CLEVELAND — In 1999, Delta State University opened a new chapter in its history when it named David L. Potter, the sixth president of the university. Potter replaced Kent Wyatt, who retired after almost a quarter-century at the university’s helm.
Potter holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in social science from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York and a B.A. in history from Amherst College of Massachusetts. In 1987, he was named vice president for executive affairs at George Mason University of Fairfax, Va., and subsequently was interim dean, vice president and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and provost and vice president for academic affairs, a position attained in 1996.
The Mississippi Business Journal recently spoke to Potter and asked him about the transition to the Delta and presidency of the university, the university’s role in economic and community development for the area, Delta State’s strategy to overcome recent budget cuts and other issues.
Mississippi Business Journal: What was it about the presidency of Delta State University that appealed to you?
David Potter: I was at a large university in Virginia, but I wanted to serve in a small-university setting. I like the human scale at a smaller university. I find it much more enjoyable.
I also found the stable situation at Delta State attractive. My predecessor had served here for 24 years. With that stability, I felt Delta State was ready for the next stage of its development, to grow the programs and offerings here at the university.
MBJ: Your resume includes an impressive list of high-ranking posts at George Mason, but this is your first presidency. How different is the role of president from, say, dean or vice president?
DP: I really love this job. In fact, I love it better than any of the other positions I’ve held. It’s a fun job, much like being a dean. It’s one of those few jobs where you can make a big contribution, where you can put a mark on the institution using your own ideas. I have to work with a number of people. But as president, I can see what needs to be done to better the university, as well as the community and region as a whole.
MBJ: What do you feel is the role of Delta State, as well as your office, in the economic development and quality of life for the citizens of Cleveland and the Delta in general?
DP: Our mission is to be a regional institution. We have to have an impact on the region, on all the Delta, not just Cleveland. We have a fairly broad role in economic development, but we have a more defined role in community development as a cultural resource. That’s an important role for the university.
When asked where they are from, people don’t say, “I’m from Cleveland.” They say, “I’m from the Delta.” So, to be effective, we must serve the whole region. And I think we do that here at Delta State by offering a cultural resource to the Delta.
MBJ: How have the budget cuts affected Delta State, and what is the university doing to offset them?
DP: We saw a 7% cut this year, and we are looking at perhaps an 8% cut next year. Some of that, unfortunately, may be offset by a tuition hike, which our board of trustees will meet to discuss soon. We’ve have had to look at how we are using resources now and decide where cuts would be made.
There is a positive to this. It was an opportunity to access how efficiently we were allocating our resources, and what was important to us. It gave us a chance to access what was vital to us, and how well we were supporting those efforts and programs.
MBJ: The Ayers case seems to be reaching resolution. What is your feelings on the outcome, and what affect might it have on Delta State?
DP: I certainly hope it is reaching resolution. Every university president in Mississippi I’ve talked to wants it to be resolved. The state has to figure out how to pay for it.
I believe the cost will be spread out over years, so the financial impact won’t be so strongly felt.
My feeling is this — a stronger Mississippi Valley State University means a stronger Delta State.
It makes us both better at meeting our mission of improving the region, and allows us to work more effectively with each other.
MBJ: How do you measure success?
DP: My fundamental measure of success is when our graduates leave Delta State, do they go out and make a difference? Do they find good jobs? Do they make good leaders?
And, once again, our mission is to be a regional institution. So, I look to determine whether Delta State is making a difference in the community and the Delta. If we do those things, then we’re being successful.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com or (601) 364-1016.