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Richard W. Pearce (1973-1983)

Richard W. Pearce, the second president of Methodist University (then Methodist College), served from 1973-83. When he was elected president, he was vice president and academic dean at Florida Southern College in Lakeland; he was 49 years of age.

Born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Richard Pearce moved with his family to Hendersonville, NC, when he was a child. After graduating from Hendersonville High, he took machinist's training at Newport News (VA) Apprentice School and joined the U.S. Navy Reserve, attending radio and radar school in the Washington, D.C. area. After completing his Navy service, he attended The University of North Carolina for two years before enrolling at Stetson University. He held J.D., M.A. and B.A. degrees from Stetson University where he taught business and chaired the Business Department. Prior to joining the faculty at Stetson, Pearce was in private law practice in Pierson, Florida.

A Methodist layman with deep roots in The United Methodist Church, Dr. Pearce promised to reverse a three-year decline in enrollment by emphasizing student aid, a quality educational program, and the College's religious affiliation. He said Methodist could not be all things to all people and should market itself as a residential, undergraduate, church-involved liberal arts college designed primarily for 17-22-year-olds and offering "choice within limits" in both its academic and student life programs. He said the college would not tolerate use and possession of alcohol or improper or illegal use of drugs and would not have open dorms.

When Dr. Pearce arrived in 1973, enrollment stood at 617 students, and the four residence halls had an occupancy rate of 45 percent; capital indebtedness totaled $4.2 million. During much of his tenure, low enrollment forced Dr. Pearce to cut faculty and staff positions, defer maintenance, borrow money to meet current operating expenses, and suspend payments on federal loans used to build four residence halls. In 1975, he persuaded the College trustees to adopt a plan to raise $16 million over the next 15 years, but the plan was never implemented. In 1982, he urged the trustees to authorize the purchase or lease of College land to generate funds for the College endowment.

In an effort to boost enrollment, Dr. Pearce added new majors, associate (two-year) degrees, an evening program, and an Army ROTC program. He also eliminated $300,000 in revolving debt. Enrollment grew to 950 students by the fall of 1980. By the spring of 1982, the College endowment had more than doubled from a 1970 figure of $556,000, reaching $1.2 million. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Methodist College Foundation surpassed its annual Loyalty Fund goals, raising as much as $275,000 from Fayetteville residents to support College operations. In April, 1983, the Reverend Sam McMillan told College trustees that the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry of The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church had voted to ask the conference to budget $157,742 to help the College repay HUD and HEW construction loans, which would increase church support of Methodist College from $525,000 to $775,000 annually.

In a January 27, 1983, convocation address, Dr. Pearce expressed sadness over "the loss of a substantial number of students for academic reasons" at the end of the fall 1982 semester. He reported that the College had enrolled 580 full-time students and 140-160 evening students for the spring 1983 semester. In April, 1983, after a Durham-based marketing, fund-raising, and public relations consulting firm submitted a detailed capital fund drive feasibility study (for raising $3 million) to the trustees' Executive Committee, Dr. Pearce resigned as president and announced that he and Mrs. Pearce would return to Florida.

In May 1991, Methodist awarded Dr. Pearce an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. In the fall of 1998, Methodist's Board of Trustees voted to rename East Hall (a co-ed residence hall) Pearce Hall, in honor of Richard Pearce and his late wife Neva.

Highlights of Dr. Pearce's Presidency

  • Establishment of a President's List to recognize students with a 4.0 (A) average at the end of each semester.
  • Appointment of the Reverend Bill Lowdermilk to the new position of assistant to the president.
  • Inauguration of Greek letter societies, fraternities and sororities, in 1974.
  • Addition of majors in art education, physical education, and social work; associate (two-year) degrees; an evening program; an Army ROTC program; full-time campus minister; full-time alumni director; full-time director of development; an East-West Foundation Summer Program for Japanese students; a hand bell choir.
  • Completion of Shelley Baseball Field; a track; tennis courts; and the President's Home on campus.
  • Awarding of honorary degrees and college medallions, along with Greatest Gift Scholarships allowing each Methodist alumni and College trustee to award a one-fourth tuition scholarship to a deserving person that he or she had recruited to attend Methodist.
  • A campus-wide energy conservation program.
  • A new statement of purpose for the College in 1978.
  • Awarding Methodist College degrees to his wife Neva and his mother Alice; crowning his 79-year-old mother homecoming queen in 1977.