(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp.333-334, 352-353)
The new SAU president who initiated the school’s “internationalization” [see later article] was without ties to its history. A presidential search committee, which represented all university constituencies and was chaired by Dr. Larry McNeal, worked during fall 1991 to narrow the choices to five finalists. The board of trustees selected from that list Dr. Steven G. Gamble. Prior to Dr. Gamble’s arrival on campus in March 1992, Dr. Donald Haefner served as interim president. Unlike most previous presidents, Dr. Gamble at age forty-five had spent his entire adult life except for military service in higher education. After earning a Ph.D. in American history from Texas Tech University, he taught part-time and worked in admissions there. He later served as head of admissions offices at Angelo State University and at West Texas A&M University where he became vice president for academic affairs.
This background gave him wide-ranging expertise in university matters. There was seldom an activity at SAU with which he was not familiar. He was a budget maven and took management by measurement to a level not seen at SAU. Among his early innovations was establishment of an office of institutional research to gather data and a new strategic planning process that emphasized continuous analysis of measurable objectives to chart progress. Inclusive in his approach to managing university affairs, he sought widespread participation through committees. Always student oriented, he roamed the campus to gather firsthand evidence of problems and needs and faithfully attended all student activities including some new ones like Casino Nights that began in 1995 and the annual Fall Fest and Chili Cook-off that began in 1998.
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As Dr. Gamble prepared to leave SAU in summer 2001, he could rightly claim, despite the controversies, that his administration had laid the foundation for the first major campus expansion in several years. Enrollment had exceeded three thousand for the first time in the 2000 fall semester. The state Higher Education Coordinating Board had approved SAU offering master’s degrees in fields other than education. The board of trustees, in early 2001, had approved an $8-million bond issue to construct new residence halls and make other improvements. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation had placed SAU on its finalists list for a multimillion-dollar grant to construct a new student union. The Reynolds Foundation had funded major facilities at other Arkansas universities. Making just the right pitch required much time and effort. Dr. Donna Allen, Ronnie Birdsong, and others had diligently worked on applications for several years to get SAU to the finals. On this high note, Dr. Gamble, taking Mrs. [Ronnie] Birdsong as his executive assistant to his new position, left SAU to assume the presidency of Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.