Holding back tears at several points, East Tennessee State University President Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr. delivered his final state of the university address Friday morning, prior to the start of the school’s academic term that celebrates its centennial.
“This is tough,” Stanton said after a brief pause to compose himself toward the end of his emotional speech, interrupted at one point by lengthy applause from the faculty in attendance. Stanton plans to retire Jan. 14, 2012, 15 years to the day since he took office in 1997.
“This is a special time of year,” Stanton said to the faculty assembled in the D.P. Culp University Center. “There’s a lot of joy. And as others have already stated this is our 100th anniversary. And what a special time it is.”
Stanton said before the speech he had mixed feelings thinking about his final address at the annual faculty convocation.
“I love this university, this institution,” Stanton said. “But I’ll miss it greatly. Hopefully, they’ll allow me to stay on a day or two a week and do some work in some area to help them out. But I’ve had a great journey and I’m very appreciative.”
Stanton began his career at ETSU in 1985 as director of the Division of Peripheral Vascular Surgery for the then Veterans Administration Medical Center at Mountain Home and ETSU’s College of Medicine. He became medical dean in 1988.
People have asked Stanton what he will miss most about ETSU when he leaves, he said. His response: “The people; faculty, staff and students.”
Early in the convocation Stanton recognized the birthday of the oldest living person in the world, Bess Brown Cooper, who turned 115 Friday and who graduated from East Tennessee State Normal School, which was the name of the school when it opened Oct. 2, 1911.
“Bess Cooper is a living symbol of ETSU’s centennial,” Stanton said. “She’s the link of an institution to its formative years. She represents the initial reason for the university’s establishment –– improving lives through the profession of teaching.”
The faculty sang “Happy Birthday” to Cooper, who lives in Georgia now. The song was video taped and will be sent to her.
In his state of the university address, Stanton referenced many professors who were doing research that probably was not even considered possible when ETSU began as a teacher school in 1911. For instance, he recognized research done at the Gray Fossil Site, research done in the new College of Public Health, research done by ETSU students in Rome, research to help children with cleft palate and others.
Stanton updated the faculty about new initiatives on campus. He said the gift of land and a building at Valleybrook Farm in Sullivan County from Eastman Chemical Company will soon house several research labs and programs. The United States Olympic Committee and USA Weightlifting recently toured ETSU and Stanton was confident the school would be designated an official Olympic training center for weightlifting. Stanton also soon hopes to hear word on a proposal to establish a school of dentistry at ETSU.
Those in the audience were asked to imagine what the first faculty would think of what their small normal school with 29 students has turned into.
“Imagine being told, by some educational prophet or seer, that one day 15,000 people will set foot on campus for a fall semester,” Stanton said. “Imagine being told that 99 years after its opening, ETSU would be attracting $49 million a year for research and sponsored program activity.”