Jahnae H. Barnett
A transformational figure in the 150-year history of William Woods University (WWU), Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett’s impact on WWU since she became the first woman to lead the institution as president in 1990 has been profound. The longest-serving female president of a four-year college or university in Missouri history and currently serving the second longest active tenure of any four-year college or university president in the state, President Barnett’s leadership over the past quarter century has revolutionized William Woods from a regional, liberal arts college to a coeducational university offering paths from associate to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Since her appointment as president on April 21, 1990, President Barnett has guided the university through a generation of extraordinary change, including instituting the transition to university status in 1993 and to coeducational status in 1996. Under her leadership, WWU has met the challenge of society’s changes in technology and the workplace, expanding from a campus-centric delivery model to a university that serves students with a mix of on-campus, regional and online options. This transformation occurred when graduate-level, online, study abroad and 12 new academic programs were established, all under President Barnett’s direction. In addition, the university has created a variety of out-of-classroom programs and experiences to augment a student’s well-rounded education during the president’s tenure, including the Woods Around the World study-abroad program, and the Mentor/Mentee, Service Learning and LEAD co-curricular programs.
The innovative leadership of President Barnett has been clearly illustrated by the numbers. Since she became president, William Woods University’s total enrollment has grown from 750 students to more than 2,000; the university’s endowment has increased by nearly 250 percent, from $5.7 million to $19.6 million; the university eliminated its long-term debt and has maintained an operating budget in the black for 15 straight years; and infrastructure and capitol improvements on the WWU main campus in Fulton have exploded. Her tenure has seen the construction of the Center for Human Performance, Kemper Center for the Arts, Rowland Applied Riding Arena, Firley Soccer Field, a new baseball/softball complex, Anderson Arena, four new sorority residence halls, new residence hall complexes and numerous renovations and upgrades. Due to President Barnett’s vision, William Woods University is thriving in the competitive world of private, liberal arts colleges.
The first president to be promoted from within in the history of WWU, President Barnett’s roots at the institution run deep. Prior to becoming president, she served as Vice President of Admissions, Retention and Development at the university from 1983-1990. Her relationship with William Woods began in 1973, when she joined the university as Chair of the Department of Business and Economics.
President Barnett holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education and Student Personnel Services (1972) and a Master of Business Education (1967), both from the University of Mississippi. She is member of the university’s School of Education Hall of Fame, and is also a past recipient of the Ole Miss School of Education Alumnus of the Year award. She received her bachelor’s degree in business from Arkansas State University, where she was named as a member of the university’s “100 Most Distinguished Figures” as part of the Arkansas State Centennial Celebration in 2009, and is also a past recipient of the school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
President Barnett has received numerous other honors during her career, including being named as a Zonta Woman of Achievement; Ingram’s Magazine Icon of Achievement; First Lady of Education by the State of Missouri; Who’s Who in mid-Missouri; recipient of the Chief Executive Leadership Award by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education; Woman of Achievement and Top 100 Distinguished Alumnae by the National Alpha Omicron Pi Foundation; and Distinguished Service Award from the Kingdom of Callaway Supper.
Active in higher education and the community, President Barnett is or has been a member of the Council of Independent Colleges; President’s Foundation for the Support of Higher Education Advisory Council; Missouri Colleges Fund; Central Bank of Fulton Advisory Board; Fulton Area Development Corporation; Callaway County YMCA Board; Callaway County Humane Society Board and St. Mary’s Hospital of Jefferson City Board.
Dr. Barnett has been married to Eddie Barnett, a successful business owner, real estate developer and former football player for the University of Mississippi, since 1967. They are the proud owners of Sake, a 17 year-old Rag Doll cat; Rio, a ten year-old standard poodle, and Diego, a two year-old Morkie. When asked about children, President Barnett is famous for replying “I have hundreds of children, all graduates of WWU!”