Robert Frank, one of three finalists for the presidency of East Tennessee State University, said he has prepared his whole career to become a university president.
“When you put it all together, ETSU has a little bit of everything I’ve done,” Frank told university staff in a forum held Wednesday at the school’s D.P. Culp University Center.
Frank, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kent State University in Ohio, was selected from among eight semifinalists who applied for president to visit the ETSU campus this week to meet all the campus constituencies.
Current ETSU President Paul E. Stanton Jr. will retire in January.
Frank’s first experience in education was in public health at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he worked with people who had catastrophic or debilitating injuries. He did clinical work in teaching and went through all the professorial ranks at that school.
Frank worked in Washington on health care legislation in the early 1990s. In 1994, he became a dean of public health at a Florida school, where he helped establish a college of public health. He wanted to broaden his academic experience in arts and sciences, so he sought and got his current position at Kent State.
Frank met campus groups in a series of forums that began at 8:45 a.m. and lasted until about 6 p.m. Wednesday. A community reception followed at 7:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.
Jack Cotrel, ETSU’s public safety chief, attended the morning staff forum and asked Frank about his position on legislation that would allow guns on campus. Such legislation is brought up every year in the Tennessee General Assembly. It did not advance this year.
“I personally don’t believe guns belong on campus,” Frank said. “The campus should be a place for broad discussions where we bring people together to solve their differences.”
He said adding guns to what can sometimes turn into heated debates is not a good idea.
Should guns on campus be allowed by law, Frank said he would work with Cotrel to make sure the campus is as safe as possible, should he become president.
Low salaries at ETSU were brought up at both the faculty and staff forums.
Frank said there were opportunities in looking at all possible revenue streams for the university to help acquire some of the roughly $14 million needed to bring up salaries.
“The truth is all university staff are working a little harder, as faculty are,” Frank said. “This happened at Kent State. It’s happened at every university I’ve been.”
One person in the staff forum asked about football returning to the university, because that topic is often brought up when she gives campus tours, she said.
Stanton cut football at ETSU in 2003, because the program was losing money.
“There’s a lot of advantage to a football program,” Frank said. “If I become president, I think it’s a worthy conversation that should continue. I’m entirely sympathetic to it but you got to take it on in a way the university can manage.”
Joy Fulkerson, Greek life coordinator at ETSU, asked about diversity on campus.
Frank said diversity is essential to what a university does, and because of that it is important to seek a wide range of people with varied backgrounds, experiences and views to be on campus.
Students attended a forum, also. Concerns for this group included improving advisement at ETSU, because poor advising leads to poor retention rates; how accessible Frank would be as president; instilling ETSU pride in the region; and enforcement of the campus no-smoking policy, which, according to Student Government Association President Dalton Collins, is constantly violated.
In an interview partway through the day, Frank said he felt prepared to handle the challenges facing ETSU.
“The issues are either issues that are across higher education or problems that might be a little worse here but are common everywhere in higher education,” Frank said. “The salary issue is probably more marked here than some other issues.
“The really important part of ETSU is how many things are going well, not the problems. So as you look at the whole fabric, there’s so many positive things here that it makes solving the areas of challenge much more doable.”
Two more candidates have been invited to the campus for forums, community tours and a reception: Brian Noland, chancellor at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and Sandra Patterson-Randles, president of Indiana University Southeast, each of whom will be on campus today and Friday, respectively.
After the campus visits, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan will meet or speak privately with members of the local search committee who selected the finalists from a pool of 49 applicants to glean their thoughts on each candidate.
He will use that information to recommend one candidate to the full board for acceptance or rejection.