By Frankie Milligan
Fall of 2012 came swiftly for A&M-Texarkana, bringing with it its own set of challenges, new faces, and change. SOAR Orientation came and went bringing with it a new freshman class embarking on their new journey on university grounds and a new Information Technology Help Desk was implemented on the third floor of the University Center building. However, most importantly, a new interim President by the name of Dr. Keith McFarland made his way to the campus after Dr. Carlisle Rathburn III resigned.
McFarland hails from Commerce, Texas and boosts over thirty-nine years’ experience in academia, with vast experience ranging from student to administration. He earned his B.S. in Education with a major in History from Kent State University in 1962. He immediately continued to achieve his Masters in History at Ohio State University in 1963. McFarland served in the Army as a 1st Lieutenant from 1963-1969 and was stationed in both Virginia at Fort Lee and at the Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa. After his service career, he returned to OSU to earn his Ph. D in History. McFarland shared that he only ever sought to be a history professor, which he fulfilled at Texas A&M University-Commerce in both undergraduate and graduate levels. He eventually fulfilled several positions at that institution before becoming President & CEO of the University in September of 1998, which he remained in that capacity for the next ten years. In July of 2008, Dr. Keith McFarland retired from A&M-Commerce, but his retirement would be short lived. He was called upon by Texas Women’s University to serve as an Interim Provost during a transition period from December of 2010 until March 2011, in which they transitioned their administration. This is similar to his call to action by Chancellor John Sharp, in which he was asked to stand in as an interim president until December of this year for A&M-Texarkana.
With change, there is always a certain level of uncertainty, as was the case with welcoming McFarland to A&M-Texarkana. It was not long after his arrival that word spread of his thoughtful, compassionate, yet decisive demeanor. It was quickly learned that he placed great emphasize on personal interaction with his faculty and staff. It is commonplace to see him sharing lunch with a fellow co-worker, greeting students in the hallways, and he is not noted for being a fan of email stating, “I prefer face to face interaction with people”…”I’m old-fashioned.” When asked to describe the attributes that it was felt that the campus needed on a permanent basis, you could tell that even in his short time on campus, he invested a great amount of thought and consideration into the future of the University. He used descriptions such as relatable, academic based, compassionate, and able to understand the importance of joint ventures. Ironically, it is easy to see how these qualities are also found in his leadership style.
McFarland reminisced again that he never intended to be the President of anything, only aspiring to be a history teacher. It just so happened that he met his wife Nancy in history class at Kent State University while pursuing his education degree. Their first day of class, their instructor informed the students that the following class session the seat they chose would be their assigned seat for the remainder of the semester. Nancy had caught his eye before and remembering the instructor’s words, he strategically waited to follow Nancy into class in order to sit next to her with hope of getting to know her. They now have been married for fifty years, have three children and three grandchildren…and as they say, the rest is history.