support for the CU Sports Network.
For several years, Spears oversaw the Office of University Communications and the university’s radio and television stations, WLCU TV-FM.
“Keith is a champion of communications, and the Office of University Communications and the Mass Communication Department were beneficiaries of his expertise, knowledge and love of the area,” Joan McKinney, who retired as director of university communications in February, said.
“Keith is always thinking of new ways to make education better. He is one of five presidents for whom I served in my 42 years at Campbellsville University, and I am glad he was one of those presidents.
“He related to the students and strengthened the education offerings at Campbellsville. He is always up for a challenge.”
Spears led the establishment of CU Global, an online service to help international students in their home countries. He has recently initiated an academic project in the Dominican Republic that will help individuals who cannot gain U.S. student visas obtain an American college degree. The initiative’s projected start date is August of this year.
He also initiated the development of the Somerset Institute, a venture between Campbellsville University and the University of Somerset Foundation, increasing the presence of future programs in that part of the Commonwealth.
“Dr. Spears has pioneered change and innovation at Campbellsville University for the past 14 years,” Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said. “He has pushed the university to explore new ways of approaching higher education.
“It is easy for universities to fall into a rut of doing the same things the same way. Keith disrupted that mentality and helped to propel CU to new heights.”
Spears, a native of Fort Gay (Wayne County), West Virginia, served three decades at his alma mater, Marshall University, in various capacities, from professor to vice president. He co-directed a $100 Million campaign and established the award-winning “We Are…Marshall” brand, which led to a major Warner Bros. film project “We Are Marshall”, on which he was the chief consultant.
“Dr. H. Keith Spears is that rare higher education administrator who sees the bigger picture of what is not only possible but what needs to be happening,” Dr. Chuck Bailey, radio/television production and management professor at Marshall University, said.
Bailey added Spears has a unique ability to bring his vision to fruition.
“In the vast majority of cases, the results of his visions are better than most imagined or anticipated them to be,” Bailey said.
In addition to a biology baccalaureate (Marshall University), two MA’s in communication (Marshall University and Central Michigan University), and a doctorate in higher education leadership (West Virginia University), Spears has two post-doctorate certifications, Harvard University’s MLE Post-Doctorate Institute in Lifelong Education and Duke University’s Governor’s Center for Strategic Leadership. He has received numerous awards, including the Harvard MLE Leadership Award and the Administrator of the Year Award from The National Association of Academic Administrators.
Spears said making a positive impact on students guided him during his time in higher education.
“To determine our impact on students, we need to focus on two days in the academic year, orientation and commencement,” Spears said. “We must ask ourselves, during the interim years, have we made a positive difference in our students’ lives?”
In private business, Keith Spears has owned and operated a video production firm and a public relations agency and was in the amusement park business in West Virginia and Indiana. He is a consultant on an international scale and serves on news editorial boards. He is an active member of several chambers of commerce. He is a deacon in his home church.
Dr. Spears and his wife, Rita Kelly Spears, a retired Marshall University adult-student advisor, have two sons and daughters-in-law, Dr. Eric Spears, a university administrator and professor at Columbus State University in Georgia, and Marina Spears, a professor of English at Middle Georgia State University, and The Honorable Jason M. Spears, a family court judge in West Virginia and Ashley Spears, a flight nurse with Air Evac. They have three grandchildren, Clara and Lucas in GA and Amelia in WV.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs, including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.