Valdosta Daily Times

July 18, 2012

Valdosta State’s newest president gets personal

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Dr. William McKinney is nothing short of qualified to fill the position as Valdosta State University’s newest president. He’s vastly educated, has an extensive professional background, but most importantly, loves The Who.

“I’m a big Keith Moon fan,” said McKinney. “He was always one of my favorite drummers.”

Sure, McKinney has a bachelor of arts in history and a bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa. He even has advanced degrees from Indiana University in Bloomington which include a master’s degree in history and the philosophy of science and a doctorate in the philosophy of science. This sort of background is typical of a university president, but something that isn’t typical is McKinney’s musical skills.

“I’m a drummer,” said McKinney. “Anything from classic rock to ’80s alternative.”

While McKinney spent the heyday of his college career consuming the 1980s musical climate, he is also a real fan of jazz and the blues.

“However, my comfort zone is alternative rock,” said McKinney.

McKinney even has appreciation for more recent drumming talents such as former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl. But for McKinney, nothing quite takes the cake like the skills of the longtime drummer for the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

“Joe Morello is such an innovative and skillful drummer,” said McKinney.

While his musical hobby may drive his wife of 13 years, Dacia Charlesworth, a little crazy from time to time, no one hates it more than their four adopted, unconventional children.

“We have four adopted cats,” said McKinney.

While Jester, BN, CC and Maisy are not too fond of McKinney’s drumming, they have more of an appreciation for his other hobby.

“We love to cook together,” McKinney said, referring to himself and his wife. “It’s been a hobby and a passion of mine for years.”

So how did a rock-loving, cooking drummer, born and raised in Western Pennsylvania find his way to Valdosta? Well, it all started with his time at Bucknell.

“The whole reason I went to Bucknell in the first place was because I could get both degrees,” said McKinney.

Bucknell offered a five-year program that allowed for the completion of simultaneous degrees. With aspirations of being a lawyer, McKinney wanted to have both a scientific and historic background. However, McKinney’s aspirations shifted quite late in his college career.

“I really discovered that I wanted to be an academic, a professor,” said McKinney.

McKinney’s first job out of college was at the University of Kentucky where he stayed for one year. He then went to Southeast Missouri State where, in an eight-year period, he went from assistant professor to full-time professor to department chair of philosophy and religion.

“I really wanted to understand how scientists work and how scientists justify their beliefs in particular theories,” said McKinney.

While McKinney explored the age-old question of “how do we know what we know” at Southeast Missouri, he found himself getting very actively involved in the general education program.

“One of the deans told me one day, ‘Young man, you are doomed to be an administrator,’” said McKinney.

The first step was becoming a department head in 1997.

“It just kept growing from then on,” said McKinney.

One day, last fall, a colleague and good friend of McKinney’s sent him an email regarding the president position opening at VSU.

McKinney was immediately attracted to the position. One of his former colleagues once worked as a faculty member at VSU, so McKinney had heard many great things about Valdosta State.

“VSU already had so many considerable strengths,” said McKinney. “It’s known nationwide for teacher excellence.”

While McKinney maintains that the main thing that attracted him to VSU was how well the university works together with the community, it is possible that having an on-campus Starbucks had a little to do with the appeal, too. McKinney is an esteemed gold-card member.

“That was just a bonus,” said McKinney, laughing.

At heart, McKinney is from good, strong and, albeit, Northern roots. He loves the Steelers, the Pirates and the values that he feels are somewhat consistent in any small town.

“The biggest differences are the accents and the food,” said McKinney.

While you won’t catch McKinney talking in a charming Southern twang, you will see him eating grits, drinking sweet tea and, of course, submersing himself in Blazer athletics.

“I will be a presence on campus,” said McKinney. “You have to try to be many places at once as president and that’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

So far, McKinney has enjoyed his time in the Deep South.

“The community embraces this school,” said McKinney. “VSU is their school and that is a gift for a president.”

McKinney is extremely passionate about education and what a university can do, not only for its students but for the region it serves. So if you swing by the president’s office in West Hall, you may see McKinney diligently working toward his goal of making VSU a model for public, higher education ... and possibly watching his favorite movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” on his iPad.

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