Samford University will confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Dr. Neal R. Berte, retiring president of Birmingham-Southern College, recognizing his 28 years of leadership at the liberal arts college.
Samford President Thomas E. Corts announced that the Samford Board of Trustees "enthusiastically approved" the granting of the degree, which will be conferred at Commencement May 22.
"This is as high an honor as our University can give, one that is richly merited in your case, and I am very pleased," Dr. Corts wrote to Dr. Berte in a letter informing him of the honor. Corts cited the "common commitment" of Birmingham-Southern and Samford "to academic quality, to Christian faith, and to the worthiness of independent higher education."
He added, "It would be an honor for Samford University to claim you as an honorary alumnus."
In a response to Corts, Berte said he was "overwhelmed" by the action, and added, "this is a high honor and I cannot thank you, members of the Board of Trustees, and others associated with this decision enough."
Berte's tenure at Birmingham-Southern was "unprecedented in length and achievements," noted W. Michael Atchison, chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, when Berte announced his upcoming retirement last fall.
Berte became president Feb. 1, 1976, after serving at the University of Alabama as dean of New College and vice president for educational development. An Ohio native, he holds three degrees from the University of Cincinnati, where he was elected Phi Beta Kappa.
Berte has been recognized numerous times for his educational and civic leadership. Among many leadership positions, he was founding chairman of both Leadership Birmingham and of Region 2020.
Birmingham-Southern's Board gave Berte the new title of Chancellor and President of the college when he announced his retirement. At the same time, the Board named the just-renovated Humanities Center for Berte and his wife of 39 years, Anne. Berte will retain the title of Chancellor following his retirement June 30.
The Bertes have four children and 11 grandchildren.
Samford and Birmingham-Southern enjoyed a vigorous rivalry in the first half of the 20th century. There was even a joint fund-raising campaign after World War II. Samford moved to Homewood in 1957 and added a law school in 1961, becoming a university in 1965. In recent years, while respecting their distinctive missions, Samford and Birmingham-Southern have cooperated in a number of areas, including cross registration privileges for specialized courses.