From living in Iran under the Shah to rebuilding after the devastation of an F4 tornado, the finalists for East Tennessee State University’s presidency have plenty of unique experiences.
Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kent State University in Ohio, Brian Noland, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and Sandra Patterson-Randles, chancellor of Indiana University Southeast, were selected from a group of 49 applicants as the finalists to be the next president of ETSU, a post held by Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr., who will retire in January.
The candidates each visited the campus this past week, meeting various groups and answering questions about how they would run the university if selected as its leader.
In interviews with the Johnson City Press the days they were on campus, each candidate also shared details about their lives growing up, why they are seeking a university presidency and what they do in their spare time.
Frank was born in Paris, France. His father was in the U.S. Army and stationed in that country when he was born. He lived there until he was 3, when the family, which includes two sisters, moved to Boston. Then they moved to Georgia, California, Iran and finally New Mexico, where he went to high school and college.
Frank was in Iran from the third grade until the eighth grade at an American school.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I love Iran.”
His father learned to speak Farsi at the Army’s language school in California, so the family was able to be integrated into the Iranian community in Tehran.
“It was a very rich experience,” Frank said. “I owned two donkeys.”
The Shah was still in Iran when Frank was there. He remembered the riots in 1963 when Ayatollah Khomeini was imprisoned and then exiled. The real unrest in Iran began after the Franks left, but he recalled seeing a little strife.
“I went to Boy Scout camp once and tanks occupied the square between my house and the Boy Scout camp,” Frank said. “My parents couldn’t get to me. But most of the time it was a very normal place.”
Frank spoke about the need for diversity on campus during his interviews and advocated for international experiences for students and the inclusion of international students on campus. He said there is no doubt his time in Iran influenced him.
“I think I have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, because I grew up in that kind of environment, where things weren’t always crystal clear,” he said. “I value family a lot, because we had to rely on each other. It was just us there.”
Frank, 59, is married to Janet Frank. They have two children.
He said he was seeking the presidency of ETSU, because it was a way to make a difference in many peoples’ lives.
“You’re going to work hard at everything you do in life if there are chances to really make your efforts have a kind of sense of change,” he said. “And my parents inculcated that in me as a value as a kid and it just is part of my fabric and the way I think about the world. The presidency is a job you can do that in and it’s a job where you have a lot of opportunities to influence a lot of things.”
Noland was born in Sterling, Va., which at the time was a remote suburb of Washington. He has been married 13 years to Donna Noland and has one son, Jackson, who is 6.
His mother lives in Asheville, N.C., and his wife’s family lives in Greeneville.
He knows the area rather well because his wife’s family is from here, he said.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at East Tennessee State University when I worked for the (Tennessee) Higher Education Commission in Nashville,” Noland said. “We worked with faculty and staff on assessment issues. We worked with faculty and staff as we were building the lottery scholarship program. We worked with the financial aid community. I know folks in the institutional research office. So having worked in the state of Tennessee eight, nine years, you know, I got to know East Tennessee State University rather well.”
Noland said he is just a regular guy who values his family and sharing time with his son.
“In my spare time I love to play with my son,” he said. “He’s 6 and there’s nothing more exciting than a 6-year-old, who has an imagination I can’t even describe. I love to run. I love to play basketball. I love intercollegiate athletics. But mainly what I do for fun is go to work. I got a great job. I get to serve the people of West Virginia every day of the week.”
Noland said a university president has the opportunity to impact people in many ways.
“I’m not here because I want to be a president,” he said. “I’m not applying for presidencies. I’m here because I want to be at East Tennessee State. I want to help work with the faculty and staff and students to bring additional resources, but to help be part of an effort to help improve the quality of life for East Tennessee. This isn’t about being a president. This is about being something special.”
Patterson-Randles is married to Jeff Randles. They do not have children.
Some of her husband’s relatives are from Greeneville. His cousin and her husband are both ETSU graduates, so Patterson-Randles is familiar with the area, she said.
She was born in Chicago as the oldest of seven children.
“Being a teacher is something I came to naturally, probably because I did a lot of teaching of my younger brothers and sisters,” said Patterson-Randles, who taught for 30 years before becoming IUS’ chancellor.
In fact, she credited some of her management style with her experiences in dealing with her large family.
“I found that each one of my brothers and sisters had unique individual needs and desires, but we were all a family,” Patterson-Randles said, adding a university is much the same in that respect.
While in high school, an F4 tornado destroyed her family’s home, so they packed up and moved to Colorado, where she attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. That was where she really got her passion to become a teacher.
After college, she began teaching in high school, eventually deciding to move on to become a professor.
She always loved horses, even as a child. She kept pictures of horses she would cut out of the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
While she was in graduate school at the University of Kentucky, she got the opportunity to move well beyond cutting out pictures of horses and actually learn about the animals. That school had a 30-horse stable headed by a European riding master and Patterson-Randles learned to ride there.
“So even though I was in graduate school through a totally different area, I said, ‘This is the opportunity of a lifetime to learn to ride.’ ”
She was 25 when she learned to ride. She got her first horse shortly afterward and now has eight horses on a farm.
That farm is where she likes to spend her free time.
“I live on a horse farm,” she said. “When I come home from a hard day, I go in the stalls.”
Patterson-Randles said seeking the ETSU presidency was all about being able to help solve issues while serving the community.
“And I like that kind of challenge,” she said. “And it’s all really in service to our students and to the development of our communities. So I’m ready for a challenge, another challenge, at this point in my career.”
Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan will analyze the candidates’ performances from this past week by speaking to each member of the search committee that selected the finalists. Based on that input, Morgan will recommend one candidate to the TBR for approval.
The next ETSU president should be known by mid-November.