The third of five contenders coming to campus in the quest to be Georgia Southern University’s next president, Dr. Carl A. Stockton, said he has been described as a “transformational leader” in style.
“One of my philosophies I learned very early on in life is that wherever life takes you, always try to leave the place in better shape than before you arrived,” Stockton said Thursday afternoon during his public forum on campus.
Transforming things for the better is what Stockton said he has tried to do throughout his almost 32-year career. He is now second in command at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas, where he has been provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs since August 2007. Stockton remains active in teaching, as a professor of health sciences. Previously, he was dean and Houston Endowed Chair for education at the University of Texas at Brownsville’s School of Education from 2004 until 2007.
Before that, he taught at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Radford University in Virginia, the University of South Alabama, and Florida State University.
He holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, all in health education.
Like the two other candidates who spoke in similar forums Monday and Wednesday, Stockton also talked about shared decision making, listening to the campus community and others.
“I empower people to do their job, and if I came here I would like to work with a shared vision and develop a strategic plan based on a shared vision,” he said.
The search committee, which has invited the five selected candidates to campus for three-day visits, brings them on stage with suggestions for what they should talk about. One is their philosophy of higher education.
“It’s very simply put,” Stockton said. “It’s to allow people to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledge so they can seek and reach their personal and professional goals, and also to educate people to give back to their community. I’m very big in terms of social responsibility, and it’s to give back to the community in which they serve.”
Lagging graduation rate
Another shared request is that applicants discuss challenges facing higher education. The first Stockton addressed was “balancing access with affordability and student success.”
Stockton, like University of Kentucky College of Law Dean David A. Brennen, whose forum was Wednesday, had seen reports showing that although Georgia Southern keeps most of its first-year students into the second year, only a little over half graduate, even after six years.
“I’m very impressed, very impressed, with the first-year retention rate of 82 percent. Congratulations,” Stockton said. “But at the same time, I look at the six-year graduation rate … 50 percent.”
This, he indicated, is an area for improvement. He had also read, in the Complete College Georgia report on Georgia Southern, that the HOPE Scholarship eligibility rules are a factor, as some students take fewer classes each semester so they can maintain a B average, instead of more classes to graduate sooner.
Party school question
The forums include questions submitted on cards, anonymously, by audience members. One unusual question to Stockton was what he plans to do “to change the perception of Georgia Southern being a party school.”
“I think it’s important to promote all of the good things that are going on at the university,” he said. “If I were coming in as your president, I would be out there talking about the successes of, for example, the Herty Advanced Materials Center, the Center for Sustainability, the Rural Health Research Institute, the Renewable Energy Lab.”
The university should make sure it is known for the work of faculty, staff and students, he said.
“Can I control students drinking?” Stockton continued. “I hope that we as a campus come up with a plan, but you’re not going to stop all of that. I just say I hope they’re at least of age, of age 21, but at the same time I also think that it’s important to work with the Statesboro community to talk about what can be done.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.