Steven Bahls will retire as president of Augustana College effective July 1, 2022, after a notable 19-year career leading the college. Originally planning to retire in July 2021, President Bahls delayed his retirement in order to lead the college through the challenging years of the pandemic.
“It has been the highlight of my professional life to serve Augustana College, and I look forward to my next great adventure,” he said.
President Bahls started his tenure at Augustana in the summer of 2003. Since then, the Augustana community has benefited from his passion for the liberal arts, his natural gifts as an explorer and collaborator, and his drive for innovation.
“Steve’s leadership has driven Augustana to new heights, and he’s done that with a steadfast commitment to growth, to innovative programming, to diversity and to the long-term financial strength of the college,” said John Murabito, alumnus and chair of Augustana’s board of trustees.
“At the end of the day, Steve is all about the students and their experience at Augustana, preparing them to be outstanding global citizens and contributors to society," he said. "Steve’s impact is far-reaching, starting with the 2,400 students on campus right now. And then add all of those who have graduated since he’s been at Augie, and one gets an idea of the impact Steve has had on the students who have benefited from his accomplishments."
Changes in the campus footprint
Bahls’ keen eye for growth and creativity can be seen throughout the physical campus, with upgrades totaling more than $114 million:
• Swanson Commons, new construction, residence hall in 2006
• Parkander Residence Center, new construction, student apartments in 2008
• Evald-Carlsson Hall, transformation, academic building 2008
• Thorson-Lucken Field, new athletic facility to accommodate new varsity sports in 2011
• Old Main, update and remodel in 2013
• Gerber Center for Student Life, transformation and addition to former library in 2013
• Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex, new and improved facilities in 2013
• Brunner Theatre Center, transformed space for the benefit of the fine arts in 2016
• Westerlin Residence Center, renovation completed in 2017
• Hanson Hall of Science, expansion in 2019
• Brodahl Building, expansion in 2020
• Lindberg M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance, set to open 2021
New programs, athletics and Augie Choice
A fervent supporter of student well-being, President Bahls has been a champion for creating spaces to serve the physical, social, and spiritual needs of students, as well as the academic focus.
During his time, Augustana has added 16 new academic programs and seven varsity athletics programs, and seen significant growth in study abroad, in part because of Augie Choice, a $2,000 grant to every student for study abroad, research or internships, which was launched in 2010.
Bahls is said to have a “growth mindset,” and his commitment to Augustana being the best it can be is evident on campus. Enrollment has grown by almost 10 percent, and the faculty has grown by more than 13 percent since he started in 2003.
A sense of belonging
Among his proudest accomplishments has been achieving goals around diversity, equity and inclusion. About a third of Augustana students are either U.S.-born people of color or international students, representing the most diverse student body in the college’s history.
“Our mission promises students will be prepared to succeed in a diverse and changing world. So we’ve focused on evolving and ensuring Augustana represents the diversity of the world, and that all students graduate with a similar sense of belonging and the skills to excel in their career,” said Bahls.
Bahls has been a dedicated member of the community as well, serving as board chair of Genesis Health Systems and the Quad Cities Chamber Foundation. He previously chaired the boards of the Quad Cities Cultural Trust, Putnam Museum, the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce and the Illowa Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and also serves on the board of the Quad City Symphony. He was one of the three original tri-chairs of Q2030, the Quad Cities’ regional action plan.
His reach expanded beyond the Quad Cities, chairing the boards of the Federation of Illinois Independent Colleges and Universities, the College Conference Of Illinois And Wisconsin Council of Presidents, the Lutheran Education Conference of North America, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Council of Colleges and University Presidents.
Augustana soon will name a search committee to begin finding the ninth president of the college. Chair of the Augustana College Board of Trustees John Murabito will lead the search process, and he will share the names of search committee members early in February.
The search committee will include seven trustees, three faculty members, two administrators and a student representative. They will share updates every four to six weeks with the campus community and on the college website.
The long-range goal will be to announce the next president of the college by the end of 2021 and welcome the new president to campus in mid-2022.
Best days are ahead
President Bahls’ advice for his successor? Enjoy the journey.
“It is a journey. It's not a sprint... Savor those special moments with students. Savor the opportunity to welcome eager new students at opening convocation. Savor the wonderful feeling of seeing students grow during their time at Augustana College, and handing them their diploma,” he said.
“I think Augustana's best days are ahead, as we become a college that is truly open to all, notwithstanding economic circumstances, and as we do a greater job of modeling for our students diversity, equity and inclusion, commitment to the environment and commitment to the community.”