Dr. Randy Dunn, right, at MSU Board of Regents. Board rejected plans for a new library at this meeting.
Dr. Randy Dunn accepted the post of president of Youngstown State University in Ohio last week. He had been looking for a new job for awhile. Reports of his being interviewed at this school and that were regular food for Murray radio and news.To the unobservant, it may have appeared that Dunn was the one with a desire to leave Murray State University.
Those closer to the University saw it differently. Dunn wanted to stay. The Board of Regents wanted him to go. Led by Board Chair Dino Curris, once a president of Murray State forced out before he was ready to leave, the Board cited as a major reason for Dunn's failing to be rehired his inability to get along with the Board of Regents.
Dunn made a fatal mistake early in his tenure at MSU - he reached out to Paducah. Creating a second campus in the largest metro area in the region was a blaspemy that Murray purists could not abide. A paranoia that Paducah will steal their university runs deep in a small community that owes much of its life to the 10,000 students that come to Murray State. Without the students, retail slows. Without the students, Murray is more like Mayfield than the city Murray seems most to admire - Lexington.
Dunn's philosophy, shared with 150 educators at the Kentucky Leads the Nation seminar in Clinton, was that his job - his only job - is to support and encourage the region in which his school is located. Had Dunn used the word "city" rather than region, he might still be at MSU.
Dr. Dunn earned the respect and admiration of high school administrators and superintendents throughout the Purchase. As one rural educator put it - "When was the last time you saw a university president in our town? Never."
The Board of Murray State University got what it wanted. Rid of Dunn without a messy divorce. The informal get together at Sharon Green's house attended by a quorum of the Board which engendered an Attorney General's opinion that the Open Meetings Law was broken, will no longer be an issue. The Board met for a second time after the opinion was issued and no surprise - the vote not to renew Dunn remained unchanged.
Visiting Eastern Kentucky University recently and seeing the growth of that regional school and how it has passed MSU in size brought home that the Board of Regents may have gotten what they wanted, but is it what is best for the university remains to be seen. Sticking heads in the sand and hoping that distance education will go away or that Paducah will be content with a community and technical college (albeit one of the nation's finest) is fantasy island thinking. Paducah wants a four year program to support its medical industry and its growing clout as a cultural and tourism center.
Dunn may be done with Murray State, but his legacy of cooperation and caring for the region the university serves will dissipate if the powers that be remain unable to look beyond their city limits.
There are those who believe that the University of Pikeville will never achieve regional university status. There are those who believe that if it does, only Morehead State University will feel the pinch of a smaller piece of the higher ed pie.
There are those who believe in the tooth fairy. We have to wonder if MSU Board of Regents Chair Dino Curris is putting a molar under his pillow tonight.