After 15 years on the job, Montana State University Billings Chancellor Ron Sexton will retire on Tuesday without fanfare, just the way he wants it, say those who work with him.
Sexton, 72, has been MSU Billings’ only chancellor, coming on board to lead the campus as it achieved university status.
When Montana’s University System was reorganized in 1995, Eastern Montana College became Montana State University Billings.
Sexton, who was named interim chancellor in 1994 when EMC President Bruce Carpenter retired, became chancellor in 1995.
Being chancellor was just one phase of Sexton’s lifelong affiliation with the Billings school.
Sexton was born in Greybull, Wyo., and grew up on Billings’ South Side.
After graduating from Senior High, he worked his way through EMC, getting a degree in social sciences and history.
In between jobs teaching and coaching at Broadview and Thermopolis, Wyo., he served in the U.S. Army.
Sexton later would get a master’s degree from Eastern and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Oregon.
After a stint as a school counselor and director of the counseling center at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., he returned to EMC to teach.
He became the director of EMC’s Institute of Habilitative Services and then academic vice president.
During Sexton’s tenure as chancellor, enrollment has grown from about 4,200 in 1995 to more than 5,000.
This year’s fall enrollment is projected to reach at least 5,122.
Over the last 15 years, MSU Billings also has:
• Added three colleges: the College of Technology, the College of Allied Health Professions and the College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning. The university now has six colleges.
• Acquired the College of Business building through the MSU Billings Foundation.
• Completed its first capital campaign, which raised $30 million.
• Built a new Health Sciences Building at the College of Technology.
• Added two stories to the College of Education building.
• Opened a downtown campus.
• Renovated the Liberal Arts Building, the original COT building and McMullen Hall.
• Created an on-campus day care facility for the children of students, faculty and staff.
• Received accreditation for the College of Business.
Sexton also has strengthened ties with the off-campus community beyond traditional town-and-gown activities.
When EMC became MSU Billings, its future was waiting to be written, said Tasneem Khaleel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who has worked with Sexton for more than three decades.
Fifteen years later, MSU Billings is well-rooted in the community, and that will be Sexton’s legacy, she said.
“From that little school on the hill, we are now recognized as MSU Billings,” she said.
When officials of the accrediting body for the College of Business came to campus, representatives of local businesses turned out to praise MSU Billings and the business college, she said.
During the capital campaign, more non-MSU Billings alumni than alumni donated money.
The COT advisory board also has many community members.
Sexton was among those creating Leadership Montana, a nonprofit, statewide leadership and network development organization that operates out of the MSU Billings downtown campus.
A great university knows how to leverage scarce resources to reach beyond the university and Billings, said Bruce Whittenberg, executive director of Leadership Montana.
“Ron gets that,” he said.
Sexton was one of the first senior administrators in the Montana University System who recognized the importance of expanding two-year higher education, said John Cech, dean of the MSU Billings College of Technology.
Through Sexton’s vision and support, the Billings COT has had a phenomenal growth in programs and students, Cech said.
Because Sexton has been a student, professor and administrator at MSU Billings over a span of 55 years, no one has been a more ardent advocate for MSU Billings and its home community, said Stacy Klippenstein, MSU Billings vice chancellor for student affairs.
Keith Edgerton, an MSU Billings history professor for 16 years, also praised Sexton for his passion for and long service to the university.
“It’s in his blood,” Edgerton said.
Outside the campus, Sexton’s legacy will be MSU Billings’ high profile in the community.
But, on campus, all has not been well, said Edgerton, who also is president of the MSU Billings Faculty Association, the faculty labor union.
In the last 10 years, 19 tenured-track positions in the College of Arts and Sciences have been not filled or they have been replaced with part-time jobs.
Those tenured positions probably would have attracted bright, young faculty who would be laying the groundwork for the future of the university.
The decline in tenured positions is due, in part, to external factors, including inadequate state funding. But the faculty thinks that Sexton also didn’t do enough to address the problem, Edgerton said.
After retiring as chancellor, Sexton will remain on campus to direct a $6 million scholarship campaign. Raising money for part-time and nontraditional students, who frequently can’t get scholarships, will be a focus of the drive.
Contact Mary Pickett at email@example.com or 657-1262.