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Southeast Missouri State University President Ken Dobbins Leaving Big Shoes to Fill on Campus

By 1999, a mere eight years since his start, Dobbins accepted the position of President of the University following Dale F. Nitzschke’s term. In the history of Southeast, he is the 17th President, and he has served the fourth longest term – which is 16 years as of 2015. Dr. Dobbins was kind enough to grant me an interview, and as well, it reminded me of his deep intellect and great sense of humor that has served him and the university so well during his Presidential tenure.

I distinctly remember the first time I met, then, Vice President Ken Dobbins while attending a function on campus representing FOX 23 KBSI along with my station General Manager at that time.  Although we were present for a Press Conference that was in honor of the University’s latest expansion, we were also there to discuss our continued production of “Live” Southeast Football and Basketball for our station. 

For anyone that knows or has met Dobbins, he can be a bit intimidating at first sight due to his height and football-player-like physique. But once you shake his hand and he smiles at you, all apprehension instantly melts away.  Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins began his journey at Southeast Missouri State University in 1991 at which point he was the Vice President of Finance and Administration, followed by his assuming the responsibilities of Executive Vice President in 1993.  By 1999, a mere eight years since his start, Dobbins accepted the position of President of the University following Dale F. Nitzschke’s term.  In the history of Southeast, he is the 17th President, and he has served the fourth longest term – which is 16 years as of 2015.  Dr. Dobbins was kind enough to grant me an interview, and as well, it reminded me of his deep intellect and great sense of humor that has served him and the university so well during his Presidential tenure.

Eric:  What do you think has been your greatest accomplishment in your time at the University?

Dobbins:  We have really transformed Southeast Missouri State University to be a leader in education in the entire United States - not only in Missouri!  I also have 25,000 reasons to be proud of my term here thanks to every hand I shook as students received their degrees, and no one can take that away from them.  We’ve also made strides at the university thanks to our fine faculty and students, and we increased the number of majors that we now offer.

Eric:  What do you hope to be remembered for?

Dobbins:  The quality of education and the outstanding programs we now have.  Everyone else (in reference to other Universities) looks up to us for what we are doing now and how we are doing it!  I give a lot of that credit to our Board of Regents that have allowed us to expand and now we provide three regional satellites in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston educating 1,400 students.  We also now serve over 1,000 students through online courses.

Eric:  Did you accomplish everything you had hoped to as the President at Southeast?

Dobbins:  You always hope to do more, but I feel we have been very successful thanks to the leadership of our board.  I am a first time college graduate in my family and from being raised in Akron, Ohio, most friends and family went to work in the tire business there.  So I can appreciate what an advantage like higher education can do for students more than other folks may.

Eric:  What is your vision for the future of the University?

Dobbins:  I look ahead to 2030 and I hope that we continue to make the kind of partnerships that we have already established.  The partnership with Rust Communications took a challenged campus newspaper like the Arrow and gave it new life so that we are all proud of it and the students gain more hands on experience.  Southeast has recently forged a new relationship with KFVS 12 and we will have two hours programming per day on their station.  Thanks to great leadership from professors like Jim Dufek we will now have an expanded Mass Media Department on what we are calling Media row across the street from KFVS 12 and next to Rust Communications.  Partnerships like these will pave the way for the university’s and students’ future.

Eric:  What are your plans for the future?

Dobbins:  Five years ago, Jeanine and I bought a place up in Lake St. Louis, and our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids are just 35 minutes away.  I’m also on the Executive Council for the Boy Scouts so I will continue to be involved with that.  This is my 10th year of teaching through AASCU (American Association of Colleges and Universities) and I’m working with first time presidents on finances, enrollment and team building for an entire week!  I have had the pleasure to teach 200 new presidents for universities.  I hope to continue all of these interests, so I’m not really retiring!

Eric:  Do you feel the president that follows you will have big shoes to fill?

Dobbins:  Well Eric I do wear size 13 shoes!  All I can say is this: In 1991 we had 3 million dollars in the endowment fund and now we have over 70 million.  We generate $1.7 million every year from this fund and we are making an investment in the future of students and Southeast Missouri State University!  My hope is that the board, executive staff and future president will continue to serve the region that we service!

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