SEARCY — On Tuesday morning, a new vice chancellor took the helm at Arkansas State University-Searcy, but before that transition was complete, friends, family and fellow community leaders gathered Monday afternoon to thank the outgoing vice chancellor as he stepped into retirement.
Don Harlan had served the ASU-Searcy campus as vice chancellor since before it merged with the ASU-Beebe system. His 13 years of leadership was celebrated with gifts and words from the community.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without each of you,” Harlan told the crowd. “In some capacity, each of you has touched my life throughout the years. That’s very rewarding. I take no credit for all of this.”
ASU-Searcy’s new vice chancellor is Barry Farris, who had been vice chancellor for external and advanced programs at ASU-Beebe’s main campus. In this role, Farris worked with Arkansas State University-Jonesboro to help students earn baccalaureate and graduate degrees by taking course work on Beebe’s campus.
Before the presentations for Harlan were offered, a slide show of photos of both the new and old vice chancellors gave a silent background — both literally and figuratively — of the men who hold leadership at the school.
The photos of Harlan included some of him growing up on the cotton and dairy farm in Red Hill where his father put down roots after returning from World War II.
Harlan’s career has taken him through several schools, showcasing his passion for vocational technology schools.
Harlan became president of Foothills Technical Institute in 2001, and one year later, he approached ASU-Beebe Chancellor Eugene McKay about merging the school with ASU-Beebe. In 2003, the merger was completed, and the campus became Arkansas State University-Searcy.
The educational emphasis on the Searcy campus is technical and occupational programs, in addition to workforce and economic development. Most programs lead to a Certificate of Proficiency or a Technical Certificate.
Harlan said faculty members say they believe ASU-Searcy best serves students who may not want to get a degree, but who want to work and need or want those certificates to do their jobs and do them well.
“In that transition, we hope to be able to go a little further and get that degree,” he said. “Sometimes you can do that. Sometimes they come here for a very specific purpose, and they go to work and make a very good living for themselves and their family.”
McKay said he knew Harlan before the merger and always found him “to be a likable person and very student-centered,” always looking out for the students’ interests when it came to discussions or changes in the university system.
“[Harlan] cares about people,” McKay said. “He wants to help people — he always does — but especially students. So often in our meetings, something will come up, and he will say, ‘How will this impact our students? I’m concerned about this.’”
Searcy Mayor David Morris also expressed his gratitude to Harlan, thanking him for his service to the community through his role as vice chancellor and presenting him with a key to the city.
As he presented the key to Harlan, Morris said the honor of receiving the key to the city is usually reserved for outsiders, but this was a special occasion.
“Don has done a lot more for this community and this area other than just out at this location and this facility,” Morris said.
“I’m so proud today that it is ASU-Searcy,” he said. “Don, you’ve done an excellent job.”
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.