School is still fun for Augie's president

Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2012, 1:10 pm
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By Eric Chalus,
ROCK ISLAND -- One minute you're a corporate lawyer in Milwaukee, and the next minute you're on your way back to college -- not to learn this time, but to teach.

That's how Steven Bahls' journey toward becoming president of Augustana College began.

A native of Des Moines, Mr. Bahls attended the University of Iowa and even debated against Augustana before earning his bachelor's degree in business with highest distinction. He continued to Northwestern University, where he earned his law degree cum laude in 1979.

He worked as a lawyer in Milwaukee for seven years, but found himself more interested in legal research and legal scholarship than the practice of law itself. So he moved from Milwaukee to become a law professor at the University of Montana.

"What I really found from that move was the real joy of being a faculty member is not only research, but the teaching and helping change young lives through education," said Mr. Bahls.

In 1994 he moved into law school administration at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, where he served not only as a law professor but also as dean of the law school. While at Capital University, Mr. Bahls was invited to apply at Augustana and eventually received the offer. He started at Augustana in July 2003.

"What I love about this job is that education really provides a ladder of opportunity for people in the United States," Mr. Bahls said. "To be a piece of providing that ladder of opportunity for young people to gain better lives is a thrill to me."

Like most industries, education has faced many challenges and revolutionary changes in recent years. As the leader of Augustana, Mr. Bahls is at the forefront of those challenges.

"There have been as many changes in American higher education in the last 10 years as (in) the last 50 years," he said. "The question for Augustana is how to respond to the many changes without compromising our core mission of being a high quality, resident, undergraduate college of liberal arts and sciences."

To stay current with the best practices for colleges like Augustana, Mr. Bahls serves on the boards of various national education organizations. "Because Augustana is viewed as a leader in strengthening its liberal arts core while preparing students for the job world, I have had the opportunity to publish and speak about the innovations at Augustana at educational conferences throughout the United States," he said.

The design and financing for newest innovation was approved in late January by the Augustana Board of Trustees. Work is scheduled begin in March on a new, $20 million student center that will be attached to the western side of the of the campus library. The Center for Student Life will be a 35,000 square feet addition to the Thomas Tredway Library, 39,000 square feet of which will be renovated. Student activities and food services will be operated out of the new center.

Originally proposed as a stand-alone building in 2008, Mr. Bahls instead sought to integrate the library, dining halls and student center into one multiplex. The project is scheduled for completion on Aug. 1, 2013.

Several other innovations and changes have occurred since Mr. Bahls' arrival, said Evelyn Campbell, dean and vice president of student services at Augustana College. "He has helped the campus sharpen its focus and come together as a community. He has fostered a spirit of entrepreneurialism when he arrived which has resulted in Senior Inquiry, Augie Choice and the Center for Community Engagement -- all innovations that have significantly and positively improved the Augustana student experience."

One of the major challenges facing Augustana and other colleges is the economy and the changing job marketplace. Nationwide, changes are being made at colleges and universities to meet new demands and needs of students and their parents.

"In spite of the downturn in the economy in 2008, President Bahls has helped the college strengthen the faculty, maintain a strong financial position, update its facilities and improve the college's reputation," said Ms. Campbell.

Mr. Bahls said his most immediate plans for the college's future are to increase and improve services to students.

"The plans in the upcoming years at Augustana are to increase the student experience," he said. "We have a wonderful faculty here, committed to creating peak experiences for students, whether they be international travel experiences, internships, or research experiences. So my plans for the next couple of years are to facilitate faculty creating these experiences for the students."

The nine-year president of Augustana said serving as an administrator in higher education is exactly where he wants to be.

"There really aren't parts of this job that I do not like," he said. "Sometimes we have the occasional personnel issue, which is unpleasant, but I would say 99 percent of this job, in my mind, is pure privilege and pleasure."

Read what Steven Bahls' believes liberal arts colleges must do in today's world -- and Augustana professors' reaction to those ideas -- in the story, 'Liberal Arts, Post-Recession,' at

Living the dream

Who: Augustana College President Steven Bahls

Quote: "To be a piece of providing that ladder of opportunity for young people to gain better lives is a thrill to me."


Local events heading

  Today is Sunday, Aug. 31, the 243rd day of 2014. There are 122 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad will carry all who wish to attend the Chicago convention for half fare — that is, full fare to Chicago and return free.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Hardy Hetter, for several years yardmaster in the Burlington Railroad yards in Rock Island and Moline, was transferred to Beardstown. He was succeeded here by J.E. Albrecht.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Corn was estimated at 50 percent of the normal crop in Rock Island County by Crop Correspondent Thomas Campbell.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Robert Carroll, 12-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Farr Carroll, of near Aledo, won the grand championship of the Mercer County baby beef show with "Fat Stuff."
1964 -- 50 years ago: About 250 persons attended the first in a series of horse shows at the Hillandale Stables off Knoxville Road near Milan on Saturday afternoon and evening.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Ground was broken this morning for the $4.5 million Rock Valley Business Park near Rock Valley Plaza, Rock Island. The first building is 17,000 square feet for offices and a warehouse and should be completed by Dec. 1.

(More History)