Innovation Junkies Podcast

Houston Davis on Transformative Leadership in Higher Education

Houston Davis, President of UCA, joins the Jeffs to discuss the vitality of transformative leadership in higher education. They dive into the role universities play in economy and workforce development, how to get people in your organization on board with change, and impediments to innovation in an organization.

Houston Davis:
So quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what Houston does, it’s what is the president that follows me and probably the person that follows them. What do they inherit from the time that I was here?

Jeff Standridge (Intro):
This is Jeff Standridge, and this is the Innovation Junkies Podcast. If you want to drastically improve your business, learn proven growth strategies, and generate sustained results for your organization, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies Podcast.

Jeff Standridge:
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. I’m Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine:
Hey, this is Jeff Amerine. Great to be back.

Jeff Standridge:
How are you doing, man?

Jeff Amerine:
I’m glad to be here. It’s a nice spring day and I’m looking forward to some warm weather and some time outside for sure.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. Let’s talk about our episode today. We’ve got a fantastic guest. Houston Davis. Dr. Houston Davis is president of the University of Central Arkansas. Prior to coming to UCA, Dr. Davis was interim president of Kennesaw State University. But he also served as executive vice chancellor and the chief academic officer. The chief academic officer of the university system of Georgia. He’s been in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia, and now Arkansas. And I can tell you by being an alumnus and an adjunct professor and a friend of the University of Central Arkansas, we are absolutely so fortunate and so pleased to have Dr. Davis and Jenny as our first family. So president Davis, welcome to the podcast.

Houston Davis:
Hey, good to see you guys. Always great to talk to the two Jeffs.

Jeff Amerine:
One is never enough, right?

Jeff Standridge:
We get referred to as the Jeffs. You would be surprised how many times we get referred to as the Jeffs. So even when Ragan sends us podcast notes, she addresses us in emails, “Hey, Jeffs.”

Jeff Amerine:
Exactly. Well, it makes it easier for everybody. They only have to remember one first name.

Jeff Standridge:
Somebody actually said not long ago when Jeff had a different pair of glasses that we actually even resembled one another. When my goatee was a little thicker and a little grayer, and he had a set of glasses that looked like mine, they were even confusing our looks. And I said that’s when it kind of crosses the line for me.

Jeff Amerine:
Right. We had to make some changes.

Houston Davis:
Yeah. Well, I think old couples start looking and acting like each other after a while. So that curve will bend.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, I appreciate that.

Jeff Amerine:
It’s been six years, right? It’s been six years.

Jeff Standridge:
That’s right.

Jeff Amerine:
Well, listen, we’re so glad to have on this morning, President Davis. And one of the things that we like to do to get the ball rolling is, it’s a little whimsical, but we always like to have a random musing. And this morning, the question is, what is some stuff you wish that you had never eaten?

Houston Davis:
Wow. Well, growing up, I grew up on a farm and grew up in a family that you ate what was in front of you. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit perspective about food. So I can say that younger years I ate a lot of things that I might not have had choice to eat, but one of those, it just sounded so exotic. It was Rocky Mountain oysters. And certainly, I can say ignorance is bliss. I can’t say that they didn’t taste good, but it was only after finding out what they were, that it was a mental hurdle to get over at that point.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, also called calf fries if you eat them in Texas, right?

Houston Davis:
Yeah. I figured that your viewers could probably with Google Rocky Mountain oysters, and they would certainly get the picture.

Jeff Standridge:
That’s right.

Jeff Amerine:
Well, that’s one of those things in the south where if it’s fried, it’s good. And if it’s deep-fried, it’s even better. And deep-fried Rocky Mountain oysters are probably all right.

Jeff Standridge:
That’s right. A lot of crust on them.

Houston Davis:
That’s right.

Jeff Standridge:
So similar to Houston, I grew up in a farm family, not specifically on the farm myself. And so I don’t remember eating a lot of stuff that I wished I hadn’t at that age. Now I’ve traveled internationally a lot and I once ate sushi from a gas station in Sao Paul, Brazil. And I was fine, but I wish that my work colleague hadn’t eaten it because he spent about 14 hours in an ER getting IV floods following. But I’ve had stuff in China that today, I’m still not sure exactly what it is, stuff in the middle east, but it was real interesting.
I went to Dallas with a group of folks a couple of weeks ago, and we were at this sushi restaurant and the sushi chef was preparing it bite by bite for our group. And he was shaving off real thin slices of Wagyu beef. And then he would put it over a sashimi over the rice, and he would flame kiss it with a little torch. And as he was slicing that Wagyu go beef, I looked at it and I went, “well, I’ve been eating that my whole life. That looks like spam.” Well, anyway, well, how about you Amerine?

Jeff Amerine:
Well, and I’ve had similar international experiences. I never will forget the time I was on Jeju Island, it was when I was doing some work in Korea, in the ’90s. And the guy who was our contact there said, “You just got to eat what’s put in front of you. It’s a sign of weakness if you don’t. I mean, there’s a lot of cultural things there.” And so they had cut up the baby octopus that was still recently alive, and this stuff was essentially crawling off the plate as we were eating it. And I went ahead and did it, and it was the only food I ever ate that actually bit back on the way down, little suction cups and stuff, but anyway.

Jeff Standridge:
I heard a guy one time talking about beef tongue. And when you look at that in the grocery store, it just looks so traumatic. I mean, it’s horrible looking, but they say, if you really prepare it right, it’s good. And I heard a guy one time say, I’ll use his vernacular. And he said, “I ain’t going to eat nothing that might be tasting me back.”

Jeff Amerine:
Yeah, that’s probably words of wisdom.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. That’s probably enough of our random musings today. Houston, as I said, so great to have you today. We’ll let our listeners and viewers look up your back background. We’ve talked a little bit about that, but let’s just talk about maybe to kick things off your view of higher education particularly at UCA as a comprehensive four-year university, and what you see the role that that university plays in our economy and workforce development and education, and what have you. Let’s start there because I know that’s going to lead to a lot more robust conversation.

Houston Davis:
Yeah. Well, and I think, Jeff is a very interesting time to be thinking about what the role, especially public universities are in America. And then the role just generally tertiary education around the world. And I think UCA’s story and where we find ourselves is a pretty good sample of where the majority of higher education is. And what I say to that is you’ve got 4,000 or so fully accredited institutions in America. And they range from highly selective private, residential universities all the way through open access universities. But the majority of schools sit where UCA is.
I mean, we certainly take great pride in our academic standards and the quality of the degree, but we also have to play a role of serving as an access point. We are an opportunity for upward mobility. Every single day we provide someone a chance to get that point of the realm, to earn their degree. And we know that’s going to change their family tree because they’re a first-generation college student, or they come in from a family where they found themselves displaced in this economy, and we’re going to be a part of their way back.
I don’t know that it’s ever been more clear at a place like the University of Central Arkansas that that’s something that we have to get out of bed every single day taking very seriously. I’m not going to say that hasn’t been important from 1907 until now at our institution, but it’s abundantly clear that this region of Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, some of the spillover beyond the borders of Arkansas, if UCA doesn’t take that role very seriously, the state of Arkansas is not going to advance.
So it’s not just what we do educationally, but we do have to think about being stewards of place. We have to think about what are we doing to drive economic development. We have to think about how is it that we are a part of stitching together a social fabric in our community, and in this region that allows people to know that they’ve got a home base that they can touch. We have to do that because the next 50 years are going to demand it. And I’m very proud to be leading an institution that our VPs, our deans are directors of major units. I think that they get that, and that’s a part of the culture here.

Jeff Standridge:
So let’s talk about some of the initiatives, some of the things you have going on that you believe are front and center or at the forefront of that philosophy and that strategy.

Houston Davis:
Yeah, I think a lot of it almost goes into this concept that I’ve thought about as we take our traditional programs and our services, we’ve got to be focused on what can we do in an interdisciplinary fashion? How can we find some way to get one plus one to equal three, because there’s always scarcity of resources, but one thing that’s front and center with the two of you, you partner with us in the work that UCA and conductor do along with the startup junkie network.
I mean, that is a way to leverage our intent, our scope of capacity, our scarce resources into joining with you for that to be a multiplier effect. If we tried to do that on our own, there’s no way that we could make the impact that we do. But I think that thinking that way over the last four or five years has allowed us to spend things like the Arkansas Coding Academy, simple in concept I mean, allowing people to come back and retool and retrain, but that’s computer science, that’s management information systems. That’s a little bit of cyber security. Those units coming together to be able to deliver something that sometimes is about getting a degree. And other times it’s just about retooling and retraining, but all of that spins off within three years, our new Bachelor of Science and Master of Science and data sciences, spins off a standalone BS in cyber security.
None of that happens without thinking in an interdisciplinary way, and then working with external partners to figure out what is it that UCA has? What do we bring to the table as a steward of those needs to be able to think about a multiplier effect? Not just in that space of information assurance. Our interprofessional teaching clinic is something that comes to mind. The health sciences. I think we certainly have thought about innovations that lead to simulation, but how do we really think about collaborations, not only within the multiple health scientific units but with the industry. That way students are learning in a real-world environment, it’s multidisciplinary.
It really is interprofessional in the approach. So I don’t want to keep working down the list. We got others that we can talk about, but so much of that grows out of thinking in an interdisciplinary fashion.

Jeff Standridge:
A follow-up question to some of that is it strikes me that leadership in an academic institution where you’ve got so many diverse disciplines, so many different backgrounds, and skills in many instances is far different than a typical corporate setting where you have maybe a few products or a line of products, but they’re all kind of related.
You have just so many different disciplines. How does that impact your ability to lead and then to enact change? What do you have to do in that environment where there’s so many different diverse disciplines and opinions?

Houston Davis:
Yeah, well, I think that one of the ways that I believe that you can do that is thinking about applied research and applied service and it doesn’t matter the academic discipline. I mean, you can be in College of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, you can be in the College of Business, you can be in the College of Education, but go to health sciences. Every single department can think about what is it that we’re doing in the classroom? What is it that from a freshman up through senior year and undergraduate study that we’re doing in the classroom, inspiring excellence in the classroom, but then finding something to inspire and show that student how to take that knowledge from the classroom and apply it to the world?
And I like to think very broadly about things like innovation and service-learning. I think those two things are kindred spirits because they’re about taking the tools that you have in your toolkit, and how can you do something to make what’s in front of you slightly better, or maybe even to make a substantial leap to make tremendous change with what’s in front of you, but either way taking the classroom, apply it.
I think about things like nutrition family sciences. I was reading something a little while ago about what they’re doing to almost apply extension services to a variety of community actors. A lot of those nonprofit, most of those obviously human services centers, but to take what our students are learning and then putting those students in places where they are making difference with their knowledge. In the end, I mean, that’s what we want them to be able to do is walk across the stage and get a degree from the University of Central Arkansas, and then make a difference in the world. When we think about extending our services, applying that knowledge in a real-world environment, I mean, service learning to me is nothing more than finding a way to take knowledge and use it in an innovative way to take a new skill set, take some data point that you’ve learned and then find a way to, okay, then what is it that humanity is going to benefit from?
Chemistry and biology I mean, good examples. They’re always involved in field research, but to what extent are they making certain that the state of Arkansas and then those that are entrusted with environmental resources here in the region are benefiting from that knowledge and that work? I do like it that we think about what happens from a curricular standpoint, but there’s a co-curricular and an extracurricular that is about applying that knowledge externally.

Jeff Standridge:
So I know in 2018, you launched what you’ve referred to as the ROI Initiative. Tell us a little bit about that. And it was fortuitous and I was just talking with Jeff about this before we got on the podcast, but it was fortuitous that you started doing that for a future event and it actually helped prepare the university, and what have you for the pandemic that came about. So talk a little bit about ROI. What is it and what have you done there and anything you want to share relative to that?

Houston Davis:
Sure. No, thank you. I’m always excited to talk about ROI. I hope that your viewers don’t fall asleep during this portion of the program. ROI stands for resource optimization initiative. I named my first puppy, puppy, so I’m not a very creative person, so that’s not the best name in the world. But ROI really grew out of, you mentioned my time in Georgia as chief academic officer of that system. And again, very complex from the research university through state colleges. But one of the things that we were doing was having to reimagine the role and scope of all at that point, it’s 35 institutions. Now it’s 27 because of consolidations that have happened. What’s the role and the scope of those institutions in the communities that they serve. And that can be a small one or two-county area of Georgia all the way through UGA in Georgia. They serve the world.
So I know in coming to a place like UCA applying those principles, it’s thinking about what’s the scope of our reach and how is it that we’re going to make certain that UCA not only is set up now but for challenging times in the future, that 10 and 15 and 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years from now UCA is set up to thrive and continue making a difference, not only for Arkansas but to borders beyond. That means applying a lot of principles. And quite honestly. I mean, if you’re working with businesses on their business plans, I’m certain that you talk on a regular basis. You’ve got to think beyond the next year. You’ve got to think beyond probably your lifespan of engagement with this business.
I always say that always preach that successful presidents, in the end, are going to be by what are the conditions that their successors receive as opposed to what they do during their time. So, quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what Houston does. It’s what does the president that follows me and probably the person that follows them. What do they inherit from the time that I was here? ROI grows out of zero-based budgeting. It grows out of applying revenue-centered management, thinking about where are there subunits of the university that are growing, that are bringing in revenue. So we’re making certain that we’re directing resources toward that effort, and it grows out.
This is just old grandma advice. It’s putting a name and a function to every dollar in your budget. None of that, guys, is complex, but I would think that you probably would agree. I hear all the time, people say, “Well, higher education are run more like a business.” Well, if we did that, we probably would go out of business because most businesses fail. I think the reason that a lot of people won’t apply those own business principles in a business setting is that it takes a lot of courage. You get to say no a lot. You generally won’t get many people that want to think about what are the implications of this decision three years, five years to 10 years from now, because most people only care about just getting to each July one.
But ROI really is about that is every single one of those decisions, whether it be the zero base function of putting a name and a function to every dollar or thinking about the revenue center management approach, every decision that we make will have a ripple one, three, five and 10 years out. So we think through that, and again, at that 10 years out, I mean, I don’t want to make any news here, but that’ll be beyond the time of me in the presidency. Heck, for all I know one year out hopefully there’s no pink slip on my chair tomorrow, but by all means, we have to think that way.
And again, it doesn’t matter whether it’s someone in a private sector business making incision making setting, or it’s somebody that’s a president and a leadership team at a university, it’s having the courage to make those decisions around that data. And then thinking medium to long term about the implication of those decisions.

Jeff Amerine (Middle Plug):
Hey folks, this is Jeff Amerine. We want to thank you for tuning in. We sincerely appreciate your time. If you’re enjoying the Innovation Junkies Podcast, please do us a huge favor, click the subscribe button right now and please leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us. And don’t forget to share us on social media.

Jeff Standridge:
So I’ve been associated with UCA for almost 40 years now. And I’m one of those that you mentioned that changing family trees, first-generation college student, or I would even say transforming a family tree. That’s not been the traditional strategic philosophy. That’s a change. And it’s an assertive change, a good positive, assertive change. How do you begin to get people to understand that, that maybe have never been exposed to that type of leadership within an institution? How do you get folks in the boat with you so to speak?

Houston Davis:
Well, one of the things that was very important to me, I mentioned. I’m applying a lot of the things that I certainly have learned in past roles. I’ve been lucky to have great mentors that have shown me good tools of the trade, but it was really important that in January of ‘17 when I started, I didn’t just come in here pointing fingers and saying, “Hey, here’s what we need to do.” Because the reality was I needed to get to know our community and I needed to get to know our university. And I think that I would tell any leader that’s stepping in, even if you know the wins of change or facing higher education, and every university and college in America is dealing with this.
It’s very important for you to not just apply a change model, just because you’ve seen it work in one setting, you need to make certain that you’re addressing real issues that this university is facing. And I’d say the first 120 days or so on this job, good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. You should probably use those proportionately. I did a lot of listening. It was as much, was there an awareness of things like the enrollment cliff that was coming to higher education in 2025, 2026, and 2027. I mean, that’s something that’s much talked about now, but you go back to 2017. There weren’t a lot of people in higher education talking about or thinking about it because again that was a decade away. Why are we worried about that?
But I did find that there was an emerging conversation here about, hey, the future is going to be challenging for public and private higher education, and we need to be thinking long term. So that was good. I also found in this culture that I inherited, it was a place that wasn’t afraid to try things. I mean, Jeff, you certainly stand rich. You’ve been around UCA longer than me. I mean, you know that things like UCA Honors College starting in the early ’80. We were the sixth public university in America to launch a standalone honors college. We were one of the first public universities in America to go to residential learning communities.
A lot of what you hear nationally now that’s in the student success space and reimagining things like remedial, and developmental education and the like, UCA was one of the leaders nationally. These are all things that started way before I got here. So there was a culture of innovation if you will at UCA relative to higher education standards for sure. So I found in those first 120 days that although I knew I probably was going to have to have a change management focus, to my tenure here, what I found was a general willingness to be in that space, but I also got loud and clear that there needs to be a lot of openness and transparency.
It probably has been a little disarming to some on our campus that from 2018 forward. So my second year, as we started what became known as ROI later, it was just an open book. I want as many people to come forward and as many budget managers on this campus to be a part of those conversations because quite honestly, we’re in a boat at sea. We’re going to find our way to shore, but we’re going to do that together. So I found that the more transparency, the better, and again, that’s a little unsettling. Most people and I can tell you my gut, I would sometimes rather just develop a unilateral solution and just tell people to do it, but that usually does not work out that well.
You generally are going to find your way better and there will be better ideas that will emerge when you bring others to the table. But I found transparency. I found listening, I found really identifying real issues that were going on here. And where were those opportunities that I knew that a lot of the ROI concepts would be helpful? And as you mentioned earlier, we were so very lucky because everything that higher education is dealing with because of COVID and the challenges to just get through furloughs and layoffs, just to get through the end of fiscal years, because they really are just bailing water at this point.
Because of ROI, we are one of the few universities, forget Arkansas, any state that borders Arkansas that have managed FY20, FY21, FY22, and we will successfully manage all the way through FY27 because we’re doing these things. And sometimes you get lucky, but preparation has a lot to do with that.

Jeff Standridge:
Well, and even… Go ahead, Jeff, I’m sorry.

Jeff Amerine:
Sorry, Jeff. I was going to say as a follow-on to that, you mentioned the difficulties or the challenges in leading through the pandemic. What were some key strategic insights where maybe you went through a process of triage, you had to implement things tactically in order to be able to just keep things moving. What were some key insights that are going to inform what you do going forward, things that are going to stick that you had to do in a reactive way during the pandemic, but now you think, gee, that was a pretty good idea. I think those examples would be really helpful to our audience.

Houston Davis:
No, absolutely. Necessity is a mother of invention. I mean, there are 4,000 colleges and universities that had their entire business model upended in January, February, and March of ’20. And there are a lot that still haven’t found their way. I’m still shocked when I go to national meetings. And I hear about campuses that still haven’t had their faculty and staff return to work, and they are still remote two years into this. It’s hard for me to think about how that’s going to affect their culture for the long term.
I think that there are a lot of things that we learned from the moving in March and April of ’20 to having to embrace technology and having to embrace open educational resources, our faculty, many of whom, and I count myself among this. I mean, I’m chalk talk. I’m old school. I’m as old-fashioned. I don’t know them a Luddite, but I’m not too far away from it. But our collective faculty some of which might have even been hesitant to utilize their tools like email, all of a sudden found themselves having to utilize the basics of Blackboard, the basics of open educational resources, and electronic resources that our Torrenson Library had to invest in to integrate those into their courses.
Even though those classes came back to face to face, even it really is in the fall of ’20, and by spring of ’21, most of those faculty found themselves back in a face-to-face setup. I think what we found was those tools that they were forced to embrace because of what the pandemic did in April and May, in June of ’20, they’re still integrating those tools in their courses, even though it might be a traditional face to face course. I think that has only improved the quality of teaching and learning. And again, that forced to adopt in one month of a year, but now choosing to integrate at this point.
I think about, Jeff, and some of the things that the way we found that we can serve students from an advising standpoint. I don’t know that we ever would’ve thought about using Zoom and Google Meet and other tools the way that we have for academic advising appointments, for financial aid appointments, and even to counseling center appointments. Obviously, we don’t want to do all of our counseling appointments via technology, but sometimes if a student can’t make it face-to-face for some reason, obviously life is always going on as someone is involved in their studies, knowing that there’s a comfort level with being able to go to that virtual option for a session or two.
So the utilization of those tools. And again, something that seems well, that’s no big deal. That’s not innovative. Well at that time, that seemed crazy to us, but we found that it’s enhanced our reach and it’s utilizing time and calendar in a new way. I’m really excited about that. I am very excited about the fact that a lot of educational technology and OER is integrated in the classroom.

Jeff Standridge:
So let’s talk a little bit, maybe shift gears and talk a little bit about some of the impediments to innovation that you see not just in your organization, but in higher education that you’ve constantly got in the back of your mind those impediments and how to overcome them. What are some of those?

Houston Davis:
Well, I tell my students all the time that if you think you’ve got two options before you, you better add a third option. The most powerful and most likely option is the status quo, and people forget that all the time that you’ll run around the room and bang your head on the wall. And usually you’ll come back to the status quo win. So it has an inertia. It has a resistance that is just powerful. And even folks that think of themselves as innovators still like the known better than the unknown.
So I think that’s something that you always are going to deal with, and it does not matter whether we’re talking about academic or non-academic units on the campus. Status quo is a pretty powerful thing. That’s not a bad thing sometimes. I mean, sometimes there’s a nice, healthy tension between what’s passed and known and what’s before you that’s the unknown. I do think it’s hard to run at the pace that sometimes we have to in this day and time of scarcity of resources. We are continuing to ask more and more of an individual as we try and utilize human capital more efficiently.
We’ve got to remember, go back to that human word, got to remember these are people that they’ve got their work life, but they’ve got their personal life. They’ve got stressors all their own. And that’s something that I have to constantly remind myself that there’s a people aspect to this business that sometimes you can get so focused on things that are ROI and are about innovation, and it’s about efficiencies that you’ve got to remember to go back and take the pulse of your people. Every once in a while there’s got to be a breather because folks can just be out of gas.
But it’s the psychology of leadership. And again, I don’t know, at the age that I am that I’ve found the answers there yet, and I met with each five-year period of life. I’ll get better and better at that, but I always have to remember in the back of my mind that we’re in a business of people and remembering impact on folks and you can only stretch them so thinly before that threat will break. So that’s a great challenge is we’re looking at the future too, because the financial challenges, the pressure on higher ed to perform, all of those are only going to increase, but we’ve got to think about how are we utilizing our people? We’re a people-based business. And then how can we make certain build bridges through those challenging times?

Jeff Standridge:
So, as we think about and I sit and watch what’s going on at the university, we’re now endemic, or hopefully knock on wood, post-pandemic, but still have some challenges there. The ROI initiative that you have going on the cliff, that’s out there in two, three, four years, the need to serve the workforce and talent, rather, I should say, needs of our state, very large capital campaign to set the university up for success into the future. All of those things going on, two questions, maybe as we start to round this thing out, first question is how do you manage all of that?

Houston Davis:
Well, one thing is I talked about being transparent. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this, a lot of my messaging and a lot of my, when I’m talking not only in campus forums, but I’ve got to start getting into smaller groups. I mean, getting into within the colleges, within the departments, talking in a multiyear frame for an understanding of look, we now know we knew what the plan was likely going to call for to get through that period of enrollment cliff in 2025, 2026, 2027, we now can really isolate how much of that acceleration to those conditions are directly because of enrollment drops by different cohorts because of the pandemic.
So I’m making up a number here. We know that, hey, we had a dollar challenge that was going to come to us in 2025. Well, now we know that 60 cents of that dollar is already here because of what COVID did to enrollment and to be able to explain as well at this juncture, that 60 cents in ’23, ’24, that we thought wasn’t going to come until ’25, ’26. But again, I’ve got to solve the puzzle of how do you do that in a very transparent way, but not as demoralizing, that is about maybe making it empowering that, hey, look, we’re comfortable about talking about this because I will say, and I’m not talking about any specific higher education institution, but my colleagues are going to sweep it under the rug year to year to year. Most of them are only thinking about managing this one year at a time. We can’t do that if we want UCA to thrive as we look to the future.

Jeff Standridge:
Very, very good second question, and last question, unless Jeff has a follow up is what keeps you awake at night?

Houston Davis:
Oh, goodness. Honestly, I mean, you got 10,000 students and 1300 faculty and staff. I mean, you’re always thinking about at some point in time, somebody’s doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. I mean, that keeps me awake at night, but you’ll never get any sleep as a president if you dwell on that too much. I tell people all the time that I’m lucky to work in an industry where you know you make a difference every day, you know that you’ve got challenges to deal with, but again, we’ve got a roadmap to be able to deal with that.
Somebody asks me all the time, is that hard to be a president? And I don’t know, it’s hard. I mean, these are first world problems that we’re talking about, but the things that keep me up at night are, and the bad days are when you deal with maybe a student suicide or you deal with an unexpected loss of someone due to a health condition or a car wreck. I mean, those are the heavy moments in higher ed. I mean, so I don’t know that I fall asleep every night worrying about those sorts of things. But if you want to know what weighs heavy on me from day to day, that’s it.
I know, I believe in our people, I believe in our plan going forward, I feel very confident about where UCA is short, medium, and long term. So that I sleep easy, but when you’re president of university, there’s an aspect to it that, yeah, you’re president of university, but around the clock, 24/7, you’re mayor of a small town, and there’s the industrial-organizational psychology of being mayor of a small town and looking out for your town, your people. So those are the things that weigh heavily.
I just hate when tragedy befalls on campus and it does. I mean, large universities, you’re going to have things to happen, but you worry about those things all the time. Everything else is just work and task.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Jeff, any follows from you?

Jeff Amerine:
Well, I mean, just a commentary. I mean, Houston, it’s obvious to those of us who have seen you in action that you’re leading well, and that you’ve managed through significant adversity, and you’ve got UCA on a path towards long-term resilience and growth. And I think a lot of us are really grateful for the kind of effort that you’ve put into it, because it means a lot to the state, to not just Central Arkansas, but to those parents, those students, to your industrial partners, it really means a lot. And the institutions of higher education that are led well are going to make a difference in terms of the overall national competition that we have to do in a very challenging global environment. So I think we appreciate all you do and your leadership for sure.

Houston Davis:
Well, thank you. And I want to earn that every day, but I tell you, everything you just said, that’s because we’ve got a great team, got a whole lot of folks that are pulling in the same in the right direction. And again, a lot of that was already baked in the cake and the culture before I got here, it’s just a matter of momentum is a beautiful thing if you can just keep nudging it. And I think organizations are like a car engines. If they ever shut off, you don’t know if they’ll start up again. And I’m proud of the fact that during hard times, we’ve never stopped, but that the reason we never stopped is because we’ve stayed focused on, hey, our students. I mean, a lot of them to us, we’re the closest thing to home they’ve got. We can’t shut down on them because we are their bridge to a better future and enough people here not only buy into that, they live that every day, that it’s easy to gently nudge and keep that momentum going.

Jeff Standridge:
Well, President Houston Davis, president of the University of Central Arkansas, we appreciate you for being with us today. We appreciate your leadership and all the work that you’re doing. And I guess I’m going to pivot one more time and have a final question. Assuming that some of those 1300 people that are… Or call it 13,000 people, roughly between faculty, staff, students, and others are listening to this podcast that are among the millions and millions of listeners that we have, assuming that they’re listening right now, or when we publish this episode, what one thing would you say to your university community that you would leave them with? You got an opportunity to speak to them now, what one thing would you leave them with?

Houston Davis:
Oh, that’s easy, Jeff. It’s a thank you. There are a lot of my fellow presidents and chancellors around the country that are at a loss right now for not only how they’re solving problems today, but having any confidence about their future. I don’t have that challenge. I am blessed to have a community and I thank them for their commitment to our students. I thank them for staying focused on those things that mean everything to us. We talk about academic integrity. We talk about diversity. We talk about academic excellence. I mean, those things that are avid, we absolutely have stayed true to those during this period of time, and we’re going to do that in the future. And I’m blessed to have great people. So thank you for all that all of you do to make that happen.

Jeff Standridge:
Well, thank you so much. We appreciate you for being with us today and look forward to continue working with you into the future.

Houston Davis:
Thank you guys. Appreciate your-

Jeff Standridge:
Yes, sir. This has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. Thank you for joining.

Jeff Amerine:
Hey folks, this is Jeff Amerine. We want to thank you for tuning in. We sincerely appreciate your time. If you’re enjoying the Innovation Junkies Podcast, please do us a huge favor, click the subscribe button right now. Please leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us. And don’t forget to share us on social media.

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