BY SARAH GREGORY
East Tennessee State University (ETSU) President Dr. Brian Noland says the mission set forth by the school's founders more than 100 years ago remains ETSU's mission today -- to be the best regional university in the United States.
Noland, who is married to Greeneville native Donna Fox Noland, talked about many ways in which the University strives toward that goal during a Tuesday visit to the Exchange Club of Greeneville at Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
General Sessions Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr., an ETSU alumnus, introduced Noland by saying, "I've never been more excited about my alma mater, and Dr. Brian Noland is the change."
TAKEN FOR GRANTED
"One of the things I've come to realize over the past year is -- we've come to take ETSU for granted," Noland said at the beginning of his approximately 15-minute talk.
He also offered some lesser-known facts about the institution, a few of which -- such as, "did you know ETSU hosts the world's largest collection of fossilized dung?" -- were met with great amusement by the club members.
A small sampling of many "did you know?" facts about ETSU detailed by Noland include that the university:
* has one of only three training facilities for U.S. Olympic weightlifters;
* has a College of Pharmacy that is entirely funded by private dollars with no state funding;
* hosts the country's only Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program; and, among other highlights,
* has the nation's number three school for rural and family care, in the James H. Quillen College of Medicine.
"There's world-class renown only 30 miles up the road," he said, inviting the audience to take the short drive to Johnson City, park their vehicles, and take a walking tour of the ever-growing campus.
"We're the institution of the underdog," said Noland, who noted that the Bucs' baseball team, then working on a 10-3 record, recently won two of three games over "a little institution known as Penn State."
But "special things like that" happen every day at the school, he said, adding, "We're the institution where someone who is homeless -- who is provided service in a homeless clinic downtown -- has the opportunity to work with ETSU faculty and, now, that individual will graduate with her Master's Degree."
Noland highlighted other positive changes taking place at the school, such as the new baseball facility, the current construction of a new parking garage, and the recent addition of a commons area with green space to serve as a "heart" for the school.
FOOTBALL WILL RETURN
"And yes," Noland confirmed, "football is coming back."
He said that the program will start back up "in three weeks" before teasing the crowd by asking, " 'Is Phillip Fulmer going to be our coach?' I don't know. Do you think he should be?"
Noland says reaction to the decision to return to a varsity football program hasn't been uniformly positive, but he says he feels it is the proper thing to do.
As to why, he offered a rationale not based on finances.
"When you look at what's missing from our institution, it's a connection with the community," he said.
The hope is that adding the football program -- along with other initiatives -- will encourage the community and ETSU alumni to be "reconnected" with the university.
Noland also answered a few questions from the crowd.
He wrapped up his visit by saying, "We're an institution that's big enough to create the future and change the world, but an institution that's small enough to be a family."