A last day Q & A with Gary White

Interim President Gary White took time during his last day in office Friday, Jan. 15, to discuss his initial goals, his present beliefs, and his future outlook for Marshall University.

White was appointed to the interim presidency on Dec. 29, 2014, by the Marshall University Board of Governors after former president, Dr. Stephen Kopp, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack on December 17, 2014.

White said he looks back on his presidency as an opportunity to protect Kopp’s legacy and keep Marshall moving forward.

Q: What was on your mind as you assumed the interim presidency?

A: On January the fifth, I left my home in Logan and drove to Huntington for my first day officially on campus as president of the university. It was a very sobering thought to think of how 47 years prior I left Logan coming to Huntington as a student for the first time at Marshall University. And now, those 47 years later, coming to Marshall University as its interim president was a very sobering thought and one that, frankly, had a profound impact on me and, perhaps, even the way I’ve approached the job as interim president.

Q: How has being a former student of Marshall University affected the way you have approached your job?

A: Being able to contrast, how it was to be a student almost 50 years ago and how things are today, I believe was very helpful. I think it helped me to relate with the students and understand some of the issues that they are concerned about. There are certainly issues today that didn’t even exist back then. But the fundamental experience of leaving home for the first time and coming to the university for your education, that hasn’t changed. And the emotions and the challenges that presents to a new student remains the same. And I think having gone through that experience myself has been helpful, as I’ve considered the issues that are brought to me by faculty and students and staff. As I make decisions about what needs to be done in a particular situation, I always consider the student experience or how that decision would affect the student experience.

Q: Were you hoping to continue Dr. Kopp’s legacy or work on some goals of your own?

A: The short answer is both. Dr. Kopp was a very dear friend of mine and he and I talked frequently. I was very much involved in his vision for Marshall University and wanted to see that vision continue. But also, once you occupy the responsibility as president of a university, there are issues and opportunities that come up that had not here before presented themselves, and so you just naturally take some of those issues or opportunities and develop them as your own initiatives. But the primary objective was to keep Marshall moving forward and to protect the legacy left by Dr. Kopp.

Q: What was the most difficult part of taking over as interim president for a state university on such short notice?

A: There’s a very steep learning curve, but I had some advantage, having been a member of the Board of Governors and a member of the Board of the Marshall Foundation for a number of years. Probably the single most challenging portion of the job—day one and as I leave today—has been the schedule. The demands on the time of the president of the university is probably the biggest surprise, really, of my presidency. Every day is just back-to-back-to-back. It’s a meeting, it’s a phone call, it’s a trip to Charleston. And these are all equally important things to do and you feel a sense of obligation, you know, to give attention to all these matters. And it’s almost—well, it borders on being humanly impossible.

Q: What helped you to deal with these demands?

A: Well, of course, the senior staff, the cabinet, if you will, that Dr. Kopp had assembled around him to run the affairs of the university was a tremendous help to me as I walked into the office for the first day and has been until I will leave this evening. And, frankly, knowing those individuals and knowing their capability played a significant role in my decision to accept the position.

Q: What was your favorite aspect of the presidency?

A: I think the presidency itself, the opportunities that it gives you to interact with students, with parents, with faculty, with staff, with the community, with the political community, it’s everyone that you interact with in the course of your duties in the presidency.

Q: What will you miss most about your position at Marshall University?

A: Every time that I have left an organization for a different assignment or opportunity, what I miss most are the people, because that’s what I enjoy the most. Of course I love the institution, but the fact of the matter is, what really makes the institution is the people, those in it associated with Marshall University and, frankly, the entire Huntington community. I’m going to miss that as I begin to distance myself from a day-to-day contact.

Q: What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

A: I would hope that the legacy of my term as interim president would be one of stability, one of keeping a forward momentum and, finally, one of creating an atmosphere for the best available permanent president for Marshall University and I’m very proud of the fact that we did that and I firmly believe that Dr. Jerry Gilbert is the right person at the right time for Marshall University.

Q: What do you believe Dr. Gilbert should keep in mind as he assumes the duties and responsibilities of the presidency?

A: He and I have talked a lot about that. I think that Dr. Gilbert brings a wealth of experience as an administrator in higher education, and that will serve him well. I think he also brings the knowledge that he’s coming into a new environment and that he needs to take advantage of the advice and consent and council of those who have been with the organization for these many years as he starts to establish his presidency and establish his priorities and his management style for running the university for what I believe will be many years to come.

Q: What are your plans now? Will you be returning to the Board of Governors?

Dr. Gilbert has asked me to stay involved assisting him as he transitions into the presidency at Marshall. Near-term, I will remain involved working on special assignment from Dr. Gilbert. I will not be an employee; I’ll be a consultant. I’m going to be very much involved in the day-to-day process of running Marshall University. For the long-term, perhaps when my work assisting President Gilbert is completed, if the governor at the time would ask me to serve as a member of the Board of Governors, then of course I would seriously consider it. I would enjoy doing it. Outside of Marshall University, JoAnn and I intend to spend some time travelling and starting to learn what retirement is all about. But I also am going to be doing all of the consulting work for some other companies and other organizations that have asked for my assistance, knowing that I’m leaving the presidency today.

President White said he, on behalf of his wife JoAnn, would like to offer his sincere thanks for all of the support, the words of encouragement, the friendship, and everything the Marshall community has brought to him and his wife in the year that they have been here. White said he and his wife will be forever grateful.

Rebecca Turnbull can be contacted at [email protected]