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Fine arts center high on priority list for new ETSU president

Rex Barber • Jan 17, 2012 at 10:37 PM

East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland is ready to get to work as the school’s ninth leader, he said during a news conference Tuesday, his first full day on the job.

Noland officially began his job as ETSU president Sunday. ETSU was closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Noland succeeded Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr., who had been president since 1997. Stanton will remain at ETSU as president emeritus.

“It doesn’t in many respects seem possible,” Noland said of assuming the ETSU presidency. “I’ve got to admit, last week was hard, saying goodbye to friends, saying goodbye to something that you built, leaving family. But (I’m) coming in today honored, humbled, ready to go. Ready to go. Ready to get to work.”

Noland, who holds a doctorate in political science, was chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission until Friday. There he oversaw all of West Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

He arrived in Johnson City Saturday evening.

Noland spent Sunday rearranging the president’s office, so it would be ready for him to begin work Tuesday morning.

While he still must get acclimated to ETSU and its constituents, Noland said he is interested in immediately preparing the century-old university to begin the process of acquiring a fine and performing arts center if the state approves a plan to fund capital projects through issuing bonds and requiring institutional percentage matches.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission supports a plan that would have colleges and universities pay part of the cost for campus construction projects and also has requested approval of a five-year capital program that totals $1.8 billion.

ETSU’s proposed fine and performing arts center is such a capital project.

Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly must approve the plan.

For the proposed $38 million ETSU center, the match would be around $9 million. Noland thinks ETSU needs such a facility.

“The arts, the liberal arts, are the heart of this institution,” he said. “If you look back to our founding, we were founded as a teachers college, but our core, our heart, is in the liberal arts and the arts and sciences and the performing arts.”

Other concerns for Noland are improving staff and faculty salaries, working to ensure more students graduate per the Complete College Tennessee Act and improving access to higher education for everyone.

But beyond those things, Noland said he would spend the next few months educating himself on the school and meeting with everyone affiliated with ETSU to determine other areas of need.

Noland was in town last week meeting briefly with people on campus, but he has yet to really delve into the issues facing ETSU. He has only really been living in town since around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. But now he has the time to fully devote his attention to ETSU.

“What I plan on doing through the spring semester is listening,” Noland said. “I’m not going to call it a listening tour, but meeting with friends of the university, business leaders and others, be they in Nashville, Washington (D.C.) or within the region, to get a deeper sense of possibilities, opportunities and areas where we need to strike.”

In his emeritus status, Stanton will teach one day a week at the College of Medicine, where he began at ETSU in 1985. But he also will assist Noland as needed.

Noland said he and Stanton will meet on a regular basis. They have yet to sit down for a full briefing on the school, but that will happen soon, Noland said. Noland hopes to use Stanton’s contacts across the region to make introductions and also to help raise funds the school needs, like a possible $9 million match for the fine and performing arts center.

Noland said he hopes to be able to do as good a job leading ETSU as Stanton did during his 15 years as president.

“I think all of us have a great deal to continue to learn from Dr. Stanton,” Noland said. “He’s an outstanding president. Much of what we see across campus is a testament to his leadership.”

Noland’s wife and 6-year-old son, Jackson, will join him at ETSU’s presidential home, Shelbridge, in March.

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