Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
The Catawba College Board of Trustees will soon be appointing a selection committee to fill the shoes of Dr. Craig Turner, the school’s current president.
Turner, 64, announced Thursday he will be leaving Catawba when his contract expires at the end of May.
During an interview with the Post on Thursday, Turner called it an “intuitive” decision.
“I’m not mad or anything like that,” he said. “It just seems like it’s time to move on.”
In a letter presented to the Board of Trustees on Monday, Turner called Catawba a “fine college.”
“We have enjoyed our time here but feel it is time now to look at other opportunities presenting themselves,” he said.
Turner would not disclose the specifics of those opportunities, but he said he will likely stay in the higher education realm.
“I have received several other invitations that I will be looking into,” he told the Post. “I’m going to be open to everything. This is the first time since I left graduate school that I haven’t been targeting specific goals.”
A press release said Turner’s decision to leave Catawba wasn’t sudden, as discussions with the Board of Trustees have been going on for several weeks.
Turner told the Post his wife, Annette, played a role in the final decision.
“My wife and I are a team,” he said.“While Annette and I have made a number of friends here and have enjoyed many very special times, we have reached this point with the best interests of the college and ourselves foremost in our minds.
“We sincerely hope that the best days for Catawba College are just around the corner.”
Paul Fisher, chairman of the Board of Trustees, praised Turner for his three years of service to the college.
“Dr. Turner has expended a tremendous amount of energy leading Catawba and has given his all in service to the college in these very challenging times,” he said in a press release. “The economic environment we are all facing has been particularly rough on nonprofit organizations, especially colleges.”
Turner, Catawba’s 21st president, said the economy has been a “horrific kind of challenge.”
“It’s been an uphill climb against the economy since I got here,” he said. “We’ve had to cut a lot of budgets, but we haven’t had to cut a lot of jobs.”
When Turner arrived in June 2008, the college’s debt was in excess of $20 million.
“I think the most important thing I’ve done is worked to refinance the college’s debt,” he said. “That was a very difficult process.”
During his tenure, Turner also restructured the college’s academic organization into five schools to focus on accountability and reviewed academic programs, curriculum and course offerings.
“I hope I have put the school on track to think about doing different things,” he said. “I’ve been pointing the college in the direction of changes that I think are going to be helpful in the future.”
Turner came to Catawba after a nine-year stint at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where he served as an English professor, academic affairs vice president, chief academic officer and chief operating officer.
At that time, he said, several things drew him to Salisbury.
“I felt like I had accomplished all the goals I had set for myself,” he said. “Catawba showed great promise to move up and become an elite type of school academically.”
Turner said he continues to feel that way.
“I still think the best days for Catawba lie ahead,” he said.
When Turner and his wife first moved here, their daughter and son-in-law also lived in North Carolina.
“Oddly enough, they have since moved to Texas,” he said.
Turner said he isn’t sure whether or not he’ll stay in Rowan County.
“Right now we don’t know,” he said. “Annette and I have met a lot of people here.
“The people, that is the thing we will miss the most.”
But, Turner admits, if they decide to leave town he’ll be missing something else — veal piccata.
“I love eating at Santos,” he said. “I discovered one of my favorite dishes there.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.