A New School Year Marks a Fresh Beginning for UAM

Will Whiting
Managing Editor

   When former UAM Chancellor Fred J. Taylor announced his retirement at a Faculty Development Week meeting in August 2003, an immediate search was initiated to find his replacement. After months of searching, a replacement was found.

   According to University of Arkansas Board of Trustee minutes, University of Arkansas System President Dr. B. Alan Sugg made Taylor’s replacement official on Dec. 12 at a board of trustees meeting, when he named Dr. Jack Lassiter the new Chancellor of the University of Arkansas – Monticello effective July 1. From that moment, Lassiter began preparing for a return to a campus extremely close to his heart.

   “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to come back home,” Lassiter said. “It was overwhelming.”

Chancellor Lassiter

Photo by Will Whiting
Chancellor Jack Lassiter
   Having begun his career in 1969, Monticello truly was home for the 35-year education veteran and his wife. Lassiter spent 17 of those years at UAM serving in numerous positions including vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, University Relations and director of Student Services prior to embarking on other educational opportunities that took him to five different states before bringing him back to Arkansas, where he most recently served as executive vice president of the University of Arkansas System. While an administrative position taught Lassiter many things, his heart was still searching for a campus to call home. When offered the opportunity, he did not think twice.

   “I belonged on a campus,” Lassiter said. “I knew my abilities were better suited for a campus and the opportunity to return to UAM and Monticello was perfect.”

    On July 1, Lassiter’s dream of returning to a campus became a reality and his title of chancellor of UAM became official. Lassiter knew creating goals and having a focus would be important. For the energetic golfer, father and husband, he had many goals in mind. However, the education expert also realized that dreams and visions are not possible without a team of dedicated individuals working together for the common good.

   “Any person can have dreams and visions, and I’ve got some,” Lassiter said. “It’s also important to be open-minded and listen to other's thoughts, too.”

   With those thoughts in mind, Lassiter decided to involve not only university support, but numerous members of the community as well. Because UAM is a regionally based institution with campuses in three cities across Southeastern Arkansas, Lassiter believed community involvement was a necessity to better understand the direction in which UAM should be focused over the coming years.

   “We are currently interviewing seven architectural firms to develop a master plan for our campus,” Lassiter said. “It will provide us with a sense of direction.”

   By incorporating both the thoughts of students, campus leaders and community members, the needs of all parties will be more easily understood. According to Lassiter, one of his primary goals is to bring people on campus.

   “Our students are always first,” Lassiter said. “However, I want us to open our facilities and events to our entire community, all of Southeast Arkansas.”

    In addition to Lassiter’s goals surrounding community involvement, students should also feel some comfort in knowing that many of their chancellor’s other goals directly influence them. These include improving student life and academics, and making sure UAM students are receiving the best all-around educational opportunities possible.

   “Being a commuter campus makes student life a difficult task to tackle,” Lassiter said. “I think we have to keep trying some new things, and it is important we receive input from our students. I am willing to give as much support as I can to improve student life and activity on our campus.”

   In addition to new student activities, Lassiter said classroom space is also becoming a major issue. According to Lassiter, several UAM facilities are in need of more room and major renovations. University data indicates that several of UAM’s programs are growing in size and will require more space with continued growth. Included in his list of goals, Lassiter hopes to address UAM’s academic facility needs by adding space and upgrading facilities in areas with the most critical needs (including the School of Education, Division of Nursing, the School of Forest Resources and Sorrells Hall) and continuing the process on buildings that have recently been renovated.

   While classroom space is important, Lassiter said it is also important to insure a quality living environment for on-campus students. Lassiter’s goals also call for the possible construction of new residence halls in the form of apartment units that would allow the campus to make upgrades to existing halls and would ultimately provide students with quality university environment living conditions.

   “We need some additional space both in the residence hall area and in academic facilities,” Lassiter said. “We are at a maximum capacity in many places.”

   While the goals of Lassiter are exciting to both he and many others, Lassiter said he realizes these goals will not be fulfilled overnight because of what he says is his greatest challenge.

   “Money is the greatest challenge,” Lassiter said. “It’s one of my objectives and goals. UAM is an institution of opportunity, and we have to make sure opportunities are available to all of our students. I will do all I can to find funding for these projects.”

   Because UAM is a campus geared toward making sure all students are afforded as many opportunities as possible, Lassiter also has goals that would influence students at the College of Technology campuses in McGehee and Crossett.

   Lassiter said he believes having a system in place allowing students at all three campuses to more easily access classes that would be transferable to any of the schools would be very beneficial to everyone.

   “We’ve got to better incorporate our College of Technology campuses,” Lassiter said. “I believe one of our greatest opportunities right now is that together we can build a comprehensive system of higher education for Southeast Arkansas. But, we are going to all have to work together to get it done.”

   In addition to these goals, available student scholarship money is a priority to the chancellor. Having previously served as vice chancellor for University Relations during his former tenure at UAM, Lassiter said providing financial assistance to students when the funding is available is equally important. He said he believes this can be achieved in a variety of ways, including his personal commitment to create longer-lasting relationships with current and future donors.

   “One of the biggest goals I have is to expand our work-study program for student employment on campus,” Lassiter said. “Research has proven that students involved in work study programs also do better in school.”

   For an education system vice president turned university chancellor, a typical day for this very busy man includes many hours of meetings and planning, and even more time responding to e-mails and phone calls. However, this chancellor wants the entire university to know his office is always open.

   “I was off this past Friday and had received 95 e-mails by Saturday morning,” Lassiter said. “I work very hard to respond to everyone who contacts me. I couldn’t make it without a good staff and Microsoft Outlook. Most importantly, I want the entire UAM community to know I’m open and honest, and I value personal integrity over anything else.”

   When the chancellor is not in a meeting or responding to a request, he can always be found either on the golf course, piddling around his house, watching ESPN or with his wife of 27 years, Judy, who is also UAM’s former director of Financial Aid.

   When the couple can find time to spend together, traveling to see their children is important to them. The Lassiter’s family includes three children: Joel Haden, 33, a senior manager for Accenture Consulting in Dallas, Texas; Heather Slack, 32, an executive assistant for SharePlus in Dallas, Texas; and Leigh Counts, 26, associate director of Development at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. While visiting his family is certainly one of his favorite pastimes, Lassiter said he is just as happy enjoying a UAM athletic event with his wife on any afternoon, because being back home at UAM is one of the greatest feelings of all for the couple.

   “We are thrilled to be back,” Lassiter said. “We are thrilled to be home.”

Have a comment? Please e-mail us.

© The Voice, 2004
Revised 20040902 — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/2_1/chancellor.htm