Albany State University interim president Dr. Arthur N. Dunning feels the school has a lot to offer the community and southwest Georgia. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Acting as Albany State University’s interim president for just more than a month, Dr. Arthur N. Dunning already sees ways in which his past experiences can help the school grow and maintain its role as an integral part of Albany and Southwest Georgia.
Dunning assumed the role of interim president following the departure of Everette Freeman, who had been ASU’s president for nearly a decade.
Having worked in higher education for a number of years, including a 27-year career in leadership with the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, Dunning has a wealth of professional and personal experience.
Dunning credits his upbringing in rural Alabama and his living abroad in Asia for a number of years as a young man for inspiring his to attend the University of Alabama, and then enter into a career in higher education.
The child of two educators, Dunning said his parents instilled in him a love for hard work and learning. He also feels as though that upbringing gave him a great sense of community, something that he says has sculpted his belief that education should be used to improve society as a whole.
“I grew up in an area of the state of Alabama very much like southwest Georgia, where it was very much agrarian and very much centered around agriculture,” Dunning said. “I loved the rhythms of that lifestyle which meant I was able to immerse myself around a lot of adults who knew very deeply and broadly how to develop young people. There was a deep sense of community. I grew up in a household with a mother and father who went to college in the late 20s and early 30s. My mother was a first grade teacher and my father was high school principal. It was a mixture of an agrarian and a labor culture and I was in an environment where I had high demands on me about scholarship and learning.”
Upon graduating from high school, Dunning joined the U.S. Air force, being stationed in Taiwan; an experience he says helped him get a better understand not only of who he was but also how much he appreciated his upbringing back home.
“I was away for 24 months and some fascinating things happened to me at that time,” Dunning said. “I developed a deep sense of my nationhood. I became an American over there. I had not embraced my understanding of that until I got there and people referred to me as an American and I embraced that label.”
When Dunning returned to the states, he enrolled in the University of Alabama not long after it had been integrated by then Gov. George Wallace.
“I came back to this country and went to the University of Alabama as an undergraduate shortly after Gov. Wallace stood in the door,” said Dunning. “That’s when I began to develop my deep understanding of higher education and the role that it plays in social, civic, and economic development. This notion of how scholarship can change a society for good.”
Armed with that revelation, Dunning embarked first on a career as teacher and then as an administrator, serving in a variety of leadership positions, including serving as Dean of Graduate Studies at Kennesaw State University, Vice President of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia and a senior leader within the University System of Georgia where he as served as executive vice chancellor and senior vice chancellor of human and external services.
“Spending all those years in the system office, what I got from that, I think, and it really helps me here in this position, is I got a macro look at policy development, to understand how policies at the state level are formulated, why they are formulated and what the intent is and how to take the mystery out of it,” said Dunning. “That experience helps me to demystify the sort of policy environment that we live in.”
Dunning said he hopes to see greater collaboration between ASU, Darton State College, Albany Technical College and the Dougherty County School System.
“What I‘m attracted to is this is a community that has three post secondary institutions,” said Dunning. “You have Darton College, you have Albany Tech and Albany State. I don’t believe very much can be done, whether it’s here, New York or New Delhi, without leveraging your intellectual assets. You’ve got to leverage your assets and that means working together. We should be making bridges between these institutions.
“We ought to be working, if the superintendent says to us, ‘we have a dropout rate that’s not healthy and helpful,’ that is not his problem, that’s our problem. That’s Albany State’s concern, that’s Darton’s concern, so we need to be weighing in with the superintendent. We need to be thinking about the role of higher education in this K-12 experience. So if he’s concerned about a dropout out rate that’s a community problem, we need to all own this.”
In addition to trying to strengthen ASU’s partnerships with Albany’s other schools, Dunning also hopes to see Albany State grow in the key areas of enrollment, retention and graduation. Dunning plans to devote a considerable amount to time to all three of these areas, most especially enrollment through the form of recruitment.
“I’m going to be giving an awful lot of time to enhance our enrollment,” Dunning said. “I’m going to be spending a lot of time being on the road to recruit. And I want to become sort of the chief teller of stories and the chief booster for Albany State in these high schools.”
Once they’ve enrolled, however, Dunning feels it’s imperative they remain in school and graduate. In order to do that he again turns to the idea of partnerships as a key for making this happen. As Dunning sees it, if the school can leverage partnerships not only throughout the state, but throughout the nation and around the globe, the undergraduate experience at ASU will be strengthened and the students who attend will be better equipped for the world they will enter after graduation.
Dunning used the example of leveraging partnerships he has at other institutions and in other areas around the world to open the doors for study abroad programs and better internship possibilities for ASU students.
“We need to build partnerships and relationships that can be nurtured and strengthened and developed,” said Dunning. “I think what that means for me is taking us to a higher level of getting more out of the resources we have by partnerships we can develop in places around the world, places around the nation. These are academic relationships. I want to expand the horizons of our students and our faculty by these partnership and relationships. I think that’s an untapped resource.”
If successful, Dunning said ASU will be in a better position to provide the kind of education its students need to excel in the modern work place. Dunning believes the key to achieving that is for the school to be on the cutting edge on new technologies and their applications.
“We should be nimble and agile and strategically thoughtful,” Dunning said. “What I want Albany State to do is not respond to but get in front of trends; not to watch them but be so adept at data information and background that we get in front of the trend and help lead some conversations about that. That strengthens southwest Georgia, that strengthens the state of Georgia and it gives us a very rich sort of organizational platform from which to provide leadership.”
Dunning understands clearly that his role is an interim one and that he is really acting as a steward to preserve Albany State’s legacy; a legacy created by all of those who have served the school before him.
“I’m just here trying to play a stewardship role,” he said. “I stand on the shoulders of a lot of strong, hard working people over the generations who came before me. The way I’ve always felt about the senior roles I’ve had in the system is it’s a stewardship role.”
Just how long that stewardship role will last is unclear, but Dunning is content to move forward regardless of how long University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckabee feels it should last.
“I’m not sure but I probably think at least a year,” Dunning said. “The chancellor will decide what he would like to do. I can tell you right now my wife and I have embraced this community, we’ve been embraced by this community, we love being here and I enjoy the people in Albany tremendously. I was in a place in my life, and it’s a fun place to be, where I had choices. This was the choice I made.”