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Leaving Athens State
Bartlett to step down as president after 41 years with school

Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — He turned a college into a university.

He took classes out of the classrooms.

And he gained national attention when a dead country singer saved him from a coma.

He figures it's time to retire.

Jerry Bartlett, 66, president of Athens State University, told his faculty that he will retire Aug. 1, 2008, as the university's 35th president.

Bartlett and his wife, Jill, a retired educator from Athens High School, have been married 43 years and will be able to do more traveling when he retires. They have one daughter, Heidi, a U.S. diplomat, who along with her husband, Sommerville, lives in Brussels, Belgium.

The couple has visited her in Brussels and when she was stationed in Brazil and Korea.

Bartlett has been at Athens State almost as long has he has been a married man.

He began his academic career as a business faculty member at Athens College in 1967. He joined the president's administrative staff in 1983, using his law background to represent and craft the institution's response to the Title VI desegregation lawsuit. He later co-authored a consent decree that settled most of the claims in a federal lawsuit against Athens State and Calhoun Community College.

He became president in 1991 following James Chasteen, who resigned to become president of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

"It has been a great journey, and I only wish I could spend another 41 years here," Bartlett said.

He turned a college into a university in 1998 by spearheading the effort to change the school's name from Athens State College to Athens State University.

"That was an important milestone for Athens State," Bartlett said. "It truly distinguished our mission of offering a bachelor's degree and helped put us on a more level playing field for recruiting with other four-year universities."

He took class out of the classrooms by laying the groundwork for distance-learning and online coursework. The university offers six online degree programs, which helped raise enrollment nearly 10 percent for the 2007 fall semester with a total of 3,100 students.

"Most of our students work and many have families," Bartlett said. "We have long offered a solid schedule of day, evening and weekend courses, and the Internet provides another avenue to make a college degree even more accessible."

Other accomplishments during his tenure include a new library building and new classroom building with interactive classroom technology.

Then there was the year he gained national attention after a Daily story about a dead country singer saving him from a coma.

That was in 2000, when the husky voice of Patsy Cline lured him from the two-month coma.

Doctors at Huntsville Hospital had induced the coma during Bartlett's triple bypass surgery. Then they could not awaken him. He lay curled in the fetal position, dreaming that he was held in a prison.

A nurse suggested music, and after three days of Cline tunes, Bartlett awoke.

"I'm told I started tapping my toes when she started singing," he told The Daily in an August 2000 interview. "That let them know I was coming around."

He spent 100 days in the hospital, his situation complicated because of his diabetes. Bartlett made it his goal to be released by the May 2000 commencement. He reached that goal one week early. He likened it to being dead and coming back to life.

Seven years later, he's ready to leave Athens State on his own terms by retiring as one of the longest serving presidents in the institution's history. Only Eugene Rudolph Naylor, who was president when the institution was a private school called Athens College, has served longer. Naylor was president from 1930 to 1949.

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