Bernard Pitts passed away December 6, 2023. He received the Butts-Whiting Award in 2005 and received an Honorary Membership in 2015 for his dedication to ACUI and the many students and professionals he affected during his career.
“Bernie had a large impact in ACUI and on thousands of students during his career,” said ACUI Chief Executive Officer John Taylor. “I will cherish my memories of him and know he will be missed by many in the Association and beyond.”
Pitts gave more than 20 years of volunteer service to ACUI; he served as ACUI president from 1996–97 and Region 14 director from 1979–81. Other service included vice president for committee affairs; leadership roles with the Recreation Committee, College Bowl, and the Committee on Multi-Cultural Programs (COMP); and as a member of the Education and Research Fund Team, Conference Program Team, and Research Committee. Pitts valued the colleagues he met through his volunteerism—he said they brought him joy in his prime and comfort in his retirement.
In her nomination letter for Pitts’ Honorary Membership, fellow ACUI Past President Debra Hammond said that “his service in the Association is unparalleled” and he “was absolutely deserving of the recognition.”
While Pitts had a great impact in the Association, he also made a difference throughout his 44-year career. Pitts started his career in higher education as the assistant night manager of the University Center at Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville. He then progressed through positions at St. Louis University, Oregon State University, Western Oregon State College, West Virginia University, California State University–Hayward, and Iowa State University before becoming the executive director of the K-State Student Union at Kansas State University in 1995—a role he held, in conjunction with serving as the assistant vice president for student life starting in 2005, until his retirement in 2012.
“He is forward-thinking and supportive, and focused on diversity—someone who fosters teamwork. In fact, he is a union director who has been tireless in his endeavors to make the union experience an excellent one for students,” said Beth Bailey, who worked with Pitts at Kansas State University, in her nomination for his Honorary Membership.
Despite his role on a campus or within ACUI, Pitts was a strong advocate for the role of the college union. He pushed forward the ideals set forth by ACUI’s role statement through his work—and his word.
In his September 1996 Presidential Perspective article in The Bulletin, Pitts wrote: “[Unions] have been the living rooms of the campus: a place for gathering, for exploring potential, for discussion, and for the continual process of community development. The sense of community, family, belonging, and creating programs and services has long been the college union’s mission. These are the very programs and services that cultivate the whole individual and develop lifelong skills.”
Pitts shared similar sentiments about the purpose of the union on a college campus in a publication commemorating the 50th anniversary of the K-State Student Union in 2006; his article was reprinted in The Bulletin in 2019.
“Home is where one grows, learns, fails, and succeeds. The college union and program, in its own manner, offers these same opportunities. The college union, like the home and family unit, has the opportunity on campus to be an interpreter, the custodian, and transmitter of the goals and values that contribute to a sense of community.”
This determination to share the impact of the college union was recognized by the former Region 11 when its Role of the College Union Award was renamed in Pitts’ honor in 2011; this award was adopted by Region II in 2014 following the restructuring and is still given today.
When he accepted the Butts-Whiting Award in 2005, Pitts shared words of wisdom that are still relevant today: “For those of you who maybe this is your first outing with ACUI or maybe you’re a young professional in the field, I do urge you to give the profession and ACUI a chance. I think this is probably one of those fields that you’ll work hard, but when you go home that night, you’ll be able to feel a wealth of satisfaction that you made a contribution on your campus,” he said. “And for those of you who have been around for a while, all I can say is thank you. Keep on doing what you’re doing; you certainly make a difference.”