February 6, 2009
Arkansas State University-Jonesboro

Thanks to the work of many good people, our campus survived the ice storm in good shape. Irene and I were woefully unprepared for several days without electricity, heat (except for gas logs in two inefficient fire places), telephone service (including cell coverage), and Internet service. However, we survived well by using an outside propane grill for coffee, eggs and biscuits, steak and grilled chicken, dressing in North Dakota layers of clothes, and piling on warm blankets. On Thursday morning last week, the temperature in our bedroom was 41 degrees! Except for a fence crushed by falling limbs, we sustained no other visible damage. We did take our dog Bess inside for three nights, and now she protests returning to her kennel! I know that many of our faculty, staff and students, and thousands of people across Northern Arkansas and other states had more difficult experiences. In fact, we have had several families living on Faculty Circle and Academic Circle who have been without power for more than a week, but it is expected to be restored by City Water and Light before this weekend. To everyone so inconvenienced, we extend our sympathy and support.

In this edition of First Friday, I want to discuss the campus response to the ice storm and meetings with faculty of the various colleges. Finally, I want to remember a friend and outstanding American, Millard Fuller, who passed away this week.

Dealing with the Ice Storm on Campus

Many people deserve our thanks and praise for all they have done to cope with the ice storm crisis. Among those who have come to my attention are Al Stoverink and all the staff in Facilities Management, particularly the grounds crew that worked many overtime hours to make ASUJ Facilities Management personnel work to clear campus.the campus safe and debris-free as soon as possible; Rick Stripling and the staff in Student Affairs, including the University Police and Sodexo Food Services, who took great care of our students who were stranded on campus in our residence halls and housing units; Ed Kremers and his staff in Finance and Administration, especially Tim Dean and the staff of the Convocation Center, which served as a regional shelter; the IT staff, who did their best to bring our computing system back online as soon as possible after the storm; JW Mason and the payroll staff who made sure payroll checks were available for those employees not on direct deposit last Friday when the University was closed; Dean Susan Hanrahan, Debbie Persell and other faculty, staff and students of the College of Nursing and Health Professions and area physicians who provided medical care for persons using the Convocation Center as a shelter; the University Relations staff, who coordinated public communication throughout the crisis; and finally, those agencies and volunteers such as the American Red Cross, Mayor Harold Perrin and the City of Jonesboro departments including City Water and Light, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, FEMA and other groups from outside the campus that worked so hard to restore power and provide food, shelter, and medical attention for those in need because of the ice storm.

Those of us on campus in our debriefing sessions have also learned some lessons about how to cope better with a disaster of this or a similar nature in the future. First, communication is a big problem. Our fancy technology, such as cell phones, e-mail, text messages, and such, is not worth a flip for getting the word out when there is a widespread power failure. We need to have well-established protocols as to where campus officials will meet and how they will communicate immediately after a disaster strikes. With thousands of people on campus, old-fashioned methods such as posting notices and word of mouth must be utilized.

Second, there must be clear understandings of who is in charge of what functions, with appropriate backup designations if the person originally tasked with a duty is not on site. Third, not all circumstances surrounding a disaster can be anticipated in advance, so intelligent improvising is often a necessity. For example, based on all the facts we had at hand, we made a judgment call to open the university on Thursday, Jan. 29, which in retrospect was a bad decision, given the additional power outages experienced Thursday morning, after which a decision was made to close the university through the weekend.

Finally, we believe that we need to seek external funding to provide a large generator for the Convocation Center so that it can effectively serve as a campus and community shelter even if power is down for an extended period of time. The campus was given a high priority for power restoration by City Water and Light, so the Convocation Center was only without power (except for minimal lighting provided by an existing small generator) for a short time. In a more serious emergency, a longer-term power outage is a possibility and should be anticipated in our future planning.

All in all, however, we are quite fortunate that no one was seriously injured on campus, needs of our students, faculty and staff were generally adequately met, and the amount of the ice accumulation in Jonesboro was not as severe as in some other places.

Meetings with College Faculty

I am now scheduling meetings with every College on campus for a listening session and opportunity to exchange information and views directly with faculty. I conducted similar sessions with each department shortly after I arrived on campus during the 2006-2007 academic year, and found these sessions extremely helpful in identifying areas of concern and opportunities for action that could improve our campus. On Jan. 23, I held my first meeting with the College of Nursing and Health Professions. We had a very good session. Among the topics raised by the faculty from that college were issues with the campus bookstore not providing adequate and timely quantities of textbooks and course packets and thereby adversely impacting student learning, technology changes that seem to shift more work to faculty, timing of web extender training, appreciation for the university paying a significant portion of recent health insurance premium increases, questions concerning the process of formulation and adoption of new ASU System policies, time of release of the Board of Trustees agendas, assistance with advising of international students, and issues regarding student documents faxed from sister campuses. I look forward to addressing as many of these concerns as feasible and meeting with other college faculty as the semester progresses.

Remembering Millard Fuller

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, died suddenly earlier this week and was buried Wednesday, Feb. 4, on Koinonia Farm near his and his wife Linda’s home in Americus, Georgia. While his passing will probably not be noted by many, I consider him one of the greatest human beings of our generation. He truly demonstrated how the life of one individual can make a tremendous positive difference in the world. Born in the small town of Lanett, Ala., Millard attended Auburn University and later the University of Alabama. While in Tuscaloosa as a student, he and his classmate and friend Morris Dees (later founder of The Southern Poverty Law Center) started and expanded a mail order business (first selling cookbooks!) and he found himself a millionaire by the time he was 29 years old. A few years later, he and Linda, who he had married while a student in Tuscaloosa, decided that they did not like the direction their lives were taking, became dedicated Christians, gave away their wealth, and moved to Koinonia Farm, an interracial community in rural Georgia. They subsequently became missionaries to Zaire. After several years in Zaire, Millard and Linda and their four children returned to Koinonia and in collaboration with Koinonia’s founder, Clarence Jordan, began a housing ministry which later became Habitat for Humanity and subsequently the Fuller Center for Housing.

Millard’s goal (always with the advice and assistance of Linda) was a simple one the eradication of substandard housing in the world. His formula was to enlist volunteers to form chapters that would select deserving individuals in their communities who lived in substandard housing to become owners of a new well-built but simple house, obtain donated labor and donated materials to the extent possible, and purchase the remaining materials, and then construct the houses for "cost" with the new "owner" providing "sweat equity" by working on the house. The organization would take a no-interest mortgage from the new owner to repay the out-of-pocket costs of construction so that the capital could be reused for another house. This formula worked. There are now well over 100,000 homes around the world that have been so constructed.

Irene and I have known the Fullers for more than 20 years, and consider them close personal friends. I once invited Millard to do a commencement speech at a former university. He was a dynamic speaker and completely dedicated to doing good things for others. We would see each other once or twice a year, and would always exchange Christmas cards and frequently personal letters. Once you were on his mailing list you could be sure that you would receive his form solicitation letters for Habitat and the Fuller Center on a regular basis, too! He never forgot his direct mail skills where he made millions before beginning his housing ministry. He would also frequently send me a copy of his newest book, article or CD. He was a prolific writer. Among my favorites are Love in the Mortar Joints (1980), No More Shacks! (1986), The Theology of the Hammer (1994), and three volumes of Building Materials for Life (2002, 2004 and 2007).

As usual, last Christmas I sent him a card, with a two-sentence note at most. When I returned to my office on Jan. 2, I had a two-page letter from him, along with a copy of a recent feature article about him from the Auburn Alumni magazine. On Jan. 7 I wrote him a note, not knowing that it would be my last communication with him. I am thankful that I concluded the letter with the following two sentences: "Thanks again for taking the time to write me a letter and please give Irene’s and my best to Linda. We are very proud of what you two have done and what you are doing now. We hope to continue supporting your housing ministry in the months and years ahead."

On Wednesday of this week, Sherry Johnson and I were going through my stack of unread mail, and there, in the middle of the stack, was another two-page letter from Millard thanking me for my Jan. 7 letter and asking me to serve on a new advisory council for The Fuller Center. He closed the letter as follows: "Anyway, whether you agree to this request or not I still have a huge respect and appreciation for you and you have long been a wonderful encourager and booster of the ministries of which I have been a part. Linda joins me in sending all of our love to you and to Irene. In enduring friendship and with gratitude, Millard."

While I am deeply saddened by Millard's passing, I am grateful for the lessons in life I have learned from him. We are reminded that while we are influenced by the lives of others, we also are touching young lives every day in our work at Arkansas State University. Thanks for the wonderful opportunity to serve as your Chancellor. I hope the troubles of the bitter winter storm are soon supplanted by the generosity of individuals with a spirit like Millard Fuller's. May he rest in peace.


Robert L. Potts

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