KENNESAW, Ga. — Betty L. Siegel’s name will forever be synonymous with Kennesaw State University. From her signature red spectacles to the Dr. Betty L. Siegel Student Recreation and Activities Center, Siegel left an indelible mark on the university.
Siegel, 89, passed away late Tuesday afternoon. She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Joel Siegel.
“The Kennesaw State University community is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved leaders,” said President Pamela Whitten. “Betty Siegel has been described affectionately by many as a force of nature, and her energy, enthusiasm and passion for Kennesaw State University, will be long remembered. Without her leadership, vision and commitment to excellence, Kennesaw State would not be what it is today.”
Born in the hills of Cumberland, Ky., in 1931, Siegel was Kennesaw State’s second president. When she arrived on campus in September of 1981, the university was a small state college with an enrollment of 3,500 students, only a handful of buildings and no master’s programs.
During Siegel’s 25-year tenure, the university’s enrollment increased, faculty and staff ranks grew, as did the number of degree programs and academic buildings. Upon her retirement in 2006, a 15-degree college had become a university with 55 undergraduate and graduate degrees and 18,000 students. KSU today stands as the third-largest university in the state with nearly 38,000 students.
But her legacy is much greater than numbers. Siegel wanted the student experience at Kennesaw State to be more than just a collection of courses. She wanted sports teams, on-campus housing and all the hallmarks of a classic American university experience.
“We used to have the term, ‘parking lot, classroom, parking lot,’” Siegel once recalled. “I didn’t want our students to come and just have an in-class experience. I wanted them to have a total experience. I wanted them to have a life-changing experience.”
Siegel’s desire to build campus traditions and to care about students outside the classroom was manifested in the creation of Kennesaw State’s first intercollegiate athletic teams in 1982.
She once remarked that she wanted Kennesaw State to be a “university that matters, not just for what we teach, but how we teach people to live the good life, which is a life of service.”
As a child, Siegel was “expected to be the best,” and she did not disappoint. Surrounded by strong women and men who inspired excellence, she became an educational pioneer with a long list of firsts on her resume: dean at the University of Florida (1971); academic dean at Western Carolina University (1976); and the first female president in the University System of Georgia (1981).
When asked about her own success, Siegel referenced a familiar quote crediting those who supported her along the way. “Whenever you see a turtle on a post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”
Siegel retired as the Endowed Chair of the Siegel Institute of Leadership, Ethics and Character, and served as president emeritus. She also launched a nonprofit foundation for global ethical leadership, and served as an adviser and consultant in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.
Once asked how she would write her own epitaph, Siegel replied, “I would like to be known as ‘A minister for education.’”