Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jim Kerley, March 22, 2005

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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SMOOT: Good morning, Dr. Kerley.

KERLEY: Good morning, Rick. How are you doing?

SMOOT: Fine, thank you. Could you tell me a little bit about your own background, where you were born and raised, your, your parents, uh, your siblings, if any?

KERLEY: Well, I grew up in rural Tennessee; it's Crossville, Tennessee. Small town, the town is probably five thousand or so, but I, but I actually, uh, lived on a farm and, uh, my, my family, from probably late 1700s, owned land, so land has been very important to us. Uh, um --

SMOOT: Middle Tennessee, east Tennessee, west Tennessee?

KERLEY: Well, it's sort of almost in the middle of--middle--it's sort of the breaking point. They consider it eastern Tennessee, because it's still in the mountains, in Appalachia, so they consider it eastern Tennessee, I guess. And it's in the Cumberland Plateau, where my parents lived, and, uh, just a real beautiful, uh, uh, picturesque area; valleys and mountains and plateaus and, uh, just a real gorgeous 00:01:00area. I, I first--my family lived in what, originally when we--when I, when I was very small, in Sequatchie Valley, a very small, uh, uh--again as far as population wise, but, but land was just beautiful. It was in between the mountains and, uh, uh, it was called "The Valley"; you lived in "The Valley." And I love the area, a lot of my relatives lived there, and I remember going to see some of them like my Uncle Lloyd who, who lived in an old log cabin probably a hundred and fifty years old or so. And Uncle Lloyd was sort of, uh, a holdover from past times. He, he was just very plain and, uh--almost like a pioneer-type existence. I mean, he, he didn't get electricity until they finally--his family forced him to get electricity. He was very comfortable living as his father and grandparents lived. But I loved it, I loved going to talk to Uncle Lloyd and I guess that's the reason 00:02:00I have such an interest in people and history and, uh, uh, and there are all kind of characters in my family like that. Uh, that, that really--even my grandparents, uh, they were married seventy-five years, uh, and my grandfather told me like he, he went up in the side of the mountain, cut the trees down, hauled them down, and, uh, built his house. Um, but when you went to his house, he didn't have TV. He had, uh, I think he had one car, he told me, bought a car and he traded a cow for the car. (Smoot laughs) And, um, the, uh--he didn't keep the car because his older son, Lee, took it out and carousing with the wild women, according to him, and he said, "The heck with this, I don't need a car," and he never had another car, after probably 1910 or so. And, so my family has, they have that kind of, uh, you know, background and, and--but I, but I loved it as part of my roots that I, I still enjoy going back to Tennessee and just getting the feel of my roots.


SMOOT: What about your education? Did you go to the public schools? Did you have tutors, uh, private academy?

KERLEY: No, you know my family's very--probably lower, uh, lower socioeconomic, uh, uh-- my parents did not, uh, graduate from college or did not graduate from high school. And I guess that's the reason I relate to a community college quite a bit, but just giving opportunities to people. Uh, they've done--my family did, did well. My dad had land and worked and was an extremely hard worker. Um, so he, he did well, uh, but did not have an education, but they, you know, they supported education. My grandparents, uh, go way back. They're--some of their family were teachers and, I, I think his, his father was a teacher, but you didn't need a lot of education to be a teacher at that time, and --

SMOOT: Right, about eighth-grade education, if you go back--

KERLEY: Yeah, probably eighth-grade, yeah --

SMOOT:--not all that far.

KERLEY:--it's, it's not that long ago, really, in the, in the, you know, the big picture of things, uh. So, um, you know, I don't know. You 00:04:00know, real unique background in some ways, like everybody's background is unique, too, but very special to me, but, uh.

SMOOT: So the--it was the public schools?

KERLEY: Oh, you were asking about public schools, but basically public schools, uh, you know, high school, elementary school. We went to a little, small, rural--I remember the little rural elementary school had all eight, eight grades and probably had three teachers at--in the highlight of the--that was a lot of teachers, and then they went to two teachers eventually. So it--I remember that as--you know, a lot of people, you know, didn't experience those kinds of things, but, but for me I remember those--very, very rural school, uh, where the big, uh, thing during the, during the break or lunchtime you'd go outside and play Cowboys and Indians and you had to be very creative. We had no playground equipment or anything, so we'd make knives and guns and play with knives, which today you don't do. But, uh, so I had that kind of 00:05:00existence. I played marbles and they had wooden floors and you'd draw a big circle and that was a big thing of marbles and very heated, uh, marble games, uh, and fights come out of it --(Smoot laughs)-- and so I remem-- remember that. That was, that was important. And, uh, went to, uh, high school; went to Crossville High School, large high school. It was, it was very much larger, more modern than, than my elementary school where I first went to school, but, uh, um--yeah, I enjoyed the time, but, uh, you know, not--I enjoyed certain subjects. Some subjects I, I really didn't get turned on with, but, I enjoyed, I always enjoyed history. I remember having economics class and enjoyed that. And I had a teacher, uh, that I vividly remember. His name was Woodrow Wilson. Uh, you remember that because it was one of our presidents --

SMOOT: Right.

KERLEY: --but, uh--and he loved history. Just a great--one of the best teachers, from my mind, and, and he took a lot of interest in students. 00:06:00He probably weighed three hundred and twenty-five pounds or so, dark red hair.

SMOOT: Sounds more like Haft-- Howard Taft. (laughs)

KERLEY: Yeah, more like Howard Taft, exactly right, but, uh, but, but very, very student-oriented and just a great teacher. And so, I had some teachers like that that I really, really enjoyed and, um--but I began--you know, college wasn't necessarily my parents' background, whatever else. But I always knew I wanted to go to college, thought about law school, and, uh, and then this is during Vietnam War. Nineteen sixty-eight is when I graduated and the big topic of my graduating class is--was Vietnam. And who's going to go to Vietnam and, you know, I had friends that went there. And one of my friends, Freddie Hassler, that went to Vietnam then shortly afterwards got killed and he was like, um--had a dog, was a scout. And so that, that was sort of that, and you know, things were a little uneasy during that time, and--but anyway, went to school, went to like a small private 00:07:00school. And really didn't enjoy it, I was in accounting and took a lot of accounting classes. It seemed like the right thing to do, but I, I didn't really enjoy it. Uh --

SMOOT: Where was this?

KERLEY: It, it's Knoxville, it was like in Knoxville, it was like a small business college.

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: Yeah, I thought, yeah, I'll go there for a few years, get out and get a, get a job, get a, get my own business. That was sort of the idea back of my mind.

SMOOT: Sure.

KERLEY: Uh, but not really what I wanted to do, I don't think, at all because I enjoyed history and enjoyed people and just, I guess, searching for what I wanted to do a little bit. And then, then the again--my draft, I, I, I dropped, I--after a year and a half or so, I dropped out and I was going to go to University of Tennessee or, uh, one of the other colleges or universities. And, uh, my draft board changed me from a school status, college status to 1-A which is, uh, very draftable. And then we had lotteries shortly after that or during that time, and my lottery's number was, like, 50 or so. So, uh, I said 00:08:00just to heck with it, you know. Went--then I went into the Navy at that period and, uh, spent a, you know, a couple of years in the Navy. And it probably--I, I grew a lot from that. And I grew away from the small town a little bit and broadened myself. Met a lot of people and, and actually met my future wife when I was in the Navy in, uh, Newport, Rhode Island. Uh, um, she and I just became good friends, and eventually after I got out of the Navy, we got married. Uh, so again, I, I just met a lot of people. It broadened me out a lot of different ways from the small, rural Crossville town. And it was good for me personally. And, uh, uh so-- sort of went from there with it, I guess. Then, then after I got out, out of the Navy, I went back to school and then, you know, took more business classes. I worked in accounting for probably two years or so. I did--

SMOOT: You actually went all the way through with that?

KERLEY: I did, I did, and--but I never did like it, I don't know why. 00:09:00It just seemed like the right thing to do, I guess.

SMOOT: Well, it's very practical.

KERLEY: Practical, I guess --

SMOOT: Yeah.

KERLEY: I was siding on, on the practical side, I guess, but, uh, but, then again, my wife and I, eventually, we got married. She went back to school at Tennessee Tech University which was, you know, around where I was from.

SMOOT: That Cookeville?

KERLEY: In Cookeville, exactly.

SMOOT: Um-hm.

KERLEY: And so I decided to go back for education, too. She really got me turned onto education. She had been a teacher, she was going for a master's degree and, uh, so I, I did that, too. I went to get my teacher's certification, and then after that we, uh, moved to Charleston, South Carolina, after I graduated. And, uh, I, I taught American history and, uh, civics, government, uh, geography, social science area and did that for a few years and, uh, then went to Florida State, uh. And, and during that time, too, I went to the Citadel to get my master's degree in more history and--actually the MAT, Master of 00:10:00Arts and Teaching with a, uh, with a major in history, but--

SMOOT: Um-hm.

KERLEY: And I enjoyed that. Citadel's a great school, great history, far as the institution. Enjoyed being on the campus and, uh, had, had some great teachers in history that I remember that--and very, very, very tough, but, uh--it was, it was a good place to be during my--that, you know, bit of my--that period of my life, I guess. And then I met a teacher there that really turned me on to community college. His name was Dr. Zucker. Uh, um, not Zucker, was it Zucker? Zimmerman, uh, yeah I think it was Zim-- doctor, Dr. Zimmer, I forgot exactly. I think it was Dr. Zimmerman. A class I took at the Citadel on the community college and I--this really turned me on to the community college. Gosh, you know, this is my background, this is something I can really believe in and, and then I think that became my life pursuit, wanting to work at a community college. And I--and he, he 00:11:00had gone to Florida State University that, at that time, had a good program far as community colleges. And, um, he said, "You might want to check it out." So, I finished the Citadel. That was my first class, I think, I took at the Citadel. It was on a community college, uh, and certainly history of community colleges. And I did some research and really got, really just got into it in a big time way and, uh, then went to Florida State. And really enjoyed Florida State and, uh, went from there, I guess, so that's sort of education that I--

SMOOT: Now, at Florida State, you studied what field?

KERLEY: Combination, a combination for me; I, I started off with, uh, higher education, so I had a blend of higher education as well as public, uh, not public but, but public school administration.

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: Educational leadership. They had a program called educational leadership. So I blended community college, higher education, 00:12:00administration, leadership, and also, if you want to become a superintendent of school then became certified as a superintendent of schools as well as, uh, you know, educational leadership, administration in general as far as higher education, I guess. So it's a blend.

SMOOT: You find that good preparation for becoming a college president?

KERLEY: Yeah, I think so, eventually. You know, I--believe it or not, early on, I said, you know, after I got into it, I said, you know, by the time I--I sort of set a goal. So, by the time I become 40 years of age, I, I want to be a community college president. And, um, my wife thought I was crazy when I first said that, but many years ago, even before I had even taught at a community college, but, but always, but always some reason liked it. Even before I took the class at a community college, I--we, we, we had a start-up of a community college in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is very close to Crossville, and, said, you know I, I like the idea, I don't know why, something about 00:13:00a community college, I just always liked. I guess because of what the community college is all about, far as helping the common person, uh--and you know my background in history. I loved history and I, I really think that's what America is based on, just, uh, opportunities and, uh, giving everybody a chance. And my idea, far as our country and America and I think higher education, I think a community college does that in a very non-elitist way and, and, and in my background, and growing up and my parents not college graduates, not even high school graduates, uh, um, community college fit, it fit what I believed in. And my, my parents, particularly my mother always said, "Never look down on anyone," you know, "Never look down on anyone, everybody is just as equal as you are. Never think you're more important than anyone else," and I guess that's, that has always stuck with me too, and I really think that's what a community college is, too. Gives people opportunity in a very non-elitist type of way.


SMOOT: Okay. What was your first, uh, posting after this education and all of this preparation?

KERLEY: Uh, worked for a, a short time, I had a--after I finished my doctorate at Florida State, uh, I, um, had a chance to work on a, uh--(Smoot clears throat)--it's a training project with Valdosta State College. And they did training throughout the Southeast, and a lot of it was leadership, management training. They did a lot with, uh--a lot of training with, uh--I guess they had a federal grant to do it, uh, uh, with a lot of communities across the South and, uh, um, just various organizations, various people. And it was amazing the people I met there then. But it was like a short-term training. I was employed by Val-- Valdosta State College as an instructor, uh, but my primary assignment was to do training throughout the South and short-term 00:15:00training to municipalities and state government. And, it's hard to explain, but it just, it was, it was fun, it, it was, it was a chance to really fine-tune my teaching, uh, uh, and that was enjoyable. Um, and I had been a high school teacher, I'm not sure if I had mentioned that before in between Florida State and Tennessee Tech University. I was going for my master's. I, I was employed as a high school teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, and that was a great experience, too. Tough. Very tough school. They, uh--the first assignment I had was to teach--I think I had one American history class and I had, uh, two or three civics classes. And I, I had the lowest rung of students; the developmental students, and they were tough, they were problems, they were disciplinary problems. And at that time, we had a real mix of military students, uh, uh, African-American students, very, very, very poor, uh, all mixed together. And they gave me a trailer that they had 00:16:00taken out of the school dump and no air-conditioning or anything. In Charleston, South Carolina, it gets hot. It's a swampland. So that, that, that was a tremendous experience there. (laughs) But I, but--and it probably motivated me to go ahead and get my PhD after that. And that's when I went to Florida State and got turned on by, uh, Dr. Zimmerman and the community college movement, I guess, and everything. But, yeah, I didn't automatically go. I had Valdosta State. That was a--more of like a year to a year and a half assignment. It was part of a grant training thing. And then I went to Union College, um, not a community college, but on the back of my mind, it was a community college where I was headed.

SMOOT: Now, you talk about Union College in Kentucky?

KERLEY: In Kentucky.

SMOOT: Barbourville.

KERLEY: Um-hm. My first--

SMOOT: Been there.

KERLEY:--introduction to, to Kentucky was, uh, Barbourville; big town --(Smoot laughs)-- of Barbourville. Maybe, maybe twenty-five hundred students--uh, twenty-five hundred people.


SMOOT: Yeah.

KERLEY: The college probably had, at the most, a thousand students or so. But, but I enjoyed it. It was--Union College is sort of like the--in some ways, a community college, because they really gave a lot of opportunities for those folks that lived in Eastern Kentucky particularly, and Tennessee and Virginia and the rural areas and mountain areas; sort of where I, like where I came from. The same types of people and backgrounds so --

SMOOT: Um-hm.

KERLEY: --and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed getting people; get to know people in Harlan, Kentucky. And I was very involved in, uh, uh, in the school system, became a PTA president. My, my son was in kindergarten, so I became the PTA president right away and that was interesting during that time. Uh, um, and I remember challenging the PTA president. I said, "Gosh,"--they didn't have air conditioning at the school--"there's got to be a way we can get air conditioning here." And, uh, he was offended because I--he thought I was putting 00:18:00him down, his school. Said no, I just want to help. As a PTA president, I don't, I don't want to just sit here and not do anything. I want to have a project that we can help the school and my son's in kindergarten. I said, "I think, yeah, I'd like to have him to have air conditioning." Uh, he got a little offended by that, so he and I had a few words on and off --(Smoot laughs)-- while I was PTA president. I think I have a tendency to, to upset people or challenge people sometimes. But, but we eventually, we, we raised money, we, we put air conditioning in, and he left. He lost his job. Uh, they even actually asked me if I would be interested in becoming superintendent. It was just odd. Uh, uh, while I was at Union College and, um--but, but back in my mind, my interest was community college. If I could ever find a job that I'd be satisfied at a community college, uh, so.

SMOOT: What was your position at Union?

KERLEY: I was Director of Teacher Education, undergraduate teacher education program, head of the undergraduate teacher education program. 00:19:00And taught a variety of classes, uh, from history of higher education, history of education to introductory to education to supervising students, uh, uh, that want to become teachers, you know, during their senior year. And, um, so I did a variety of things, as well as teaching undergraduate and graduate classes. Um, didn't make a lot of money. I remember my first contract then was, uh, fourteen thousand, two hundred dollars. Then I got an extra five hundred dollars for heading up the undergraduate teacher education program. Uh, not a lot of money. (laughs)


KERLEY: I didn't even have a secretary, to be honest with you. Didn't even have a, uh--well then, we didn't really have computers to speak of. Uh, um, didn't, didn't have a typewriter. It's like, I don't how they expected to get it done. They were on a shoestring budget there.

SMOOT: About when was this?

KERLEY: This is ninety-- eighty-- '86, I guess. No, not '86, '83, I'm 00:20:00sorry.

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: Back it up.

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: Uh, early eighties, I think, um, '82, '83, '84, '85, during that timeframe.

SMOOT: Yeah.

KERLEY: Eighty-six, I left and went to, uh, Madisonville Community College. So that was my beginning of a community college and I was dean of academics there.

SMOOT: Okay. And did you find a big difference between Union College and Madisonville Community College?

KERLEY: Yeah, a big difference. Union College, four year college, kids stay on campus. We had dorms and we had a, we had a church on campus. We had chapel and I would go to chapel with students, and so, very much different. Then I go to a community college where you didn't have those kinds of things. When I first visited Madisonville Community College, they had one building. I said, "Gosh, I don't know. This doesn't feel like college to me." (laughs) And I even told them. I said, "I don't know." I even told my wife, "I'm not sure I want to do this. It doesn't, I don't know, this doesn't feel like college." Uh, Union College was small, but it was a beautiful campus, uh, in, in 00:21:00southeast Kentucky, but, uh--so I saw the building and I said, "I don't know." Then I met the faculty. To be honest with you, the faculty just turned me on to the college. We, we connected. Uh, I think I've always tried to connect with faculty, because I, I--and, um, this is a dean of academic affairs position. The president at that time, uh, was Dan Stumpf. He'd been there for fourteen, fifteen years, uh --

SMOOT: How do you spell that?

KERLEY: S-t-u-m-p-f.

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: Uh, he had, had come from Pennsylvania. He'd been there for quite a few years.

SMOOT: German name.

KERLEY: Yeah, a German name. Um, but I particularly--I can't say I came there because of him. I came there because of the faculty and I, I really liked the fact--I thought that they had some great faculty. Some of those faculty members are still there that I keep in touch with. Uh, um, just, just I thought outstanding faculty; really understood the importance of teaching at a community college. And, 00:22:00and I, I taught some, as well as being the academic dean while I was at Madisonville Community College. And yeah, I have to say it was just one of my, one of my best experiences; really introduced me to the community college, um, and it was trial by fire a little bit. I, I had not been a dean of academics, particularly at a community college, so. And then, I was young. I was still in my thirties and did not have a lot --(laughs)-- of experience. So I, I was figuring out how I, I, I--as I went. But the faculty were great. The division chairs, the faculty members; I, I just really became very close with the faculty members there, and, uh, I give a lot of credit to them. And my--they probably don't know this but they, uh, they helped me, they helped me to fine tune my administrative skills, and just a lot of things, and to really understand the community college. The veteran faculty members that knew a lot more about community colleges than I did, but somehow we connected. And, um, we did a lot of special projects, like 00:23:00working on retention and doing some special teaching type things. And even then, you know, we were doing some real creative things, I think. I went to a lot of conferences, uh; very, very involved with, uh, at that time University of Kentucky Community College System. And, right away, I think I, I just naturally wanted to know more about community college, said, "Involve me, get me involved." And I'm, I'm sort of that type, I guess. I, I'm not a bystander. I don't want to just stand back and watch things happen. I don't like to get too comfortable, you know, in a position. Uh, it was like a stretch. I was in a stretch zone, um, because I'd just gotten out of graduate school, had one and a half-- and I'd been a high school teacher, I'd been in the Navy, uh, but didn't have a lot of higher educational experience. And I'm thrown right into this dean of academic affairs position, and, and the president and I had a little bit different philosophy. He--I come to 00:24:00work at seven o'clock and he would come to work at eleven o'clock and sometimes didn't even show up the whole day. So it was a little bit different. Good guy, I think he really loved community colleges, too, but our philosophies were different. And sometimes we had to make decisions, and so I made decisions. Even some of those decisions he probably should have been making, but, uh, the faculty were behind me. And, uh, I'm not sure I would want an academic dean doing that to me necessarily, but some things I had to go ahead and move, then I had to move the college forward. But I did that with, uh, you know, with the faculty. And, you know, I told the president about the things we were doing, but, uh--and again, he did a lot of good things, a lot of positive things, but a different philosophy. And at that particular time, he'd been there for quite a few years and we needed to move some things forward. And, uh, so I was a very active academic dean and young and willing to, willing to take it on, and maybe not knowing the, the rules and ropes of administration, I just did it. And could have been in jeopardy some, I guess, but, um, but fortunately I, I think, 00:25:00uh, we did some good things. It was a great experience there. I think my name got to be known quite a bit at the system level, because I got very, very involved with people like Ben Carr at that time who worked in the system office and Marie Piekarski, uh, who worked in the system office and Bob Burnett, who was--I think he worked with, um, uh, buildings and you know, renovation and things like that. Uh, Charles Wethington, who, uh, who eventually--at that time he was the, uh, he was the chancellor of the, I guess, the chancellor of the UK Community College System. You know, I liked the idea of being connected, uh, with the university, too. That, that did appeal to me. Honestly, I liked the community college and the connection with the university. And then I thought that was pretty unique and I, I, I liked it. When I first saw the advertisement, uh--I, I'm backing up one step if you don't mind.

SMOOT: Quite all right.

KERLEY: Uh, when I first saw the advertisement for the, uh, dean and 00:26:00academic position at Madisonville Community College, uh, I was at Union College. This is like beginning of the summer, and, uh, I told my wife, said, "You know I like," I said, "I like their description of Madisonville Community College. You know I, I wouldn't mind staying in Kentucky and I'm just going to put my name in for the heck of it. You know, I probably don't have the years experience and I, I really don't have the years experience at a community college other than I have a, I have an interest and had done some research and had a love for community college."

[Pause in recording.]

SMOOT: Okay we were still talking about the, uh, transition from Union College to Madisonville Community College.

KERLEY: Right. I was sort of backing up, I guess, a little bit, Rick, into, uh--I had applied for the position, just sort of. I, I, I was, I remember, remember I was packed up pretty well, ready to go to, uh, to Boston. I had this, you know, opportunity to go to Harvard and, uh, saying that's going to--that'll be a neat experience and particularly 00:27:00looking at critical creative thinking. Just a--the summer workshop dealt with critical creative thinking. I just--I don't know it just sounded interesting to me, and, uh--

SMOOT: So this was just, uh, this was a workshop experience at Harvard?

KERLEY: Um-hm.


KERLEY: In the summertime. But, but as I was getting ready for that, I remember distinctly, uh, um, looking at the Chronicle and I, I saw the ad for Madisonville Community College. I think it was a re-advertisement. They, they weren't able to fill the position. And I said, "Yeah, that sounds interesting to me." Had some qualification. I think they wanted someone who, uh--they needed someone who could work with the, uh, school system more and develop more partnerships with the school system which is important for community colleges. Uh, so I guess they'd maybe--that, that sort of appealed to me a little bit.

SMOOT: Well, with your background.

KERLEY: My background-- teacher education.

SMOOT: Sure.

KERLEY: Had been a teacher and those kinds of things, a high school teacher. So I applied for it and, um, actually, uh, when I, when I 00:28:00got to, to Massachusetts, I, I actually called the president. I, I'm sort of, sort of aggressive; something I want, I sort of go after it. And I said, "You know, I applied for this job at Madisonville at your college, and, um, you know, I, I'd like, I'd like to, I'd like to talk to you about it." Uh, again, maybe not understanding that ropes, as far as search and all that, that there's a process but I, I was sort of shortcutting that, I guess. Then it sort of took him aback a little bit, and I said, "I'm here at Harvard." I think that impressed him I was at Harvard. "So I'm, I'm here at Harvard for the part of the summer and really enjoying what I'm doing," but I said, "I've always enjoyed liked the idea of going, uh, working at a community college. Uh, I would hope I could have the opportunity to talk with you about the position." I think that he was impressed that, that I called him up and, uh, and so he, um, he actually called me back up, I guess, for an interview, uh, later on. Uh, it just sort of went from there. I got the job, and, uh, um, this was like in November. I think I went 00:29:00there in November of, uh, when was it-- '85, '86, I guess. Somewhere in there, and, uh, got the job and, uh, started working. Again, I had so much to learn. I, I just had not done that type of job before. I was comfortable in teacher education. I was learning a lot about that, and, all of a sudden, I go into, uh, dean of academics where you have to schedule classes, and I'd never really done that before like that, and work with all the situations that they had to deal with. But, but I, I just jumped into it and learned. It was a steep learning curve and I asked a lot of questions, worked with a lot of people at system level. I remember people like Ben Carr, they--he was great. You know, he was willing to help during that time. Uh, and again Marie Piekarski and Keith Stephens, who is, I think, head of the grants program and 00:30:00I remember calling those guys a lot. And they, they would give me a, a lot of advice and help and, uh, um, Wethington, I didn't, at that--being an academic dean, I didn't talk to Wethington that much, uh, you know, other than meetings and then he'd come to Madisonville some. But, but I was impressed, uh, that it was part of the University of Kentucky. That, that, you know, I said, "That's great." And I liked that idea. And the folks at Madisonville Community College were very proud in that community that they were very proud to be part of the University of Kentucky. And I liked that; I just, I liked it, I said, "You know, I could be part of a university, but still be with something that I really believe in-- a, a community college and that mission, that philosophy." Um, so, it worked very well for me. My memories of Madisonville are very positive; uh, hard, a lot of hard work, uh, some frustration, some frustration with the president as I had mentioned before, some, a little different philosophy, uh, not 00:31:00necessarily right or wrong. And I was young and probably, uh, stepped out a little too far at times in my position. I, I admit that. Um --(Smoot laughs)-- uh, and he and I had some discussions back and forth and had some disagreements. We had some strong disagreements a time or two, particularly as it dealt with students. I remember one--you know I have, I have to share this one. I did have, uh, uh--I went to his office and there was, uh--it, it dealt with a student that was, uh--had a handicap. And there were--I forgot exactly the situation, but I was asking him, uh, you know, that we needed some help with this student. I think it was help maybe to get some equipment or something to help this student with, and he just seemed very adverse to it. You know, we can't do that, don't have the money. And I just couldn't understand that, and he needed to sign the piece of paper and I said, "You know, you really need to sign this. This is helping students." And it, it turned out to be a pretty big argument at that particular time, 00:32:00or at least I thought it was. And I even thought about leaving and, and--but I'm glad I didn't. I, I, I stuck it out, and, you know, I guess talking to my wife, who's a good friend, too, and who could sort of coach me, too. I, I, I--at that point, I think I had a, a tendency to sort of react a little too fast. And I--and again, I have learned over the years to, you know, work through situations, stay calm with it and, uh, be careful of the battles that you pick. And, but, you know, I was picking with the president of the college and I was still fairly young in my administrative, uh, uh, career, I guess. So, I was putting on the line a little bit and, and I took him on a couple of times. Uh, he fortunately, hopefully saw that I was doing a good job overall and I had a lot of support from faculty at that time and staff and students. I was, I was very involved in this school and, uh, very engaged in this school a lot, uh, um --

SMOOT: How long were you there?


KERLEY: O-- only three years.


KERLEY: You know, I'm, I'm, I'm sort of--I go quick, uh, at that, at that point. Uh, Just opportunities, you know, for me--and I had in back of my mind, you know, I think I could be a, a college president and I was still in my thirties. And, and, and I had set a goal a long time ago. It, it was a wild goal, probably, when I did it, but, you know, before I turn forty, I, I'd like to be a college president. Uh, so, a, a, a college presidency was advertised at Hopkinsville Community College and I had some of the faculty at Madisonville that encouraged me to go for it. They said, "We don't want to see you go, but I think you're ready for it. Go for it." Um, and again, I'd, I only had maybe three years experience, administrative experience; less actually, a bit less when I applied for it, and, applied for it and, uh, I remember going for the interview. It was--again I, I didn't, I had not been in administration long, had not been a college president, so it, it was a 00:34:00steep learning curve, I guess, just preparing for it. But I remember preparing a lot for it. I would always prepare a lot for an interview. So I did a lot of research on Hopkinsville Community College and their history and background and, um, talked to people. I called up people at--I had faculty members at Madisonville that called down there and told the faculty about me. And then they gave me names to talk to, so I did a lot of those kinds of things getting ready for the interview. Went to, uh, went to Hopkinsville, uh, that was--you know, Hopkinsville, if, if, if you haven't been to Hopkinsville, Hopkinsville is very much a southern town in western Kentucky. It--Madisonville- -and it, it's really, it's really something to see all the community colleges across the country and in Kentucky, how different they are, and how they serve those communities differently, and how, how different those communities, they're just different. Uh, Madisonville 00:35:00was night and day, far as differences. Uh, Madisonville had coal mines, um, folks were blue collar workers, I guess, primarily factory workers, coal mining. And then you go to Hopkinsville and it was --[telephone rings]-- more of a southern town of, uh--they, um, they have large farms there; very large farms, beautiful farms and no coal mining. And they had that influence: uh, higher minority population, higher African American population, um, because, I guess, of the history of the larger farms and everything else. It was just, just the fact. And, uh, um, and they have a lot more minorities, uh, African Americans particularly at that, uh, community college in Hopkinsville. So--but again, difference, it's just a difference as far as community colleges. Not good or bad. I, I loved the experience of both of those colleges, very different, different history, different backgrounds, 00:36:00different communities. And, uh, went for the interview. You know, I didn't know if I would get it. I'd still had, not had that much experience and then I'm just going to pitch in, try it, try to go for the, uh, position. And, uh, they narrowed it down to twelve or fifteen. I was real excited about being in the final twelve or fifteen finalists. And, uh, and we had--I remember we had to write an essay: what we thought about community college and some goals, some ideas. I remember doing that, and there were several questions actually, some essay-type questions, which I thought was pretty good going for an interview. I liked that idea; really putting your thoughts down, because in an interview, if you ask me a question, I could give you something very quickly in an interview setting. Uh, and somebody who has especially done research like I, I normally do, but to put it down in writing and really develop your thoughts, I, I thought that was good. So I was impressed, uh, there with that and, um, I remember talking to the chairperson, who was Hugh Duguid. Uh, uh, he was a 00:37:00math professor and he was chair of the search, I think, of the--for the presidency. So, uh, and then I talked to him on and off and liked him and got to know some of the people. Went in for--and finally, I guess, backing up one second, the, the twelve and I guess then they select the six or so that come in for the interview at Hopkinsville, uh, Community College presidency. I, I remember I was going to a, a retreat type thing, actually a church retreat, and I was going to be over a weekend, just a real special retreat of, of guys going and just sort of searching your thoughts and faith. And it was sort of a special retreat for me, uh, for my own thinking and really developing my own thoughts and everything out, I guess, as far as in the faith area anyway. But I remember my wife wrote me a letter and she sent it to 00:38:00the retreat; actually, I got it on the retreat. It said, "By the way, I didn't even know it at the time, you've been, you're, they've asked you to come down and interview. You're one of the six." And that, that was just real special, hearing it from her in a letter and I'm on a weekend retreat, a three or four day retreat. So, I get out of the retreat, and I go for the interview and we go for it and eventually get the job, and, uh, ended up staying in Hopkinsville for nine years as a president. And I, and I did get the job--I was thirty-eight, I think, when I got the job, so I fulfilled my dream, I guess, being a college president before I became forty. So it's been, it was a fast track for me, you know, as far as learning, and, uh--again, backing up, Navy, I'd worked in business, got married, uh, went back for my teacher education background and, uh, was a high school teacher and taught some with Valdosta State, I taught some at Florida State when I was working on my doctorate, then went to Union College, which was a great, great, uh, experience as, uh, department head undergraduate 00:39:00teacher education. Also was a teacher, did a lot of teaching there and then the Madisonville, uh, still stayed in the classroom, uh, taught. Did a lot of--I, I did work, uh, work force training, uh, uh, um, and then even went up for the tenure in the Community College System. I went through the same path as teachers. I wanted to do that. You know, let me go. And I did some of the same. I really--I remember burning the hours. I, I spend a lot of hours now as a community college president, but I remember then being an administrator, learning the job. Then I also taught. Then I also did a lot training, part of continuing education which I thought was important, far as tenure and doing all of that. Community service, very involved in PTAs and things and really pushing and, and, and went up the tenure and did, you know, did fine with that piece of it, and then, then to Hopkinsville and that nine years. It was a great, great learning experience and the key thing that I worked on there a lot was trying to bring the college 00:40:00together. They had a president that had been there, had been a very effective--building the foundation and, um--of Hopkinsville Community College, Tom Riley. Um, he started the college, basically. A lot of these guys were founding presidents, and then the next generation was my generation coming after them, sort of like the second president. At that time, we had to move things forward then. They dealt, dealt with the foundation, but then we had to push it forward. I felt like one thing was--and I still feel very strongly of that, at a community college--diversity, and making sure everybody has an opportunity, far as education, particularly minorities and African Americans, uh, heavy population of African Americans. So I went, I'd go into churches, and- -as I do here sometimes, and speak in the African American churches, uh, very involved in the African American community. Uh, um, and we really had tremendous growth, uh, with our African American student population 00:41:00at that time, probably the fastest anywhere, uh, in Kentucky anyway, as far as colleges. And I was very proud of that, to be part of that, um, as well as pushing out. And, uh, we had a typical, uh, um, schedule and that's still something I, I push a lot. We had a typical schedule that was more nine to one o'clock, and not much else. Um, so I pushed more of a diversified schedule, that, you know, we really are serving non-traditional students and people that work full time, forty hours. We can't just offer hours as if we're at a university. So, I really pushed that out a lot, and developed off-campus classes and programs and, uh, did a lot of work at Fort Campbell, which, uh--again, each community college is different. What was unique about Hopkinsville, real, uh, heavy minority African American population and also heavy influence, far as military and Fort Campbell. So I really pushed 00:42:00out and did a lot of work at Fort Campbell and really loved working with Fort Campbell folks and the military. I, I--surprisingly. I'd been in the Navy; this is the Army, you know, gung-ho Army, and our philosophy's a little bit different in the Navy. You know, in the Navy, we, uh, we would be on ship for a few months, and you grow your beard, and we were laid-back. Army guys are a little bit different. (both laugh) Uh, it's a little different. But, but I really enjoyed, uh, getting to know them. I got involved. They have a national board that's called the American Association of United States Army. It's a civi-- civilian support for the Army. So, I got very involved on that board. Um, did--had--went on trips with them, I really developed our classes at Fort Campbell and those, those classes, for the military again, I think that's what's unique about a community college. We have to meet the needs of those communities and those areas we serve. And the military, their schedule, they needed classes like four-week classes instead of the typical sixteen-week classes and some people 00:43:00didn't particularly like that in Hopkinsville, some of our faculty. So that was an adjustment but, but we had to meet the needs there, and so we worked those things out. Uh, they--we taught in buildings that were old World War II buildings that were built to last maybe four or five years, temporary buildings. We were still teaching in those buildings. They were a hazard. It's just a--actually one of our buildings caught fire and we, we lost the building. It was a, it was a, it was a fire trap. Um, so I worked with, uh, some of the folks, um, the general and other people to lobby Washington, D.C. And I remember going to Washington, D.C. quite often, to lobby for a new educational facility that Hopkinsville Community College would occupy along with the military. And, also at that time, Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, working in cooperation; sort of a two plus two--Hopkinsville Community College offering the first two years, maybe Austin Peay offering the next two years. And, you know, 00:44:00I think I learned a lot from that, too, of working in close cooperation with community college and a university that--I see that as very, very important. Uh, um, so that, that was a, that was a real learning tool for me, too, in that it still sticks with me that we need to, as a community college, have that close connection with a, um, with a university and have really easy access for our, for our students to go from a community college to a university. So, so that was important, also meeting the flexible needs of the military. And we lobbied that, finish my story, on the building. We lobbied for the building, uh, and, uh, eventually after several years we did get the building. And I was so proud of that, to be part of that, and, you know, pushing. I pushed it; I really, really pushed to get the facility. And, and then, then you go back now and see the building. And I haven't been back 00:45:00there that much, but the last time I was there to see this facility, a gorgeous facility, beautiful facility and the opportunities where you see the community college working with the university and the military doing their training and everything all in one facility, just tremendous. And that's the beauty of a community college: that you can be part of that. You can be a catalyst to make things happen, to give opportunities to people and it absolutely turns me on and I would not, I would not want to be anywhere else, really. I've had opportunities to go to other places, uh--actually I was a finalist at one point, I said you know I--I was encouraged to apply for Murray State University president at one point and, and I think this was in 1995, approximately '94, '95. Um, there was a person that was on the, uh, board of regents that lived in Hopkinsville and she was an African American, uh, lady that I really liked a lot, and said, "Jim, apply for it," and said, "I'll really support you." And I became, uh--went through it then, 00:46:00you know, sort of like well, you know, let's put it in for the heck of it and then, eventually, it narrowed down to three people. And I was one of the three finalists. And then two people; I was one of two finalists. And then I talked to the board and, and you know I just really felt like, bottom line, this is not a good fit. (laughs) And, and some of the things they talked to me about, I'd, I think, I think I'd be selling my soul a little bit to go to Murray State University for my mind, in what I believed in. I believed in the community college mission and it just didn't seem right, it didn't, it didn't seem to connect that well. That's the only way I see it.

SMOOT: Murray State--

KERLEY: Murray State.

SMOOT:--was not really a particularly good fit. Did they not have open admissions at that time?

KERLEY: They, they had pretty well open admissions, right, but, uh, but I guess the, the one--

[Pause in recording.]

SMOOT: Okay.

KERLEY: We, um--and, uh, and at that time, the community colleges and, 00:47:00and the regional universities in Kentucky were very competitive.

[End of interview.]