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22 April 2008

Meehan's Mark on Alabama:
JSU President Would be Hard to Replace,
Area Leaders Say

By Dan Whisenhunt
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Apr 19, 2008 (The Anniston Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- -- Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan will interview for the president's job at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga. at the end of this month.

People living in Jacksonville and around the county are asking, "What if Meehan leaves?"

People who know him both personally and professionally are imagining their community without him -- and they don't like what they see.

Bob Phillips, principal of Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville, said Friday morning the news is "the talk of the town."

"Everybody loves him up here," Phillips said.

Meehan started his decades-long association with the school as a biology professor, rising to the JSU presidency in 1999. His resume of service on various boards and committees is longer than a man's arm.

Bill Curtis, executive director of the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, said if Meehan were to leave, the next president would have "very big shoes to fill." Meehan serves on the commission's board of directors.

Curtis said Meehan acts as a bridge between the community and the region.

"He serves very actively in state-sponsored initiatives within our region," Curtis said. "East Alabama has a very close partnership with (JSU) and Dr. Meehan has been very much a part of making that happen."

Meehan's regional presence and high level of participation has kept JSU on the minds of Alabama's Commission on Higher Education, ACHE Executive Director Gregory Fitch said.

ACHE is the state agency responsible for planning and coordination of higher education in Alabama.

Fitch said ACHE is "always aware" of JSU's programs because of Meehan.

"Dr. Meehan has always attended our ACHE commission meetings and he is a direct contact for us with some of the colleges in the state," Fitch said. "He works as a liaison."

Richard Holland is president of University of West Alabama and president of the Council of University Presidents, an arm of ACHE. He called Meehan a "valuable member of the Alabama community" and said he frequently calls Meehan for advice.

"He's just a reservoir of knowledge and experience," Holland said.

Don Hopper, Executive Director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said if Meehan left it would be, "(Valdosta's) gain and our loss."

"JSU is a huge part of industrial recruitment for economic development, and under Dr. Meehan's leadership they have been a partner when we are recruiting industry or when companies are looking in our area," Hopper said.

Political leaders said they too think of Meehan as a powerful force in the community.

"He's a very good emissary for the university ... and because of his length of time in the community, it was a logical step and a good step for him to be in that president's position," Anniston Mayor Chip Howell said. "If we are unfortunate as a community to see him leave, I know that the board (of trustees) will choose a very qualified individual, but (that individual's) learning curve will be much deeper than what Bill's was."

"The county would lose a great asset in a lot of different ways; as an academic leader, as a civic leader, and as someone who always puts Calhoun County's best foot forward," said Calhoun County Commission Chairman Robert Downing. "Losing someone like that would hurt."

Anna Berry, the mayor of Heflin in Cleburne County, works with Meehan on the Alabama Rural Action Commission and spoke highly of his leadership.

"He's done things in the region that have given JSU a lot of positive coverage I think, and I'm hoping that he will stay," Berry said.

Georgia Calhoun, a member of the Anniston Museum Board who knows Meehan from his work with the museum's endowment foundation board of directors, said the county would feel the loss of Meehan if it happens.

"I just think he's done so much for Jacksonville State and the community because he's so cooperative," Calhoun said. "I just hope he doesn't take (the job.)"

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt covers K-12 schools and higher education for The Star.

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