WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — West Liberty University’s Presidential Search Committee announced four finalists for the position of president on Tuesday following a relaunch of the search in late August.
The four candidates vying to become the school’s 37th president will visit the Ohio County campus from Oct. 29 – Nov. 10 with each one spending two days there.
“I am pleased to announce the four finalists for the next President of West Liberty University. We look forward to introducing these leaders to our campus community and to the public as we begin the final steps in the process of finding a president,” said Rich Lucas, who is the chairman of the Search Committee and also the Board of Governors.
The national search for a president resulted in more than 70 applications, according to West Liberty University (WLU). Two are current college or university presidents, the other two are vice presidents (bios provided by West Liberty).
Dr. W. Franklin Evans, the current president of Voorhees College, will be the first to visit campus on Oct. 29 and 30. The Augusta, Georgia native has 25 years of experience in education. Prior to being named president, Evans served as interim president of South Carolina State University (SCSU), in Orangeburg, S.C., where he also served as the provost and chief academic officer.
Previously he served as vice president of academic affairs at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va. He also has worked at Elizabeth City State, J. F. Drake State Technical College, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Tennessee State University.
In 1994, Evans earned a doctoral degree in higher education administration from Georgia State University. He earned a degree in journalism, middle childhood education, curriculum and instruction, as well as administration and supervision from Georgia State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Georgia in 1984.
Dr. Melinda Arnold, who serves as provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at Montana State University Billings (MSUB), is the second candidate that will be on campus Nov. 1 and 2. She has led the Academic Affairs unit at MSUB since October 2018 where she is responsible for overseeing instructional programs, educational policy, academic planning, and academic resources.
Arnold facilitates the largest budget at MSUB and 166 full-time faculty in five colleges, including an embedded two-year college. She also leads and manages academic support units including the Library, Office of Graduate Studies, Grants and Sponsored Programs, Office of International Studies, Academic Success Center, Institutional Research, Assessment and Accreditation, eLearning, Advising and Career Services, Academic Senate, Honors Program and the Montana Center for Inclusive Education.
Prior to MSUB, Arnold served as interim associate provost at the University of North Texas at Dallas and as executive director of the Caruth Police Institute at UNT Dallas.
She was born in New York, but spent much of her childhood in Houston, Texas and earned her undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Texas. She then went on to earn two master’s degrees, one in liberal studies at Northwestern University and a second in criminal justice at Rutgers University. She also earned a doctoral degree in criminal justice at Rutgers.
On Nov. 4 and 5, Dr. Jay Gatrell will visit the West Liberty campus. He has served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Eastern Illinois University since July 1, 2017.
As chief academic officer, he is responsible for academic and senior-level internal leadership and represents the president in his absence, working with and coordinating the team of senior staff responsible for achieving the university’s goals identified by the president and the board of trustees.
Prior to this position, he was vice provost at Bellarmine University from 2014 – 2017 and was responsible for sponsored projects, study abroad, veteran’s affairs, homeland security, institutional research and effectiveness, development initiatives, biosafety and compliance, among other things.
The Northern Michigan native has family in the Weirton area. An economic geographer with interests in human-environment interactions, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Eastern Michigan University, as well as graduate degrees in geography from the University of Toledo and West Virginia University (Ph.D.).
The final candidate visit on Nov. 9-10 will be from Dr. Michael Victor, the president of Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., a position he has held since Aug. 1, 2015. Prior to that, he served as dean of Mercyhurst’s Walker School of Business from 2002 – 2006 before accepting the presidency of Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, a position he held for nine years until returning to Mercyhurst.
During his tenure at Mercyhurst, he led the renovation of the student dining hall, the main floor of the library and an upgrade to the Mercyhurst Ice Center. He also spearheaded construction of the $2 million MCPc Cyber Education Center and the $25 million sophomore residence, Ryan Hall. In 2019, he announced the $9.5 million Campaign for Mercyhurst Athletics.
The Ridgway, Pa. native holds a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa. and a juris doctorate from Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh. He began his professional career as an attorney in the corporate law department of MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton in Erie.
From 1988-2000 he was co-owner and CEO of Pyramid Industries in Erie and he is co-chair of the Victor Group, a metals manufacturing company.
Lucas said the visits will consist of visits with deans, the president’s cabinet, staff, faculty, students, community members, and the search committee. Candidates will also get a tour of the West Liberty community and nearby Wheeling area.
“We want someone with personality, personal characteristics, professionalism. Being able to deal with all those bodies on campus, off-campus and the community,” Lucas told MetroNews.
“We’ve got their credentials, we’ve done the Zoom interviews. This is the get to know them well period.”
This is not the first scheduled visits for candidates expected to replace retiring president Dr. Stephen Griener. The presidential search committee had to put the first search and campus visits on hold in March due to COVID-19.
Following three of the five finalists moving on to other positions while the search remained suspended and one of the other two withdrawing their name, university officials announced a brand new search in late August.
Greiner announced his retirement in Nov. 2019 where he planned to leave June 30 of this year. He agreed to stay on board until a new president was selected. Lucas said he expects to have a president named in time for the spring semester, which begins on Jan. 19, 2021.
Lucas said the West Liberty community is thankful for Greiner working well past his retirement date.
“We can’t thank him enough for without complaints, staying uninterrupted, guiding the university with a steady hand during this pandemic. He has been doing his thing and participating in the new committee,” Lucas said.
Lucas said the committee will meet immediately following the final campus visit and evaluate the interviews. The committee then presents its final recommendations to the Board of Governors, who makes the final selection and forwards the name to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (WVHEPC) for its seal of approval.
Lucas said none of the prior finalists in the spring applied this time around but said some in the original field re-applied and were in the second field of 70 candidates.
WLU’s Presidential Search Committee is composed of all members of the Board of Governors plus two additional faculty representatives, two additional staff members, one additional student member, one alumnus and one WLU Foundation member. Also serving as a non-voting, ex-officio member is Dr. Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the WVHEPC.