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Hard to say goodbye: Huge crowd attends Stanton reception

Rex Barber • Jan 9, 2012 at 11:24 PM

East Tennessee State University President Paul E. Stanton Jr. would not have taken a job at the school’s medical college back in 1985 had he known he would one day be the school’s leader, he said Monday.

But in 1996, when Roy S. Nicks was preparing to retire as the school’s seventh president, Stanton, who was then medical dean, saw opportunity. He applied and was named president. He took office Jan. 1, 1997.

“I saw the opportunity to build strong programs,” he said. “I saw the partnerships. I liked the ETSU Pride (slogan). That’s when I started toting one of those Pride signs around and keeping one in the trunk of my car for people to see. I was very proud of this institution.”

Those Pride signs can still be seen across the Tri-Cities, especially each fall, when the school begins a new academic year.

Stanton, who was trained as a surgeon, will retire from the presidency Saturday. Brian Noland will succeed him as the ninth president of ETSU Sunday.

Noland will be coming from his position as chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. This agency oversees West Virginia’s public higher education institutions. Noland holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Tennessee.

A reception for Stanton was held Monday from 2:30 until 6 p.m. in the D.P. Culp University Center’s Ballrooom. People from across the campus and community stopped by to shake hands with Stanton and his wife Nancy in their final week as president and first lady of ETSU.

Jack Cotrel, ETSU public safety chief, was among those who came to wish the Stantons well. Cotrel has know Stanton since 1985.

“Dr. Stanton’s just been a wonderful individual to know and work for,” Cotrel said. “He’s always supported my department and me personally through a lot of rough times, but together we made it through there.”

Cotrel said Stanton will be missed.

“I think we’re going to have great days ahead at ETSU, because Dr. Stanton has certainly paved the way for us,” he said.

Stanton said when he became president he had ideas to establish a pharmacy school and a dental school. He also wanted to see the school’s fledgling bluegrass program become a full major. The dental school is currently being studied and it will be up to Noland if that idea is pursued. But the pharmacy school became a reality in 2005. And the first student to major in bluegrass just graduated this past December.

Additionally, the school’s enrollment has grown to more than 15,000 students.

“So there were opportunities and I felt I could work with the faculty and staff and community and develop those,” Stanton said.

One opportunity not foreseen in the late 1990s was the procurement of the Gray Fossil Site and the creation of a museum and visitor center. In 2000, a crew of workers cutting a road near Highway 75 in Gray dug up fossils. The site was eventually preserved for ETSU to research.

Today the ETSU department of geosciences boasts one of the largest paleontology programs in the country. Scientifically significant finds are reported from the Gray Fossil Site each year.

The first paleontologist hired at ETSU to work at the Gray Fossil Site was Steven Wallace, who said Monday the site would likely not be under ETSU’s purview had it not been for Stanton. He also praised Stanton for guiding the school through some tough economic times that included significant budget cuts.

“I actually think he was a fantastic leader, because we went through a lot of hard times,” Wallace said. “He had to make a lot of hard decisions. But I think he was always fair, and in reality, that’s the best you can ask for in someone.”

Stanton said one piece of advice he could give to Noland would be to work with and trust the people of the region.

“The people in this region and on this campus are wonderful,” he said.

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