President Robert Prosser Announces Retirement


Bethel President Robert Prosser has announced his plans to retire effective July 31 of this year according to Judge Ben Cantrell, Chair of the Bethel University Board of Trustees. Cantrell made the official announcement of Prosser’s retirement plans at a Bethel University dinner held in Murfreesboro at the 183rd General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evening, June 18.

     Prosser completes a 15-year term as the leader of Bethel having assumed the role in July of 1998 first as Interim President and then becoming the 39th president of the 171-year-old Cumberland Presbyterian school in February of 1999.

     Prosser is credited with building the school back to prosperity after it almost had to close its doors in the 1990s due mainly to a string of years of poor enrollment. Under Prosser’s leadership, enrollment went from just over 200 students in fall 1998 to more than 5,000 students in fall 2012. Prosser’s visionary approach to leadership led to the implementation of a number of programs that attributed to increased enrollment. Prosser positioned Bethel as the first school in Tennessee to incorporate the IBM ThinkPad Program where every full-time student received a laptop computer as part of tuition. Another of those programs was Success, a degree program that geared bachelor’s level classroom experiences toward the needs of adult learners with full-time jobs and family responsibilities. The program has now grown to include satellite campuses in six locations across Tennessee, and adult learners now have the option of face-to-face classroom learning or online learning.

     Prosser’s visionary leadership also saw the birth of Renaissance, the Bethel Performing Arts Experience, a three-pronged performing arts program that offers scholarships that are patterned the same as athletic scholarships. The program has reached out to more than 1,000 students since its inception, and it has received both national and international recognition. Prosser also led initiatives that began a number of new academic programs including: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies, an online bachelor’s and master’s criminal justice degree program that is one of only 14 anywhere endorsed by the FBI National Academy Associates, an MBA program that has grown to number one in enrollment in Tennessee in just a few short years, an online Master of Arts in Education program, and most recently, an associate degree program.

     With increased enrollment, Prosser has led campus improvements and additions that would meet the needs of the school’s growing student body. During Prosser’s tenure, the school added a new football stadium, new tennis courts, a new soccer field, three new residence halls, a new state-of-the-art science building, a new student center and a new basketball arena.

     During his time as President, Chick-fil-A opened a franchise on the school’s campus as well.

     One of Prosser’s most significant endeavors was changing the school’s name from Bethel College to Bethel University in 2009 – a name change Prosser said better reflected what the school was at that point in time and a name change that would allow the school to maintain the momentum it had in terms of growth.   

     Prosser was innovative in the sporting arena as well reaching out to a greater number of student-athletes through non-traditional sports programs like bass fishing, archery, bowling and in-line roller hockey. Prosser holds the distinction of being the first and only Bethel University President to claim athletic national championship honors during his tenure with a Men’s Soccer National Championship in 2008 and an Inline Roller Hockey National Championship in 2012.

     Upon Prosser’s retirement the Bethel Board of Trustees Chairman announced that Prosser will become President Emeritus in recognition of his 15 years of progressive leadership.

     "Bob Prosser defined the term The Entrepreneurial President," said Chairman Cantrell. “Under his leadership Bethel College, a sleepy little liberal arts college in McKenzie Tennessee, became a vibrant University with students on the national stage doing vastly different things. His spirit and energy will be missed."

     “I have never missed an opportunity to point out that many, many people are responsible for the success of Bethel,” Prosser said. “For 170 years, Bethel has been meeting the education needs of students. That service will continue. I have been fortunate to be a part of a tremendous venture, and I look forward to more exciting things to come at Bethel University.”

     Walter Butler, Director of Financial Affairs at Bethel, has been named Interim President by the Bethel Board of Trustees and will assume his new role upon Prosser’s retirement.