Having dedicated his career to private higher education, Palm Beach Atlantic University’s eighth president, William M. B. Fleming, Jr. Friday announced his plan to retire effective June 2020.
Fleming, 67, has been instrumental in Palm Beach Atlantic’s growth for nearly three decades raising more than $173 million to support expansion of the physical campus as well as academic, athletic and student life programs. Joining PBA in 1992 as vice president for development, Fleming became president May 7, 2012, after serving as interim president for the previous 14 months.
“Pam and I have witnessed first-hand the transformative nature of Christian higher education at Palm Beach Atlantic for more than half of its existence,” Fleming said. “We have seen more than 15,000 graduates launch their lives of faith and service with respect for the free enterprise system, which are the three pillars of Palm Beach Atlantic. We are confident that God will raise a new generation of PBA leaders to continue its mission for the next 50 years and beyond.”
“President Fleming is committed to serving the remainder of his presidency in the same gracious and dignified manner that has personified his tenure until a smooth transition takes place next year,” said Board Chairman Jim Jenkins. “On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express our gratitude for Bill Fleming’s steady, judicious and faithful leadership, working collaboratively with the board, to oversee the transformation of a small college to a thriving university,”
Under President Fleming's leadership, the University gained significant momentum as illustrated by ratings as a “best” choice in U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, and inclusion in the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. During Fleming's tenure, enrollment has grown from 1,543 (1992) to 3,706 (2018).
The flagship campus along the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach has expanded to 29 acres with the construction of Baxter Residence Hall (1995), Greene Complex for Sports & Recreation (1998), Vera Lea Rinker Hall (2002), Oceanview Residence Hall/ Dixie Parking Garage (2002), DeSantis Family Chapel (2003), Gregory Hall (2004) and the Warren Library (2007; 2009). Building acquisitions include Pembroke Place (1998), Admissions building (2003), Lakeview Residence Hall (2004), Human Resources building (2008), Fern Street Theatre (2009), the former Quattlebaum property (2013), Coastal Towers Residence Hall (2014) and Visual Arts Studio (2018). More than 1,100 students live on campus.
Academic programs have grown as well. The Orlando Campus opened in 2001, focused on providing undergraduate and graduate degrees to working adults. PBA began offering online courses in 1996. Today, Palm Beach Atlantic offers 53 undergraduate majors, 10 graduate degrees and two professional programs in nursing practice and pharmacy. PBA offers complete online degree programs as well as online and hybrid courses through its learning management system, Canvas. There are currently 180 full-time, top-tier faculty and more than 17,000 alumni.
The University established six Centers of Excellence: The LeMieux Center for Public Policy, the David and Leighan Rinker Center for Experiential Learning, the Gregory Center for Medical Missions, the Center for Integrative Science Learning, the Titus Center for Franchising and the new Center for Biblical Leadership, which begins this fall.
Advancement in athletics has been a highlight of Fleming’s presidency. Palm Beach Atlantic became a member of the prestigious Sunshine State Conference of the NCAA Division II, where PBA has been recognized as a model for community engagement. Today, more than 300 student athletes compete in 18 varsity sports. The University’s 80-acre Rinker Athletic Campus, which opened in 2014 on Parker Avenue, features competition space for baseball, beach volleyball, soccer, softball and tennis along with student recreation. The John & Sheila Rinker Sports Center opened in 2017 to provide top-notch coaching and training facilities. The Parker Avenue Consortium is a community partnership benefitting the education of children and well-being of families living in the vicinity of the Rinker Athletic Campus in order to bring renewed vitality to the neighborhood.
Prior to coming to Palm Beach Atlantic, Fleming served in several administrative roles at Wingate University and Guilford College, both in North Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in political science from Guilford. Judson University in Illinois presented him with an honorary doctorate degree. Fleming additionally serves as chairman of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, a post that he has held since 2016. He serves on the board of St. Mary’s Medical Center and is a trustee of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. He is a member of the West Palm Beach Rotary Club and is a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International. He is a past president of two Rotary Clubs and is a former board member of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches. Fleming is a Boy Scout of America Silver Beaver Award recipient. The Flemings are members of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church where they have been actively involved in ministry for many years.
Photo: Jim Watt, William M. B. Fleming, Jr. and Dennis Grady at the dedication of the Rinker Athletic Campus.