Carl Stockton was raised in Pompano Beach, Fla., by a grandmother who emphasized the importance of education.
He listened well.
Stockton became a first-generation college student, earned his doctorate in health education at age 26 and has worked for 31 years at institutions of higher learning. From assistant to associate to full professor, from department chairman to dean to provost, Stockton climbed the academic ladder.
“I’ve been through the ranks,” he said.
Now, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Houston-Clear Lake since August 2007 says he is qualified to step up to the next rung, and he says the right fit is as president of Columbus State University.
“I looked at the mission statement of the university: supporting academic excellence, research, servant leadership, student centered, and that’s what I’ve done most of my career,” he told the estimated crowd of 75 Wednesday afternoon in CSU’s Center for Commerce and Technology auditorium. “I want to give back. I could have gone to bigger institutions, but I’ve chosen comprehensive master’s institutions because I want to make a difference, and I have a philosophy that I want to give back because I’ve gotten a lot out of education.”
Stockton, who turns 57 next week, asserted that he has a gift for human relations.
“I can talk to the housekeeper all the way to the governor,” he said. “I have that skill.”
While answering a question about his leadership style, Stockton said, “I’m all about communication and openness.”
People can accept a decision they disagree with if they had input into that decision, Stockton said. Although he respects the chain of command, he encourages employees to ask him about rumors – and they can sway his opinion.
“I’ve been known to meet with faculty or staff or administration and let them change my mind,” he said.
His first-year priorities as CSU president, he said, would focus on three “opportunities rather than challenges” after meeting with key stakeholders in the first 100 days:
Increase recruitment of students who are college ready, “especially if the state goes toward performance-based funding,” he said. “If you graduate more students, if you retain them, you grow the institution with more resources available.”
Increase faculty and staff salaries, which are inferior compared to peer institutions, “and it’s not just a few thousand dollars difference,” he said.
Increase visibility. “There’s a lot of good people here, from what I can tell,” he said, but the U.S. News & World Report rated CSU’s reputation lower than Kennesaw State and Valdosta State. After touring CSU’s arts facilities on the RiverPark campus in downtown Columbus, “I was amazed,” he said. “I was blown away. I’d like to see CSU be the best comprehensive master’s university, with a doctoral program, in the Southeast region. Right now, CSU, according to Georgia, is labeled as a state institution, it’s not even a comprehensive. Why not?”
Stockton, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and his doctorate from the University of Tennessee, joked that although he was speaking in Georgia, Auburn and Alabama territory, at least he is an SEC fan. He also mentioned his daughter is an NCAA Division I golfer at Lamar University, which prompted a question about whether Division II CSU should pursue the higher status.
He wondered aloud, with so many Division I schools in the region, “Is it advantageous to be the best Division II athletics program you can have versus kind of being a number in Division I? I’m not opposed to it, but I would really have to take a look at the numbers and the data.”
Stockton disclosed that he has applied at another institution, but if he is offered the CSU presidency, he said, “I’ll be here.”
It was the first of two open forums Wednesday for the public to meet, hear and question Stockton. About 25 folks attended the subsequent forum, held on CSU’s downtown campus in the Riverside Theatre Complex.
Stockton is the fourth of the five remaining candidates to visit. The first was Randy Hanna, who was chancellor of the Florida College System, formerly known as the Florida Community College System, from 2011 through Dec. 31, when he resigned to pursue a university presidency while also returning to the Tallahassee, Fla., law firm Bryant Miller Olive. The second was Aldemaro Romero Jr., the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Southern Illinois University, where he now is a biology professor after losing his five-year deanship Dec. 31 in a reorganization. The third was Chris Markwood, the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi provost and vice president for academic affairs the past four years.
The final candidate to visit will be Jose-Marie Griffiths, vice president for academic affairs, Bryant University, Smithfield, R.I. Her two forums open to the public will be Monday, first at 2 p.m. in the CSU Center for Commerce and Technology on main campus, then at 3:30 p.m. in the Riverside Theatre Complex on the RiverPark Campus.
Out of 60 applicants, the 17-member search and screening committee chose 11 to interview. Ten were interviewed last month in Atlanta, and five made the cut.
After the candidates visit CSU, the committee will recommend 3-5, without ranking them, to the University System Board of Regents. The Special Regents’ Search Committee will recommend an unspecified number of finalists to chancellor Hank Huckaby, who will recommend his top choice to the full board. Tim Mescon, who announced his departure six months ago, was CSU president for six years when he retired Dec. 31 to move to Amsterdam and become senior vice president and chief officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International.
Mescon is the fourth president in the 57-year history of CSU, which began as Columbus College. Thomas Whitley served from 1958-79, Francis Brooke from 1980-87 and Frank Brown from 1988-2008.
Tom Hackett, the CSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been serving as interim president.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.