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February 26, 2010

Chancellor Ronald Sexton Announces Retirement

Billings native and longtime education leader to retire August 31; will chair new scholarship effort for MSU Billings Foundation

Dr. Ronald Sexton, Chancellor, MSU BillingsDr. Ronald P. Sexton, who has spent over 30 years as a higher education leader in Billings, will retire as chancellor of Montana State University Billings this summer.

He formally announced his retirement on Friday, Feb. 26. It will take effect on Aug. 31, 2010, just prior to the start of the 2010-11 academic year.

Sexton will finish a distinguished academic and administrative career on the Billings campus, the last 15 of which as its chief executive officer. He has been the only chancellor at MSU Billings since it changed from Eastern Montana College as part of a reorganized Montana University System in 1995.

He will, however, not cut his ties with the university.

Marilynn Miller, president and CEO of the MSU Billings Foundation announced Friday that Sexton has agreed to chair “The Opportunity Campaign for MSU Billings Scholarships.” The new scholarship campaign has been in the planning stage since mid-2009.   

“I hate to lose Dr. Sexton as chancellor, but I’m absolutely thrilled he has agreed to chair the Opportunity Campaign,” Miller said. “No one is more committed to our students than he; no one better understands the need for more scholarships. Ron Sexton will be a superb campaign chair — we’re so lucky he’s agreed to do this.”

State higher education leaders talked of Sexton’s leadership role in the past.

“Chancellor Sexton has been a stalwart leader for MSU Billings for decades,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns. “His dedication to the university, the community and the whole state will be sorely missed but we know that in his retirement, he will still advocate for MSU Billings.”

Working with Sexton over the course of the next few months, MSU President Waded Cruzado will develop a transition plan for the chancellor and hiring his successor.

"Chancellor Ron Sexton has made an immense contribution to Montana State University,” Cruzado said. “One of the aspects of his legacy is that, through the careful management of MSU Billings, he transformed that institution and, in the process, the lives of thousands of Montanans. Personally, I regret not having had the opportunity of working with Ron for a longer period of time. We thank Ron for his tireless efforts and we will certainly miss him."

Commitment to education

“This has been an incredible run for me,” the 72-year-old Sexton said in a prepared statement to the university and the community. “My family and I have been blessed to be a part of this university as it has transitioned from a college into a great comprehensive urban university. It is now time for me to spend more time with my family and allow the next generation of leaders to step forward.”

Sexton and his wife, Marilynn, a longtime educator herself, plan to remain in Billings where he will be active in scholarship fundraising efforts with the MSU Billings Foundation.

“As MSU Billings fully grows into its mission as an urban university, there are incredible opportunities for students, faculty and this community,” he said. “There are many exceptional people associated with this university and with the community who will build on the foundation that is in place. It will be exciting to watch it happen.”

Sexton’s retirement will complete a circle of higher education involvement at the Billings campus that stretches back to the mid-1950s when he enrolled as a student. Since then, his career has been one of teaching, service, engagement and involvement.

A Billings native, Sexton grew up on the city’s South Side and worked his way through his career at Eastern Montana College, the predecessor of MSU Billings. He graduated in 1959, with a bachelor’s of science degree in social sciences and history, and a minor in health, physical education and recreation.  In 1964, he earned the master’s of science degree in guidance and counseling, with a minor in psychology, from EMC.  After being awarded a doctor of philosophy-education degree from the University or Oregon in 1971, Sexton completed post-doctoral study at Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., under the auspices of the University of Kansas. 

He served as a faculty member and clinical director for the College of Education at Central Michigan University from 1971-1977, but the pull of home brought him back to the Eastern Montana College campus in 1977, when he became director of the EMC Institute for Habilitative Services and a professor in the School of Education. 

In August 1987, he was named EMC’s academic vice president and professor of special education and reading. On July 1, 1994, he became acting chancellor when Dr. Bruce Carpenter retired and continued as a professor of special education and reading. Then, on March 22, 1995, Sexton was appointed chancellor of Montana State University Billings.  

Leadership and change 

Since becoming chancellor, Sexton has ushered many changes to the university and the system that will have lasting positive effects. Enrollment has grown to more than 5,000 in 2010, and program offerings have morphed from strictly on-site classes to include online delivery of 17 academic programs that reach every county in Montana.

The physical presence of the university has also changed in the Billings community. During his tenure, Sexton has overseen major renovation of the Liberal Arts Building, acquisition of the College of Business building through the MSU Billings Foundation, renovation of the College of Education building, development of an on-campus day care center for students, faculty staff and increasing integration of MSU Billings into the community as an urban university. Through Sexton’s leadership, MSU Billings has developed partnerships to boost educational access and success for adults, teenagers and underserved populations of the community.

Other highlights include:

Two-Year Education
Sexton was the first Montana university administrator to publicly challenge state leaders to focus attention and resources on two-year post-secondary education. He pioneered a campaign of awareness and a call for change, working to gather community and legislative support, resulting in:

  • The continuing evolution of the MSU Billings College of Technology into a comprehensive community college to better serve the needs of the region.
  • A Montana University System Shared Leadership Initiative in the early part of the decade, highlighting two-year post-secondary education.
  • Leadership with the MSU Billings Foundation and community leaders for acquisition of 6 acres of land on the West End for expansion of the COT campus.
  • Montana legislative approval of a $29.5 million bond issue for capital improvements on two-year campuses, including construction of the new Health Sciences Building at the COT campus that was completed in 2008.   
  • Federal funding of more than $3 million to develop training programs for the construction, healthcare and energy industries at the MSU Billings COT. 
  • Renovation of the technology building at the COT to better meet student needs.
  • A Two-Year College Council created by the Montana Board of Regents.

Because of Sexton’s tireless efforts, the people in the greater-Billings community watched the MSU Billings College of Technology transform from a single building into a campus atmosphere. By earmarking $11 million for this project, the 2005 and 2007 legislatures and Gov. Brian Schweitzer extended a vote of confidence in MSU Billings for the endless possibilities presented by two-year education in health care, construction trades, transportation, computer and energy-related technical fields.

Under Sexton’s stewardship, the MSU Billings COT has been expanding its role and scope in order to address continued workforce development and two-year education needs across the greater-Billings area, eastern Montana and the state, preparing to better serve the students and employers of tomorrow.

College of Allied Health Professions
The newest of the colleges at MSU Billings was established by Sexton to respond to the needs of Billings’ 10,000-person medical community, clustering degree programs in three critical areas: 

  • Health Administration;
  • Health and Human Performance; and
  • Rehabilitation and Human Services.

Outreach efforts
Known by many as MSU Billings Downtown, the College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning was established by Sexton to respond to the changing training and learning needs of the community. The college serves as the main point of contact for youth summer camps, adult programming, short-term workforce training and community outreach.

Through connections downtown and with community leaders, Sexton was able to build critical partnerships between the university, business, industry, the community and the state. He worked to develop the framework for a unique training program for inmates in the Montana Women’s Prison and pushed to fully integrate the university into the community through an outreach center at Garfield School. 

Comprehensive campaign
Through his leadership and participation, the five-year “People, Pride & Promise: The Campaign for Excellence at Montana State University Billings” raised more than $30 million, rocketing past its $21 million goal. Throughout the university’s first-ever comprehensive campaign, Sexton was deeply involved.  He identified, cultivated and solicited donors; encouraged deans and other administrators to do the same; inspired campaign volunteers; and set an example by making his own financial investment.

Keeping down the cost of higher education has always been important to Sexton.  He knows, firsthand, how hard it is to work through college, and often can be found sitting with students, listening with understanding as they share their stories of struggle.  He was a first-generation college student who juggled a work schedule with his studies and athletics. 

He never did learn to slow down. His strong work ethic is legendary at the university, which many of his colleagues say led to significant achievements under his leadership. 

“I will leave knowing this university is positioned to continue to evolve to do great things,” he said, noting that many people have had a hand in successes over the past 15 years. “We have outstanding faculty who excel in teaching, scholarly work and service to the community. We have incredible staff who labor tirelessly to do what is necessary to help our students succeed. We have the academic, administrative and student affairs leadership in place that can guide our university to greatness.  And we have perhaps the strongest, most active and supportive collaborative partnerships between the university and the public/private sectors of any comparable area in the country.”

Sexton and his wife, Marilynn, met while they both were students at Eastern Montana College.  They have four children and three grandsons.

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