He is talked about in often reverential terms.
Even though he hasn’t been UTC’s chancellor for nearly 15 years, it’s obvious that people still adore Dr. Bill Stacy and the work he has done for the university. Stacy is very popular among alumni and the administration, and he continues to volunteer his time in raising money for the institution.
Bill and his wife, Dr. Sue Stacy – who developed and taught computer applications for UTC’s College of Business – often are found on campus attending Mocs athletic events or supporting academic and alumni programs.
But Bill Stacy’s popularity isn’t just because he’s a nice guy. Since first appearing on the UTC scene back in 1997, the imprint he has left on campus has been unmistakable. You can’t help but marvel at the chancellor emeritus’ accomplishments.
At the December 2017 fall undergraduate student commencement ceremony, UTC’s chancellor, Dr. Steven Angle, was on the podium introducing the commencement speaker. He used words like “transformational” and “shepherd” in describing the contributions of Stacy, who served as the chancellor of UTC from 1997-2004.
“I can’t think of a better choice to be our speaker today,” Angle said. “He was a truly transformational leader during his time at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. During that time, the campus experienced significant growth in the number of students, the physical facilities, our graduate program offerings, and educational technology.”
Angle spoke of the growth of the institution that took place under Stacy’s stewardship, pointing out that “Dr. Stacy helped shepherd the development and startup of the doctoral programs on campus.” He spoke glowingly about Stacy’s part in leading the development of the South Campus housing – with beds for over 1,700 students – which “transformed us from a commuter school with some housing to a university. It changed the trajectory of our campus.”
Angle concluded by telling the audience that Stacy continues helping him on a daily basis. “He is a master fundraiser and relationship builder – and one of the most genuine people I have seen.”
Months after the event, you could hear the excitement in Stacy’s voice when he was reminded of Angle’s words.
“Well, what Chancellor Angle said … that was very nice of him. That was terrific,” Stacy said. “I have great gratitude for how nice he has treated me and allowed me to be a part of the university and to give back – and to contribute. I'm just grateful that he’s let me stay associated with the university. That's been a really nice thing.”
It’s easy to understand why the words “transformational” and “shepherd” suitably fit Stacy.
Growing up on the Tennessee/Virginia border in Bristol, Tennessee, Stacy built himself first – becoming the first person in his family to go to college. And he worked hard in making something of himself, majoring in speech communication and earning three degrees; he received his bachelor’s degree from Southeast Missouri State University and his master’s and Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University.
Before coming to UTC, Stacy first returned to Southeast Missouri State – where he spent 10 years as that school’s president. He then had a very rare opportunity in college circles, heading west to serve as the first-ever chancellor at California State University San Marcos. He literally went there to help build a university from scratch.
Stacy arrived in San Marcos in 1989 to preside over the building of the nation’s first state university since the University of Texas-San Antonio was established in the mid-1960s. Among his many duties, he was responsible for the construction of the school’s physical plant, building a curriculum, assembling a faculty and recruiting a student body.
“Well, I think, I must admit that anybody who would have taken on that job needed to have his head examined just a little bit,” Stacy joked. “But it really was a splendid thing to go to San Marcos.
“It was really a school that the public demanded and built; there were a lot of people fighting for campus approval from the state legislature. Once I started there, I worked with a lot of people – and we had a chance to decide on the curriculum, to make sure that we were teaching what we wanted to teach rather than just pick up and carry on the way it had been going on for 50 or 100 years.
“It was fabulous getting the entire faculty in a room and talking with them, just en masse, about ‘What do we do about biology? What do we do about art? What do we do about music? Do we have any athletics? What are we going to do here?’ We had some wonderful times. We had a wonderful beginning, and it was necessary to lay out a sense of continuity.
“The people of the community loved their school and had some ideas about it. You could tell people really wanted this to work. And it was fun to step into that energy and lead that wonderful thing.”
When reflecting about his San Marcos startup experience, Stacy acknowledged that “My wife and I had said to ourselves that those first establishers … there are a series of goals, and objectives, and a vision. But the startup guys usually don't get to stay a long, long time. People run out of things to do, or they run out of their vision or their goal. They either get it done or they don't get it done. We knew after a few years that it would be time to move on.”
After eight years in California, and after accomplishing most of what he sought to do, the urge to return closer to his Bristol roots became stronger and stronger for Stacy. In 1997, Stacy interviewed for the role as UTC’s chancellor – and landed in Chattanooga to transform another institution.
UTC was ready to make a move forward. And, as Angle said, Stacy was a truly transformational leader.
“I came here at a time after they had a wonderful, strong chancellor for 16 years,” said Stacy of his predecessor, Fred Obear. “So there was a sense when I got here that there was a little energy that could be directed to change. And the chancellor gave us an opportunity to put some energy back into the place.
“And, of course, what brought us home was … we like, this Midwest/Southeast area. We relate to the people here. We're very much at home here. This is a great community, you know?”
One of the first things Stacy tasked himself with after arriving at UTC was to find a way to grow the campus. The school back then was basically a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday commuter campus; when classes ended on Friday, everybody went home. And that was mainly because virtually all of the university’s students lived at home.
After being around a university startup in San Marcos that had the physical room to build structures, Stacy was immediately struck by the reality a lot of institutions face – but knew that something different had to be done.
“There was a phenomenon that hit most urban universities … they were built too small and then quickly surrounded by buildings and structures. You couldn't go back and plow out or undo the construction that was there,” Stacy said. “So we took the notion of crossing McCallie Avenue. We thought that was something that was necessary to change the campus around.”
Dr. Richard Brown, the longtime executive vice chancellor of finance and administration who has worked at UTC since 1984, remembers when he and Stacy had that “ah-ha” moment shortly after the new chancellor arrived on campus.
“Dr. Stacy and I looked across McCallie Avenue – a four-lane road with an average vehicular speed of over 70 miles an hour. One way in,” Brown said. “And on the opposite side of it was this really dilapidated kind of neighborhood that was continuing to decline. One day, I recall us walking out of the office – he and I standing there on McCallie Avenue looking off toward East 8th Street – and we said to each other, ‘You know, we can improve this. We're going to build student housing there.’”
The blueprints for expansion were created. As he set out to do, Stacy became transformational.
“Crossing McCallie … it would give us some growth room,” Stacy said. “It would give us some technology application potential. It would help bring some students into the area and do that without upsetting residents; in essence, without stealing their property or buying their property out from right under them. We were very successful with people in the area by letting them know, ‘This is a great community asset, as well as a state university.’
“The former chancellor (Obear) was here to give his advice for that, so it was perfect. So we went in the direction of trying to make the campus vibrant and alive. We had some building to do – and brought in a sense of vitality – and gave this campus some life. It really turned out wonderfully. It was really something to get to be in on the energizing and refurbishing of the campus.”
While the San Marcos experience taught Stacy about building a campus from scratch, growing UTC was just as much of a challenge – and just as rewarding. Stacy could only laugh as he talked about the challenges that existed in expanding the campus – and crowed about his involvement in requesting sewers.
“I remember that we had to talk with city officials,” he recalled. “We said, ‘We need some help on the streets and sewers. We don't have that yet.’ And they said, ‘Well, we'll widen our plans and see what we can do.’
“Lo and behold, the mayor changed things around and got us sewers. What a thing you brag about, but it’s true … we got sewers. We could not have had those dormitories flushing if we didn't have water flowing. We needed sewers and we got them. When you look back … it was just as fun as you think it was to build up this university.”
As a result of crossing McCallie, UTC’s South Campus housing came into existence – and it was a turning point in fostering the growth of the campus. Hundreds of beds for out-of-town college students were created. Just like that, Chattanooga became a place for moms and dads to send their children to college.
“This university did become a destination place,” Stacy said. “Before that time, this was not much of a college town. It was a very small, very good school with high academic achievement. But it was a very small local school. What we were able to do was bring some growth and vitality to the campus.”
When Stacy arrived on campus, UTC’s enrollment was around 8,000 students; today, the campus is at nearly 12,000 students.
After seven years as UTC’s chancellor, Stacy was ready for his next challenge – becoming the headmaster at Baylor School in Chattanooga. It was a different challenge, for sure, but one that allowed him to continue to make the River City his home.
“I stayed where I wanted to be and I found another great opportunity,” he said of his time at Baylor School – a private prep school which enrolls students in grades 6-12, including boarding students in grades 9-12. “When I moved to Baylor, the great sense about that was … they felt like Baylor was just a little bit languishing, and they wanted it to be revved up again. So they came to me and said, ‘If we can get you interested in moving, think about coming right here. We need some help in refurbishing Baylor and we can get some things done here.’ So I moved on to Baylor and was there several years.
“It was a terrific experience. I knew what the private school curriculum was trying to accomplish, and I knew what the students would have to bring with them in preparation to get to the university level. And then I found a great deal of fun from being around the kids. I found people who knew the value of a secondary education, and it just was exciting to be around. I would sit in the stands with the kids going to a basketball game and feel just as much at home rooting and raring for my team as they did. I owed it to those people who hired me and the community who supported me to give it my absolute best – and I loved it.”
Just like Fred Obear before him and Roger Brown after him, Stacy arrived in Chattanooga as chancellor and decided to remain in town afterward.
As a result, Stacy is well-known in the community – and has now been a part of Chattanooga for more than 20 years. The chancellor emeritus finds it very gratifying that the university still leans on him and the other former chancellors for guidance and advice.
With his droll sense of humor, Stacy initially joked that “Well, the first thing you have to say is, ‘What a bunch of guts to work with us.’ But I'm really proud of the chancellor and the president because they have allowed me to do some wonderful things. The best thing they've done is they've taken a school that I had a finger in, and they have raised that to the limb and said, ‘We're going to do these extra things.’ And Steve Angle is just fabulous in finding new programs and new ways to approach meeting the university mission.
“I’ve been here 20-something years, and it’s a thrill to still be involved. I volunteer. I make some calls – calling my good friend donors. We’ve had some donors leave us money for planning. I want to make people realize that their help doesn't go in vain. It's something that I enjoy doing and want to continue to do.
“When we first got to Chattanooga, we didn't have any sense of coming here and saying, ‘We’re here for one mission, and when we’re done – we're done.’ So I want to continue to give something back.”
Stacy continues to stay involved with the university by assisting Chancellor Angle and the UC Foundation. He acknowledged that it is still pretty humbling to get opportunities like speaking at the December 2017 commencement ceremony.
For Stacy, getting up on the stage and addressing the graduating students … well, the excitement belonged to him, too.
“Oh you got that right,” he said. “It was just a thrill to do and be a part of it.”
The one-time speech communication major showed he still connected with the students – quoting Bill Gates at one point and telling the graduates, “This room is filled with people who’ve already made a difference; I know it will continue … You are our university. We appreciate the beauty you bring to this day.”
He was once in their shoes; a college education helped transform him. In turn, Bill Stacy has made a career of transforming others.
“I've had one of those storybook lives,” he said. “All of my education was a result of public education. I’m the first kid in my family to go to college. And then I’ve had such fabulous opportunities. I just feel like this has been the best career ever. It’s been splendid, and the people have made it so.”
* * * * *
Well before becoming a college president and a chancellor and building/expanding universities, Bill Stacy had a couple brushes with greatness. No story about his career would be complete without sharing those anecdotes.
En route to earning his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, Stacy’s doctoral dissertation was about the campaign speaking of Harry S. Truman during the 1948 election. Through “a friend of a friend of a friend,” Stacy was able to sit down and speak face-to-face with Truman – the 33rd President of the United States.
“How else can you say it except, ‘You just got blessed. You got lucky,’” Stacy said. “When I got ready for the paper portion of the Ph.D., President Truman was frankly moving along his last days. I had a chance over a couple of years to interview him sporadically. Well, it was a great thing for me to be around the President of the United States to get to speak to him.
“Southern Illinois University was so great in providing me help – some stipend of sorts, some travel money, and the ability to direct and focus the study. When Southern Illinois University knew I needed gas money to drive to Independence, Missouri, from Carbondale, they saw to it that I had travel money. They saw to it that I had some release time from teaching in the university. They were just terrific to me.
“When I think about that opportunity … here I am, this fellow from over here in Bristol, Tennessee, interviewing President Truman. There is something that's blessed about that, right?’”
After receiving his Ph.D., Stacy returned to Southeast Missouri State to teach. While there, he had an interesting pupil who didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with the typical college educator.
“When I was teaching at Southeast Missouri State University – in my early times there before I was president – there came along this wonderful fellow, Rusty Limbaugh,” he reminisced. “His father and his grandfather were dear friends to me. The grandfather was often referred to by Rush himself as ‘The world's greatest gentleman.’ And I certainly thought that of him.
“But Rush was just the type of fellow that heard the beat of a different drummer. I was the teacher and I would give an assignment, and Rusty would do something – but it most likely would be a different assignment. Even then, he had that sense that he would do things his way.”
Obviously, that doesn't quite work out in the college classroom, correct? Young Mr. Limbaugh wasn’t long for Southeast Missouri State.
“That's right,” Stacy said with a laugh. “And I think he chose at that point to say, ‘There's something else that I can do that uses my curiosity,’ and he left school. Frankly, the kind of learning that we would have liked for him to have done in the classroom wasn’t getting done, but we can't say anything now but, ‘Way to go.’ We're bragging on him now. We think he's terrific.”