Chair of Board of Regents reflects on NKU’s future


Matt Sexton

NKU President Geoffrey Mearns (right) and Rich Boehne during a recent Board of Regents meeting.

Upon the news of NKU President Geoffrey Mearns’ departure, Rich Boehne, the chair of Board of Regents, said that while they understand the move, if the board had it their way, his contract would be extended.

“If my cell phone rings tonight and he says ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ we’ll forget about all of this and he’d still be president,” Boehne said.

The announcement that President Mearns, who has served NKU for five years, was leaving for Ball State was released Tuesday afternoon.

Boehne said the board was in the midst of negotiating a new contract after his current one was set to expire on July 31, and that he’s not sure if Mearns will stay for its duration.

“It’s unusual; we’ve got almost six months, that’s a long time,” Boehne said. “But he’ll definitely be here for a while and help manage the transition. Exactly when we’ll make the change, I don’t know.

“We just finished a big assessment of his performance over the first five years, it was excellent. I was getting ready to send an email to campus when he asked if he could meet me late one night last week and say, ‘Hey, I need to tell you about something.’”

Boehne said that he and Mearns had been engaged in discussion for months regarding his next term.

They discussed what was best for his family — both of his children now gone from home — and ultimately, what Mearns was looking for in the next phase of his life.

“It’s not exactly like I’m completely in the dark and he walked in one day,” Boehne said. “We’d been talking about the next phase of his life.”

University leadership was aware an hour ahead of the announcement, Boehne said. The Board of Regents knew about a week ago.  

The announcement of the president’s departure had to be coordinated with Ball State University, Boehne said.

His legacy: What Mearns left behind

Working in the media industry, Boehne is generally dressed casual, often wearing jeans. He said that he has teased Mearns over the years for always sporting a tie on campus

Mearns always took on a university president feel, Boehne said.

“I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with him,” Boehne said. “He’s extremely focused on his family. We’ve shared a lot about [our] kids.”

Boehne said Mearns will be remembered for a number of events that happened during his presidency, including the promotion of athletics to Division I, beginning to build the Health Innovation Center, changes in the University Campus Recreation Center, and a contribution to the funding of Higher Education in Kentucky.

“I think students felt like he was in there fighting for them, and doing the right things. He’ll be remembered as an excellent crisis manager because we’ve been through several,” Boehne said. “I think he’s a really good manager, I’ve enjoyed working with him a lot.”

Boehne thinks that being the president of a university is one of the hardest jobs in America today.

“There’s pressure from all sides. You work all the time. It’s not exaggerating to say you work seven days a week,” Boehne said. “The pace and the energy that’s required, these are really very tough jobs. You can’t do it out of ego, you’ve got to do it out of a deep sense of mission.”

Boehne said, from a personal standpoint and not speaking for the entire board, that he would like to see that same drive in the search to fill Mearns’ position.

Boehne said that he’d like to see the future president have enthusiasm for what the future holds, including changes in technology. In addition, someone who would deliver education in ways that the university may not have thought about.

“Someone with real enthusiasm for what’s to come and changes in technology and everything else. [Someone who] helps us deliver education in ways that maybe we hadn’t thought about.

“That was one of Geoff’s strengths,” Boehne said. “He had a mix of experiences and often thought about higher ed. [He] looks at it through many different lenses and I think we’ll want to do that again.”

Although Boehne thinks Mearns already had the best higher ed job in the country and wishes he would have continued his contract, he is hopeful for the future of NKU.

NKU is young, but not too young, incredibly entrepreneurial, flexible and fast-growing, Boehne said.

“Every transition is an opportunity. We’ll turn this into an opportunity to look and say what’s most important for the next stretch, and we’ll come through for you,” Boehne said. “We’ll do our very best. Nothing’s broken.”