The waiting room in the President's office has the nicest chairs on campus. This was all I could think about while waiting for my appointment with Dr. Joey King, Lyon's eighteenth president. I was fortunate enough to sit down with President King and ask him about his first semester here at Lyon.
I first wanted to ask why you chose Lyon. What drew you here?
Well, I was interested in liberal arts colleges in general. So, I wasn't considering anything that wasn't a classic liberal arts college. Then the question was 'where would the best fit be.' And as much as you think regionality doesn't matter, I don't think I'd be a particularly good fit at an elitist, preppy Northeastern school. It really came down to where would be the right fit--if it was the right kind of institution and then if it had the ingredients where I thought I could be successful. I looked for several years [for a President position], and there were places where I was a finalist where I didn't think that they had those ingredients. And there are just regions and areas that are very distressed and they're looking to the college to save them and the question is whether you can save the college, not whether you can save the town. Because the reality is most good liberal arts colleges are in the country, and there are a lot of rural populations that are in a lot of distress. However, here in Batesville we have 3% unemployment and it's a really nice town. We don't have those issues nearly to that extreme. Those were all factors.
How have you liked living in Batesville?
I love Batesville. I love Northern Arkansas. It's beautiful. And I like being an hour and a half from Little Rock, you know? As much as I like Batesville, it's nice to have that as an option. It's easy to drive down there, and if you want to go to Whole Foods it's not a six-hour drive. But as far as Batesville itself, it's big enough. It's not really a town of ten thousand because it serves a much larger community. It seems like a much larger town and has the sorts of things a town that size would have. I really like it, and I think it's kind of the right mix. I don't know that I'd want to be way further out into the country. We're really in a good spot.
What's been the most challenging aspect of your job?
Well, we're certainly facing some financial struggles, as are most colleges and universities. I'd need a whiteboard to go into the specifics. The reality is that the whole college experience is built to be inefficient. If you wanted efficiency you'd fill a classroom at Ohio State with 600 kids and one faculty member. That's not what we do here at Lyon. And when you have one faculty member for every twelve students, and they're spending all their days teaching and mentoring, it's inefficient and expensive. And so, our challenge is to rectify the expense with affordability. That'll be a constant tug-of-war. We always want to make it as affordable as possible, but we also want to maintain the quality. It's an internal balancing act.
You've been here for about a semester now, so what's been your favorite part about Lyon?
My favorite part of Lyon is the community, both the students and the faculty and staff. You know, that's really the special part of it. We could--I don't want this to happen--but if we woke up tomorrow and all of the buildings were gone we could still have a college. It'd just be inconvenient (he laughs). Fortunately, neither you nor I had to live through it, but when the Commons was gone they managed to muddle their way through. And it is that community that's the most important part of it, and certainly the most appealing part to me.
Going off of that, what do you want to achieve here at Lyon? Overall, what is your main goal?
Well, there's several goals. The main goal financially is to be sustainable. And there are some things we need to do to make the institution more sustainable. I don't want to lose Lyon's character in the meantime though. As I said, we could make it more efficient. I know exactly how to do it. But then it wouldn't be Lyon. I want to honor our tradition while moving us to a sustainable position. Then ultimately, when we're there, we can think about utilizing our resources to improve our academic profile. I'm not obsessed with rankings, but there is a certain utility to them. I think there are things that we could do to improve our standing. Quality-wise, I would put us up against most liberal arts colleges in our region. I think we could do more to have that recognized.
How has your family adjusted to the move?
Well we moved from Southwest Virginia, about 26 miles from Tennessee. So, we were right in the middle of the Appalachians, and that's a tough place to live. It's a very poor place, much poorer than the Ozarks, and it has been forever. I love Appalachia, but it's a hard place to live, and they're very suspicious of outsiders, so there's that. We were only there for two years, before that we lived in Ft. Worth for fifteen years. We're Texans originally, so this is a much better fit for us. My daughter loves it, my wife likes it, and our family is only five hours away, which is helpful. Also, it's really easy to get to know people in Arkansas; it has a very welcoming outlook. You don't need to get to know that many people before you really have a network because of its size.
Do you have anything you'd like to say to the student body in general?
You know, I try to spend as much time as I can with the students, but the reality of this office is they could literally either fill my entire day with meetings, or keep me on the road indefinitely. It's a balancing act, but I really do value that interaction. I've been to Student Government meetings and just hung around. My wife has done more of that than I have, but she has the time. It really is something that we both value, and I like living on campus, but I've been home one day this week. It's just the way it is.
Photo courtesy of Lyon College