Chancellor Kelly Damphousse Starts With Clean Slate at A-State

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017 12:00 am   5 min read

Kelly Damphousse, chancellor of Arkansas State University (Graycen Colbert Bigger)

Kelly Damphousse was appointed chancellor of Arkansas State University in May. He was dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he oversaw a $100 million budget, a faculty and staff of more than 2,000 and 10,000 students. He’d been an OU professor since 1997 and has served as faculty-in-residence.

Damphousse earned doctoral and master’s degrees in sociology from Texas A&M University and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University. He is from Canada and was a prison guard in Alberta for three years before entering the higher education field.

What insight did you gain from being faculty-in-residence? From being a prison guard?
I gained a lot of empathy for the challenges that students face today … Spending time with them made them feel less mysterious to me. Each experience made me appreciate how higher education can change lives. My time as a prison guard taught me the importance of humility and the attitude of “there but for the grace of God go I.” It taught me to be compassionate and also to discover an inner strength.

What is the greatest challenge A-State is facing?
Our greatest challenge is improving two key measures of student success: retention and graduation rates … Across the country, schools like Arkansas State University lose almost one-quarter of their freshman class before their sophomore year starts and then you end up only having about one-third of your freshman class graduate in six years. We are creating a Chancellor’s Retention & Graduation Task Force to create policies and programs that will address these issues.

Does a university have a responsibility to students to see that they don’t take on more college debt than they can afford?
Absolutely! … I would be perfectly happy for none of our students to graduate with any debt at all. The reality, however, is that the college investment is more expensive than ever and costs will inevitably increase. One of my jobs is to control the costs of an A-State degree. We also have to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to raise scholarship opportunities for our students.

Explain the process of operating a campus in Mexico and your role in that.
I recently visited Queretaro and met with our vice rector at the campus and the private investor who is funding the entire $100 million project. The 800,000 SF of buildings are nearly finished and are huge in scale — some are larger than our largest academic building on the Jonesboro campus.

Our partnership is incredibly unique. We are creating from scratch the only American-style university in Mexico. The Queretaro campus is an extension of our Jonesboro campus, so I will also serve as its chancellor and work closely with our vice rector to make sure our academic standards are upheld.

What are the next steps for A-State's osteopathic medical school; how do you plan to grow this new program?
The NYIT medical school is an autonomous entity that we are very happy to host on our campus. The medical school is vital to the health needs of our region and state, so we are very proud to be part of the effort to educate and graduate physicians right here in the Delta. My plans including working closely with NYIT’s Dean Shane Speights to see how we can partner the medical school with other parts of campus that are naturally affiliated with the health professions.

What are your thoughts on the competing convention center projects?
I am focused entirely on the Arkansas State partnership and, like many people in Jonesboro, I am eager to see the project come to life on campus. The Embassy Suites and Red Wolf Convention Center will be a perfect complement for our new hospitality management degree. The hospitality industry is growing, and having an on-campus site where our students will get hands-on experience will give our graduates a leg up over their competition.

What A-State programs would you like to see added to or enhanced?
It’s too early to answer that … What is it about A-State that sets us apart? Once we start answering that question, it is my plan to engage in a strategic planning exercise so that the faculty, staff, students and alumni can help us determine our shared vision for our future.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of coming from outside to manage a large organization like A-State?
Arkansas State is a wonderful university with over 100 years of history. The biggest temptation for any new outsider is to say ‘you know, we used to do it differently where I used to work…' The new person does have the opportunity to ask a lot of ‘why’ questions, and, sometimes, those questions stimulate the team to consider changes they have been contemplating for a while.

What is your vision for A-State athletics, and how do you reconcile that with academic goals?
I understand the important role that athletics has for a university. It builds esprit de corps on campus and in the community. You need only to drive around our city and look at all the businesses that are painted in Red Wolf and A-State colors to see how a strong athletics program can impact how a community feels about their university. A strong and ethical athletics program brings positive attention to our school and community beyond the state’s borders, which improves non-resident student recruiting. It also helps us maintain a stronger affinity with our 80,000 alumni, many of whom no longer live in Arkansas. Our student-athletes learn incredible life lessons that serve them well in the classroom and in life after college.

How will you involve local businesses in what's happening on campus and in preparing students for life after college?
Our relationship with the local community is vital to the success of A-State. We value the insight that local businesses can provide us about the future of our economy and how we can better prepare our students for life after A-State. We will also work to ensure that our local businesses know how important they are to us and that they are welcome to invest themselves into the life of our campus.

What is your leadership style or philosophy?
I see myself as a servant leader, and I prefer to lead by example. I believe the most important thing that I can do as a leader is to inspire our team to dream of what we can be as a university, and then to provide the resources they need to make those dreams a reality.

What was your greatest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I am a naturally shy person, a bit of an introvert and sometimes tend to overcompensate. I especially love a good pun because I think puns reflect intelligence. But once I took that too far and said something that I thought was funny, but realized immediately that it really was not. All of us have to be careful about what we say because words do hurt. We all have to be introspective and show the emotional intelligence that takes to criticize and correct ourselves when we realize that we have made a mistake

What would you say has been your greatest professional achievement thus far?
One former graduate student told me recently that every time that he helps one of his students out, he is reminded of the help that I gave him. His note and others as I left OU were incredibly humbling because they reminded me of the impact that so many people have had on my life and how grateful I was for their inspiration and example.

Why did you apply for this job in Jonesboro? What were your first impressions of the city and the university?
I only applied because ASU System President Chuck Welch wrote me a personal email asking for a phone call. In that call, he shared with me his love for A-State and his belief that someone like me would be a good fit for the university. At every step along the way, we have known that we made the right decision.

What are your plans for A-State?
I dream of a time when every high school senior in the state of Arkansas knows that he or she has a place for them in northeast Arkansas. I want our faculty and staff to know they are respected and their ideas matter, and that we all share the same goal of helping our students reach their highest aspirations. Most of all, I hope for a university community that truly believes that ‘Every Red Wolf Counts.’



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