WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — Although Dr. W. Franklin Evans had only been to West Virginia a handful of times before this year, he said he felt right at home in the Mountain State during the interview process for the president position at West Liberty University.
Evans and his two young children will officially be able to call West Virginia and the Ohio County campus home beginning in the spring semester after he was named the institution’s 37th president this month.
Evans will be the first president in West Liberty’s 183-year history to be a person of color when he assumes the presidency on Jan. 1, 2021. The 58-year old is the current president of Voorhees College and has 25 years of experience in education.
“Being selected president of this historic 183-year old institution is amazing. I am honored and humbled to have been selected to lead the institution and begin its next chapter,” Evans told MetroNews.
Evans, an African-American, said the response of him becoming a president in West Virginia that is a person of color has given him an understanding of its significance. He calls it a win-win for the university because his record speaks for itself and diversity is key to a healthy institution.
“I hope that my presence there will be such that others will want to be a part of West Liberty University whether the person is black, white, Hispanic, Asian. That this is an institution that is welcoming and embraces diversity,” Evans told MetroNews.
“I think my appointment as the president speaks to those levels.”
Evans will succeed Dr. Stephen Greiner who has served as president since January 2016. Greiner, a Weirton native, announced his retirement in Nov. 2019 where he planned to leave on June 30 of this year. His retirement was delayed as the presidential search faced many hurdles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a relaunch of a presidential search this fall, Evans was the first of four finalists to visit campus and did so on Oct. 29 and 30. The Augusta, Georgia native said he felt comfortable in meeting with the president’s cabinet, speaking with staff across campus and having meals with students and community partners in those two days.
Evans said he will be an engaged president with feet on the ground all over campus. The former athlete himself said he is looking forward to supporting athletics and extracurricular events. He said he heard of the Hilltoppers in years past because of the nationally ranked basketball program.
He called West Liberty “the total package” in terms of having rising academic programs including P.A. and dental hygiene, athletic programs and community partnerships.
“You will see me at football games, at basketball games, at soccer events. I am going to be very presidential, I will not scream too much but you will know that I will be a part and engaged with what is happening,” he said.
Prior to being named president at Voorhees, 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.
Other positions held in higher education are 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. Evans said he was offered the position of provost at Bluefield State in 2013.
He said his engaging spirit is why enrollment exceeded its goal, fundraising increased, which Evans calls “friend-raising” and alumni support rose at SCSU. Voorhees, a private, historically black college in Denmark, South Carolina, was awarded a $13.3 million grant for three years to implement Rigorous Instruction Supports Equity (RISE) by the U.S. Department of Education in October under Evans.
“I understand the importance of being an institution that is far-reaching and connects with a lot of different stakeholders and a lot of different types of students,” Evans said.
“I am hoping I can bring that same type of spirit to West Liberty University.”
West Liberty, like most higher education institutions, has adjusted its schedules and campus protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students on the hilltop had their last day of class, both virtual and in-person, on Tuesday before leaving for Thanksgiving break. Students are not returning back to campus after break until January 19 when the spring term begins.
The university pushed back the start of the spring term and canceled spring break in an effort to keep students and staff safe from the virus.
The final exams for the fall semester, like many courses during the year, will be virtual from November 28 to December 4. Evans said he is impressed with the COVID-19 plans in place by Greiner and the university and sees no changes to what has already been implemented for the spring term.
“There has already been a plan that has been implemented. We will continue to implement that plan. Certainly, we will make modifications if we need to,” he said.
Evans and his two young children will reside on the campus of West Virginia’s oldest public university in the President’s home, Colonial Heights.
In 1994, Evans, a fourth-generation college student, 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 and said he is a Georgia Bulldogs fan.
West Liberty said Evans is active in the NAACP, Black Family Preservation Group, the National Association of Black School Educators, and Toastmasters International and has served on the boards of the Sickle Cell Association, Boys and Girls Club, Kiwanis Club International, and the AIDS Action Coalition. He is an ordained elder with the Church of God in Christ.