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Dan Ball: Ten Years at the Helm Guiding Lander's Fortunes

Marge and Dan BallLander University trustee George Starnes was on the search committee for a successor to Dr. Bill Moran, who retired as Lander president in 2000. "I knew the university would face unique challenges in the years ahead, and that the board had to select an individual who could meet those challenges."

One of the 80 applicants was Dr. Daniel Ball, vice president for Academic Affairs at Southern Arkansas University. Trustees decided Ball was right for the job, so they hired him and, on July 1, 2000, he became Lander's 12th president. Only four Lander presidents have served longer than the ten years he has been on the job.

One of Ball's earliest priorities was a strategic plan for the university. "I appointed several committees made up of faculty, students, staff, alumni and people from the community, and it took a year to draft a strategic plan and a set of goals." Ball said it was a difficult process but it gave the university a direction, which it follows today.

He and wife Marge spent their early months in Greenwood getting to know the community and its people.

Ball soon became a familiar face at the State House too, talking with legislators and government officials making the case for Lander and higher education in general. He persuaded the heads of the other state universities to join him in lobbying the state for $10 million to improve technology on their campuses. They were successful and the schools are still receiving some of that funding.

The most critical problem during his presidency has been the steady decline in state appropriations. He said, "When I came to Lander, more than 40 percent of our budget came from the state. Now it's 12 percent." In the last two years, state funds to Lander have been slashed by 57 percent prompting annual tuition increases to partially offset the cuts. But Ball is quick to point out that Lander's tuition, second highest in the state when he arrived, is now the seventh highest.

Starnes, a 1981 Lander graduate and former trustees chair, said a lot has been accomplished despite state funding cuts because Ball and university administrators have made tough decisions and right choices.

Colleagues applaud Ball's commitment to students. Eleanor Teal, former vice president for University Advancement, recalls in 2000 when he declared, "Quality and value will define everything we do. Our primary emphasis will be on student achievement."

Randy Bouknight, vice president for Student Affairs, said Ball has kept his promise to provide quality services and facilities for students. "Construction of Centennial Hall and other improvements have contributed greatly as we accommodate record numbers of students looking for campus housing."

S. Anne Walker, a 1972 Lander alumna, longtime trustee and former board chair, attributes Lander's record enrollment in September to Ball's leadership and a great staff.. "He pays attention to things that need to be paid attention to," she said.

Current board chair Ray Hunt, a 1990 Lander graduate, said, "Dan is not afraid to take a risk for the betterment of the university."

When asked what accomplishments he is most proud of, Ball listed several firsts: online courses such as the RN to BSN option in nursing, criminal justice management and health care management; in 2007 becoming the first state college or university in South Carolina to go completely tobacco free; offering the state's only nationally accredited university-based Montessori Teacher education and master's programs, and creating the state's first therapeutic horsemanship program on a university campus.

"I am most proud of what some might call little things that make a big difference and create a sense of pride" He mentions the weekly "Coffee with the President," the yearly staff achievement awards breakfast, creation of Lander's docent program, the new arboretum and global scholars programs and choosing the Bearcat as university mascot.

Lander has taken on a different look during the Ball era, especially in 2006 when Centennial Hall, the tallest building on campus, opened its doors to students. Another signature project is the Jeff May Recreation, Wellness and Sports Complex under construction on Montague Avenue. Ball expressed gratitude for the partnership with the city, county and state, private businesses and individuals to build the May complex and the campus' new main entrance

In 2008, the university's $15 million Comprehensive Campaign, under Eleanor Teal's leadership, exceeded its goal by almost a million dollars.

He points to the academic restructuring that created Lander's four colleges of Education, Business and Public Affairs, Arts and Humanities, and Science and Mathematics.

He is proud of Lander athletics. "We have the best athletic structure of any institution with which I've been associated. The emphasis is on academics first and athletics second."

Athletics director Jeff May said, "Dr. Ball has been supportive of our efforts to run a quality program and field competitive teams, while emphasizing the welfare of our student-athletes."

Missouri natives, Marge and Dan Ball have been married for 45 years. They have two sons, David and Stephen, and three grandchildren, Alexa, 11, and twin boys, Ryan and Zach, 8.

Walker, Starnes and Hunt agree that the Balls have worked hard to strengthen Lander's ties with the community and that both are well respected.

How has Ball changed in the decade since coming to Lander? "I'm a little more patient and a better judge of people's potential. My long-range vision has improved and I can better project how decisions made today will impact students 20 years from now. And," he jokes, "I've gained 20 pounds."

Ball began his career in education in 1965 as a high school biology and chemistry teacher. Since then, the road that led him to Lander included stops in five states and upper-level positions as a teacher, professor and administrator.

But Lander is the final stop on his academic odyssey. "This is home," he says.