There’s hardly a hat that Dr. Ken Perkins hasn’t worn in almost 40 years at Longwood—and he’s worn them all with a smile.
Whether it was in the classroom, steering the academic affairs ship as provost or helping to raise funds to support the adopted alma mater he quickly came to love, Perkins has been a widely revered teacher, administrator and leader. And sometimes, a merry prankster.
He began his long-planned retirement with the start of this academic year, bringing to a close a career during which he served under five presidents and two interim presidents—not including the 45-day stint he served in the role in an acting capacity. The list of titles and roles he has held is even longer, always providing an indispensable, steady hand and calming voice through a period of growth and momentum in the university’s history.
He always has kept at the forefront that we are a place that cherishes that connection between professor and student.President W. Taylor Reveley IV Tweet This
President W. Taylor Reveley IV praised Perkins as a servant leader and someone who has always had his finger on the pulse of the university and its mission to develop citizen leaders.
“The classroom is sacred space at Longwood. Ken has been a steward of that spirit through these many decades now,” Reveley said. “Whether it’s in his role as a beloved professor, or as provost, or out there on the hustings as an ambassador working on advancing the university, he always has kept at the forefront that we are a place that cherishes that connection between professor and student.”
Admired for his wisdom, charm and self-effacing humor, Perkins’ other roles have included chair of two departments (sociology and psychology), interim vice president for academic affairs, vice president for academic affairs, and director of development for academic priorities and provost emeritus. He also led a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmation process, served as an officer with the Longwood Foundation and as Longwood’s trustee on the Southern Virginia Higher Education Board.
Perkins is continuing to encourage support of Longwood students and the university’s mission even in retirement. In honor and celebration of Perkins and his service to Longwood, the Kenneth B. Perkins and Marie Hoge-Perkins Scholarship was established in 2022. The need-based scholarship supports full-time undergraduate students. Donations to the Perkins Scholarship can be made here.
A native of rural middle Georgia, Perkins came to Longwood as an assistant professor of sociology in 1984, after finishing his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech. His wife’s grandmother attended Longwood, so the school was familiar from the start. He recalled that on his first trip to campus he almost got hit by a runaway beer truck on Pine Street, which then ran through the middle of campus. Later he would ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle down the same street on his way to work, with the sound of the exhaust reverberating between the Cunninghams and Hiner Hall.
Growing up on a farm in Cochran, Georgia, he aspired to be a game warden and majored in criminal justice as an undergrad at Middle Georgia College and then Valdosta State. But in college he grew to love research and teaching.
Statistics was always one of his favorite classes to teach, he said, in part because he enjoyed seeing students have that “aha” moment when they fully understood the material they were learning. Once a former student remarked that Perkins could teach statistics to a fence post, an observation he said he took positively.
As a sociologist, Perkins specialized in the study of organizations and occupations. Another of his favorite classes to teach was the sociology of dying and death, which included taking students on a field trip to local funeral homes. His research interest in volunteer fire departments and rescue squads led him to join the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department, where he served for 22 years. He also previously served on the Prince Edward County School Board.
Ken early on was a community-based scholar and practitioner. He has been a tremendous servant leader to the institution.Dr. Larissa Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs Tweet This
“Ken really embodies what we value as faculty member and what we look for in faculty members,” said Dr. Larissa Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “That is a commitment and passion for teaching. It is a focus on scholarship. Ken early on was a community-based scholar and practitioner. He has been a tremendous servant leader to the institution.”
During the administration of President Patricia Cormier, Perkins began transitioning to administrative roles while also teaching part time. He served as associate vice president for academic affairs and led Longwood’s SACSCOC reaffirmation, a multiyear process that began in 2000. He went on to serve as special assistant for student success under Cormier, a full-time administrative role focusing on student retention.
In April 2012, when then-President Patrick Finnegan resigned due to health reasons, Perkins—then interim vice president for academic affairs—became the university’s acting president for 45 days. It was during this time that he got to go to South Carolina to officially accept Longwood’s invitation to join the Big South Conference. It was a big moment for Longwood and for Perkins—one that he recalled with his trademark humor and humility.
“I had on my best suit. My shoes were shined, and I had on socks with no holes in the heels. I was ready for this moment in the spotlight,” he said. “I got back to the table after I’d given my speech and my pants were unzipped. And I thought, ‘Send me back to rural Georgia. That’s where I needed to be.’ That was the highlight of my 45 days.”
Perkins became vice president for academic affairs and provost later in 2012 and, in 2015, he transitioned to a new role at Longwood, joining the Office of Institutional Advancement.
I’ve seen firsthand through 25 years in the classroom and then serving in other roles what impact Longwood has on these young people.Dr. Ken Perkins Tweet This
“I believe in our mission, even more now than ever,” Perkins said. “Longwood is a wonderful institution. It’s not perfect. We strive to do the best we can. I’ve seen firsthand through 25 years in the classroom and then serving in other roles what impact Longwood has on these young people. I hear it from donors. That’s why we’ve had a lot of success in advancement.”
Having a background in the study of people and relationships no doubt was helpful in his career.
“If there was a secret sauce to any of my comings and doings, it’s probably been sociology,” Perkins said. “I have really learned a lot and enjoyed it and tried to make a difference. I tried to do it with grace, humility and humor. The humor part was not always easy in the provost job. But I told myself I was going to have fun. I was going to do everything I could to keep the administrative burden off of the faculty.”
Perkins’ favorite word is magnanimity. Vice President for Institutional Advancement Courtney Hodges said magnanimous is a fitting adjective for the legacy of someone she has learned so much from over the years.
I am most grateful to Ken for modeling for me how to lead with grace and kindness.Courtney Hodges, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Tweet This
“It can be easy to find leaders that model what not to do,” Hodges said. “What is much harder to find is the type of leadership that you want to emulate—leadership traits you want to adopt. I am most grateful to Ken for modeling for me how to lead with grace and kindness.”
As he leaves Longwood, Perkins said he is happy to be leaving the institution in a stronger position, building on the work of others. He doesn’t have concrete plans for retirement except to spend more time with his grandchildren—a 3-year-old grandson and another grandchild on the way. His grandchildren are the reason he decided to give up riding motorcycles, a hobby since high school. Now he enjoys dabbling in woodworking. And he will continue to support his adopted alma mater.
“I’ll love Longwood forever,” he said. “I’ll be a loyal donor.”