Ball State looks for relationship magician, evolutionist in new president

Board of trustees don't want a revolutionary

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - Jama Montgomery recalled the first Ball State president she met when graduating from the then teacher's college in 1945.

Everybody called his "Happy Jack," Montgomery said, referring to the late John Emens who transformed the small teacher's college into a state university with an auditorium bearing his name, new dormitories and a 10-story teacher's college building.

Montgomery, a retired home economics teacher, was among members of the community who offered their suggestions for the next president of Ball State.

While Emens always smiled and knew everybody by a first name, R. Wayne Estopinal, a university trustee in charge of the presidential search, talked about finding a "relationship magician" and a "contextual evolutionary" to succeed current Ball State President Jo Ann Gora who announced her retirement last month.

Montgomery, like others at the gathering, wanted more community involvement in the search that is closed and led by a consultant, Jerry Baker, who helped with the search that led to Gora.

On Wednesday, the hand of trustees on the search committee took comments from students, faculty, staff and the public that wondered why no one from the community was on the search committee.

Terry Whitt Bailey, Muncie Community Development Director, asked that very question, and Estopinal said adding a community representative would be a good idea for the next search.

Rick Hall, Ball State board of trustee president, said the lack of community representation was not a reflection on the the community.

Actually, the Ball State president has a big impact on Muncie and surrounding counties, the trustees noted and they hoped the university would provide more outreach to those communities.

James Gooden, a retired architect, said it was hard to imagine what the community would be without the university.

The university employs more than 3,800 people and has nearly a $340 million that makes it the largest employer in the region next to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

Gooden was not sure Ball State needed a well known personality like Purdue that hired former governor Mitch Daniels as their president.

Wil Davis, a businessman, hoped the university would find a humble, hard working president that would make a difference.

Micah Maxwell, who directs the Muncie Boys and Girls Club, hoped the new leader would continue to reach out to the community and make it known what Ball State excels in whether it is telecommunications, teaching, art or other culture.

Estopinal said the next president would be able to shape the future of Ball State with nearly half of the faculty eligible to retire in a few years.

And half of that faculty and staff live outside of Delaware County and Estopinal hopes that might change with a new administration.

Faculty who weighed in on the search were basically self interesting, wanting more graduate and international programs in their discipline. They also raised the issue of too many faculty and staff living in Indianapolis and there generally being a lack of community building between the university and community.

That university community disconnect also was echoed by some members of the community despite Gora's administration directing immersive learning opportunities to business, government and education to eastern Indiana. The Build Better Communities program also aids cities and towns improve their image, economy and landscape.

Baker said comments from students, faculty, staff and public would be up online, along with a job description and other relevant information in the search process.