Dr. Roger Whitaker retired this summer, despite the urging of many people at the university for him to continue his distinguished 40-year career. His contributions to higher education include serving as a professor of higher education and sociology, a Peace Corps Volunteer, the founding President of the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria, as well as many years in senior administrative positions at Boston University and George Washington University, including Associate Vice President in the Office of Academic Affairs and Founding Dean of GW’s College of Professional Studies (CPS).
At CPS, he will be remembered first and foremost for his role founding the college in 2001. At the May 2017 graduation Dean Ali Eskandarian welcomed former Dean Whitaker to the podium to be recognized as a Distinguished Retiree. He credited him with founding the college, along with the support of then Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Don Lehman, and a special taskforce of the Faculty Senate. The results are now more than 3,500 CPS graduates, since the first in 2006.
“Creating CPS is one of those things that presented us with incredible challenges, but at the same time many rewards, as it evolved into what it has become. Much of what is CPS you own and you can be proud of the outcome. Your special leadership style made it a reality,” wrote now retired Lehman as he sent a farewell message to Whitaker.
As Dean Eskandarian welcomed Whitaker to the commencement podium he said, “Dr. Whitaker must feel pleased that his tireless efforts have literally led to changing so many lives for the better, culminating in tonight’s graduation event. The depth of gratitude we owe Dean Whitaker is immense. Without his original vision and then his extremely hard work to implement that vision, none of us would be here tonight. None of you would have the opportunity to pursue your professional and academic aspirations or goals at all, or at least not at GW.”
Whitaker modestly thanked Eskandarian for the praise and pretended he must be a distant relative of the man whose many accomplishments had been described. While he acknowledged being proud of helping develop the College of Professional Studies and proud to see its continuing success, he said he is most proud of the achievements of the students and focused his remarks on the night being about them.
He left the graduates with the words, “We on the stage are reminded again of why we do what we do.” These six words can be better understood from his 2006 acceptance speech as president of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), the leading association for professional, continuing and online education, where he used the same phrase. In this address, he outlined perfectly that we serve those who are often underserved; we provide a voice for those who don’t have a voice; and we provide the promise of education to those who for whatever reason don’t have access. In summary Whitaker said, “I believe our role is to reveal our capacities and lead change in higher education as we, more than others, stand at the intersection of opportunity and responsibility.”
He led this change and ushered in a new era at GW by connecting the newly established CPS with UPCEA’s larger professional education movement of more than 400 educational institutions. UPCEA recognized his leadership as he served as their president and in 2012 received the Julius M. Nolte Award for Extraordinary Leadership, their most prestigious award, for recognition of unusual and extraordinary contributions to the cause of continuing education on the regional, national and international university level.
In addition to his many accomplishments, he will be remembered for his passion, vision, leadership and laughter. His colleagues speak of him being a gentle leader, an encouraging mentor, an articulate & gifted speaker, an innovative “out-of-the box” thinker, and overall a well-liked colleague who was fun to be around and could tell a great joke.
And so, we say au revoir, but not goodbye, to our dear friend Roger Whitaker. We expect as professor emeritus he will continue to be engaged with the university, occasionally serving on dissertation committees, taking on special projects and perhaps even teaching a course. We thank him for his vision and service to the college and wish him good luck with new and exciting adventures that lie ahead.