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In 1822 the Board of Trustees outlined the following role for the college’s president.

  1. It shall be the duty of the President to take charge of the College generally; to superintend the buildings, grounds, and moveable property belonging to it; to report to the Committee of Repairs such damages as may need repair; and to report to the Trustees as occasion shall require concerning the state of the College and concerning such measures as may conduce to its further prosperity.
  2. He shall have power to visit the classes and any of the departments of the College. He shall also have power to give such directions and perform such acts generally not inconsistent with the laws of the College nor the ordinances of the Trustees nor the regulations of the Faculty as shall in his judgment promote the interest of the institution.
  3. He shall preside at Commencement and on occasions of exhibitions and examinations. He is charged with instruction in logic, rhetoric, and moral philosophy.
  4. The President shall furnish to the Clerk of the Board, two months previous to each annual Commencement, a report of the names of the students who have attended the College during the session and the length of time of their continuance.

In short, the president was given the responsibilities of chief executive, instructor, liaison with the trustees, the public face of the college, and the person responsible for the students’ well-being. It goes without saying he was also the college’s primary fund raiser.

The laws of 1842 shortened the wording, but maintained the spirit: "To the President is committed the general superintendence of the interests and reputation of the Institution, which he is bound to promote by every exertion of his power."

On March 4, 1820, the trustee minutes note "Resolved that the salary of a professor of mathematics, who shall also perform the duty of president pro tem, be $1,200 per annum. The Rev. James McChord was then unanimously elected Professor of Mathematics, and it is ordered that his appointment be communicated to him by the Chairman of the Board." There are some things to note: McChord was expected to teach, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and he did not seek the job. He name was selected by the trustees, and it then became their role to convince him to accept the position. McChord probably did, but on August 11, 1820, the minutes sadly report "Information on the death of the Rev. James McChord professor elect in this institution was received."

Of the eleven men who served during the nineteenth-century as Centre’s president or president pro tem, ten were Presbyterian ministers. Only Ormond Beatty wasn’t a minister, although he held several positions at the local and national level in the Presbyterian Church. This shouldn’t be surprising: throughout the century the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky appointed the trustees, who in turn elected the college’s president. Of the 165 men who served as trustees prior to 1890, 71 (or 43%) were ministers. After Ormond Beatty, the next lay president was Charles Turck, elected to the office in 1927.

The president was also expected to teach. McChord was elected the college’s first president, but also professor of mathematics. John C. Young was Professor of Logic , Moral and Mental Philosophy; Lewis W. Green of Mental and Moral Philosophy, Evidences of Christianity, etc.; William L. Breckinridge the same; Ormond Beatty of Metaphysics; and William C. Young of Moral Philosophy and History.

The current By-Laws of Centre give the following as the duties of the president:

The President of the College shall be the chief executive officer of the College. The President shall have all authority necessary to conduct the program of the College, except that which may be expressly withheld by the Board. The President shall be empowered to delegate authority among subordinate administrative officers, councils, senates, and committees. The President shall serve as the official channel of communication between members of the Faculty, students, and administrative personnel, and the Trustees. The President shall report to the Board and to the Executive Committee at their meetings and at such other times as they may require.

In the Summary of Policy-Making Structure, the By-Laws continue

Ultimate management and control of Centre College rests with a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees which elects the President of the College to serve as its executive officer and as the chief executive officer of the College. The President "shall have all authority necessary to conduct the programs of the College, except that which may be expressly withheld by the Board" (Appendix A: By-Laws of Centre College of Kentucky, Article VI.3). The President reports to the Board of Trustees and is responsible for submitting to it "a comprehensive annual budget for the operation of the College." Once this budget has been approved by the Board, the President "shall be authorized to conduct the affairs of the College in accordance therewith and to conduct any transactions embodied therein."(By-Laws, Article VIII.1)

The following men have served as president, or president pro tem, of Centre College.

James McChord, March 4, 1820-May 29, 1820

(The trustees elected McChord as Centre's first president. He suddenly died less than three months later before ever assuming the presidency.)

Samuel Finley, president pro tem, 1822

Jeremiah Chamberlain, December 21, 1822-August 12, 1826

David C. Procter, president pro tem, October 27, 1826-circa July 1827

Gideon Blackburn, August 1, 1827-October 26, 1830

John C. Young, November 1830-June 23, 1857 (Young died in office.)

Lewis W. Green, January 1, 1858-May 26, 1863 Green died in office.)

William L. Breckinridge, October 15, 1863-November 1868

Ormond Beatty, president pro tem, 1868

Ormond Beatty, September 1, 1870-1888

William C. Young, June 19, 1888-September 16, 1896(Young died in office.)

John C. Fales, president pro tem, 1896

William C. Roberts, June 7, 1898-November 27, 1903 (Roberts died in office.)

Frederick W. Hinitt, April 7, 1904-January 1, 1915

John W. Redd, president pro tem, 1914

William A. Ganfield, 1915-1921

R. Ames Montgomery, 1922-March 9, 1926

Charles G. Crooks, president pro tem, 1926

Charles J. Turck, 1927-1936

Frank L. Rainey, president pro tem, 1936

Robert L. McLeod, Jr., 1938-November 1945 (McLeod was on a leave of abscence from 1942-1945 serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy.)

James H. Hewlett, president pro tem, 1942-1944

Robert J. McMullen, September 1944-Fall 1946 (McLeod and McMullen served as co-presidents from 1944-1945)

James H. Hewlett, president pro tem, 1946

Walter A. Groves, January 1947-June 3, 1957

William B. Guerrant, acting president, June 3, 1957-November 1957

Thomas A. Spragens, November 11, 1957-November 16, 1981

Edgar C. Reckard, president pro tem, 1981

Richard L. Morrill, 1982-September 30, 1988

William H. Breeze, acting president, October 1, 1988-

Michael F. Adams, 1988-Summer 1997

Milton M. Reigelman, acting president, September 1, 1997-June 1998

John A. Roush, July 1, 1998-