Dr. William A. Meehan to Retire After Holding JSU’s Third Longest Presidency
By Heather Greene
In 1968, William Arthur Meehan first came to Jacksonville State University as a student and “fell in love with the institution.” Since then, he has transitioned from the classroom to the “oval office,” where he has diligently served the faculty, staff, and students as president for nearly 16 years. After dedicating 47 years of his life to JSU – 40 as an employee – Meehan will retire from the university on July 1, 2015.
From Alumnus to President
After completing his Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1972 at JSU, Meehan returned for his master’s and worked as a graduate assistant in the admissions office. “I had great mentorship here with the faculty in the biology department and other administrators,” he said.
Upon graduating with his Master of Science in Biology in 1976, he was approached by Dr. Theron Montgomery and asked to stay as a full-time biology instructor.
“That was a great transition right there,” said Meehan. “You always think of how nice it would be to teach at your alma mater, or even your high school, and to be able to come back and do that at my university was very, very special. I had no idea I would be president and have that opportunity.”
But the road between the classroom and the presidency consisted of a few stops along the way. Meehan served in several other roles including coordinator of medical technology, director of academic advisement, assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, acting vice president for academic affairs, associate vice president for academic and student affairs, and acting vice president for institutional advancement.
In 1999, Meehan earned his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Alabama. His dissertation was “An Analysis of Sabbatical Application Patterns, 1988-98, at Jacksonville State University.” On July 1, 1999, Dr. William A. Meehan became the 11th president of JSU.
Meehan Family Grows Up on Campus
Meehan and his wife Elizabeth moved to campus with the youngest and most children of any other JSU president: five-year-old twin boys, Drew and Will, and baby Carol Grace. The President’s Home had to be childproofed and renovated to accommodate the family of five. The Meehan children have called JSU home for most of their lives.
“They went to every university event that we went to,” Meehan said. “In order to keep the family lifestyle, whether it was a basketball game or a community event, we would include them and would all go.” Meehan fondly recalls how his children would often ask, “Daddy, are you speaking again? Do we have to listen to you again?”
Currently, Drew and Will are juniors at Auburn University, but return to Jacksonville each summer for classes. Prior to moving to Auburn, they both completed dual enrollment courses at JSU while in high school and were prepared to step into the college lifestyle having grown up on a college campus.
Carol Grace, 15, is a sophomore at Jacksonville High School and an avid volleyball player. During the Fall 2015 season of Gamecock football, she will be sitting with her parents in the stands, something they have never been able to do as a family.
Like so many other couples, Dr. and Mrs. Meehan first met at JSU. “Jax State brought us together,” Mrs. Meehan laughed. “I got two JSU degrees – a real academic one and an Mrs. degree!”
After transferring from Samford University to JSU as an undergraduate student, the former Elizabeth Stevens met Meehan, who had been asked by a friend to encourage her to come to JSU to finish her degree. She finished her undergraduate degree in education, focusing on social sciences, at JSU in 1989 and went on to earn her master’s in counseling from the University of Montevallo.
Six years after first meeting, the couple went on their first date on January 11, 1992. That same year they were married. In December 2014, they celebrated their 22nd anniversary.
Although an avid horseback rider after graduate school and a marksman, Meehan has had little time for hobbies with his 24/7 schedule of running the university and raising a family. In retirement, he plans to travel and renovate the couple’s other home, the Dogwood House.
“I was told I have the outside and she does the inside,” explained Dr. Meehan on the subject of their upcoming home renovation projects.
In addition to their home renovations, the Meehans will accompany the JSU alumni group on a trip to Ireland in March 2015, in addition to some other road trips they have planned.
The Meehan Legacy
“When I went into this business, it was to teach and to be with students,” Meehan said. “I think helping students reach their goals, and being able to add value to the experience of all those at the university – to the students, to the faculty and staff – if I can say I’ve added value to that experience, that’s been the most rewarding part.”
In terms of the changes he has seen throughout his tenure as president, Meehan states, “Academically, we have grown. We have grown into offering doctoral programs, and that is an entirely new level and new role for us.”
After experiencing success with its first doctoral program – the Doctor of Science in Emergency Management – Meehan said JSU is now approved to offer a total of three doctoral programs.
Of the major academic changes during Meehan’s time at JSU, perhaps the biggest revolution has been the influx of technology into the classroom. Recalling a time when slide rules and overhead projectors were cutting edge technology, today Meehan observes students and teachers incorporating the latest tablets and gadgets into learning, giving students the skills needed in today’s technologically driven society.
With numerous conference championships, Meehan has also witnessed much athletic growth in the university, especially in regards to the Gamecocks’ breath-taking football performance in the fall of 2013 and the excitement of this current season. It was under his administration that the JSU athletic program became a member of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC).
Should he give a current “State of JSU” address, Meehan said, “We have improved the academic offerings for students. We have consistently provided more scholarship opportunities through our capital campaigns. We have improved retention for our students. The highest retention ever was this last year – from freshmen to sophomore, over 72 percent were retained. We have more scholarship dollars now and more opportunities than we have ever had before. Our faculty scholars program has brought in great new students. Our ACT score average for first-time
freshmen has continued to go up – now it’s 22.6. Our transfer students now have scholarships. Colleges and universities have increased tuition and JSU has also but we have been able to provide more financial aid available for students who are doing well academically and will graduate. We are well positioned in what we want to be, which is an economic engine for our community and for our students. If you look at what colleges and universities do – which is help our students find something they love to do so they can find someone to pay them to do it for the rest of their lives – it’s exciting. That is future driven and that’s what we are about. Fortunately, JSU has great roots in this community and we are always well received.”
For those who have wondered, t
he answer is yes, Dr. Meehan does walk to work, unless he has an appointment off-campus that would require him to leave. He explains that he truly enjoys walking around campus because it gives him an opportunity to meet and chat with students, allowing him to maintain a solid connection to the student body of JSU.
When asked how students have changed while he has been connected to the university, Meehan responded, “They have changed a great deal! I think that’s along with the generational changes. What I like most about seeing our students today is that they are much more service-oriented than previous generations of students. They are willing to reach out. They want to do more volunteer work. You see a lot of altruism in our students today and I’m very proud of that.”
It is rare to find a university president who will go out on a sweltering Saturday morning and help freshmen move into the dorms on move-in days, who takes time to know students and faculty by name and greet them with a smile, and who always has the best interest of the students at heart.
There is no doubt that Jacksonville State University is a better place because of Dr. and Mrs. Meehan and their family. They have left a lasting legacy upon JSU and the numerous students who have had the privilege of attending the university under the Meehan administration. Jacksonville State University would like to thank Dr. Meehan and his family for their time, effort, and service over last 16 years and wish them the best in the years to come.
About the Photos: From top, William A. Meehan at his inauguration; entering Bibb Graves Hall with daughter Carol Grace on his first day as president; with former JSU Presidents Dr. Theron Montgomery and Dr. Harold McGee at the rededication of the Houston Cole Library; with Provost Dr. Rebecca Turner and JSU's first class of doctoral students; congratulating a graduate at commencement; and with his family during the 2008 Homecoming Parade. (JSU photos)