Elon College, it was called, all those years, off Interstate 40 about 12 miles east of Greensboro. A nice little school, people said, with very sound academics and a low profile.
Then, in 1999, Leo Lambert — who’s just announced his retirement — arrived from Wisconsin to assume the presidency, an unassuming fellow with a good way about him, whose personality didn’t give a hint as to what Elon would become over the next 16 or 17 years. Here is what it became: a nationally recognized liberal arts university now with a school of law, a school of health sciences and larger and stronger schools of business, education and communications. Elon now customarily appears in all of those “top schools” lists of institutions in its category.
Alums of decades past reckon, proudly, that they might not qualify for what’s now Elon University. Yes, Lambert along the way presided over a $107 million fundraising campaign, but his leadership encompassed everything, including the improvement of offerings in courses, the campus life of students, breadth and depth of faculty, diversity of the student body. Basically, Lambert led a remarkable transformation that followed a long-term, ambitious “strategic plan” to make Elon a great national university. It worked.