Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Bonner returning to previous role of provost

Guy Bailey will take hold of The University of Alabama presidency this week, permanently replacing Robert Witt, who vacated the post in March to become chancellor of The University of Alabama System.

But as Bailey introduces himself to the UA community, he will have a familiar face at his side.

Judy Bonner, who became the first female acting president of UA in history six months ago, will return to her position as UA provost, the same post she held throughout Witt’s historic tenure.

The provost is the University’s second-highest ranking administrator, responsible for overseeing all of its academic programs.

“It’s going to be difficult to talk about Dr. Witt and not talk about Dr. Bonner,” said Tom Davis, a former administrator in the UA Office of Undergraduate Admissions and a friend of Bonner. “Because within ten days after he got here, she was provost and has been with him every step of the way.”

Witt named Bonner provost after he arrived at the Capstone in March 2003, and she has since been an instrumental figure in growing the University’s enrollment from 19,000 students to nearly 32,000.

“He was really lucky – maybe lucky is not the right word – but fortunate to have Provost Bonner because he could trust her to run the academic side of the University, and early presidents had involved themselves with that more than he did,” said Robert Halli, the founding dean of the University Honors College. “He went about the fundraising, publicizing the University, expanding our brand, recruiting the top students, recruiting the top faculty.”

Now, Bonner will maintain the same role under a new president, helping to ease the first transition of leadership at the Capstone in nearly a decade.

It is a fitting role for a woman who has spent 31 years at UA, first as a professor, then as a department chair, administrator and dean.

Serving students

“When Dr. Bonner became provost, I remember one of the first things she did: she put up a – it seemed like a small thing at the time – she put up a banner on (Rose Administration Building) that said ‘Welcome Back Students,’” Hank Lazer, UA associate provost, said. “But it was a symbolic change. It’s not that others didn’t care about students. Judy cares deeply, and perhaps more. But she sees students as absolutely the heart of why we’re here and what we’re doing.”

Lazer was with Bonner in 2005, when a group of students in an Honors College seminar presented an idea for an arts advocacy organization to the two administrators.

“As we were leaving that room, Dr. Bonner looked at me and said, ‘That was great, let’s get going,’” Lazer said. The idea eventually became known as Creative Campus, and Lazer now serves as its director.

“She’s the kind of person, when you walk into her office for an idea or a project and everyone else has told you why it won’t work … she’s the person that says that sounds wonderful, you can absolutely get it done, just let me know what I can do to help,” said Meg McCrummen, a former UA student who was mentored by Bonner during her four years as an undergraduate.

“Though perhaps few people know it, she’s the reason for a large part that we fall in love with the Alabama experience. So many things she’s done have created the Alabama experience,” McCrummen said.

The Alabama experience

Bonner is certainly familiar with the Alabama experience. Born in the small town of Camden, Ala., she received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from UA. She went on to earn a doctorate in human nutrition from The Ohio State University before returning to UA as an academician.

“She grew up in Camden and I think her first experience, out of that really small rural community, was coming here as a student,” Davis said. “I think she felt very nurtured here.”

Davis said Bonner, after spending a lifetime dedicated to the University as a student and employee, is very protective of UA.

“I do not know of another person on that campus that is as loyal to this institution as Judy Bonner,” Davis said. “Talk about bleeding crimson, she certainly does.”

Tremendous dedication

That loyalty has led Bonner to undertake what her associates describe as a grueling work schedule, dedicating tremendous amounts of time to her job.

“I get emails from her at five o’clock in the morning and 12 at night. She says she doesn’t need more than four hours of sleep a night,” McCrummen said. “She works so incredibly hard.”

If she’s not working, friends say Bonner enjoys the company of her dog, Maggie, spending time with her niece and nephew and going to the beach.

She is also known for putting her human nutrition degree to practical use as a cook and is particularly famous for her West Indies Salad.

Bonner could not be interviewed for this story. In a statement, she said she has been honored to work with UA’s faculty, staff and students during her time as interim president.

“What I have enjoyed most during the last decade is seeing The University of Alabama come together as a vibrant academic community with a single vision,” she said.

A life changing opportunity

McCrummen said Bonner always enjoyed showing her restaurants in Tuscaloosa she had never tried and was always willing to share her advice.

“She can put anybody at ease in just a minute,” McCrummen said. “She has such a warm and engaging voice and spirit and demeanor.”

The mentorship proved to be a life-altering experience for McCrummen, who is currently studying for a graduate degree in art history at Tulane University and wants to become a higher education administrator.

“She’s the reason that I’m preparing for the profession I am,” McCrummen said. “She’s such an inspiration as a woman, and as the first woman to be acting president of our state’s capstone, I admire her. She is the reason that I want to do higher education administration.”

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