Two years ago, Tennessee Wesleyan was forced to deal with a difficult task that many colleges face at some time or another. Our President, Dr. Condon, stepped down as leader of our wonderful school, and we became tasked with the effort of finding another fearless leader of our school. After a long process of gather potential candidates and the strenuous interview process, Tennessee Wesleyan College announced its final decision to name Dr. Harley Knowles as its 21st President. Dr. Knowles blew us all away with his New England accent and his striking resemblance to Richard Dryfuss, but it was his passion for the campus and his plans for the future of the school that assured every student, faculty member, and staff member that he was the only suitable addition to our family.
Dr. Knowles is a native of New England, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education at the University of Maine at Orono. He then moved on to receive a doctorate in Education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Knowles spent sixteen years in a number of capacities at Shenandoah University in Virginia before relocated back to his native land and serving as Vice-President for Institutional Advancement at the University of New England in Maine. Despite the happiness Knowles experienced in these positions, the thought that there could always be “something more” came nagging. That “something more” happened to come in the form of an ad for Tennessee Wesleyan College seeking a new President.
After the initial application and interviews, Knowles traveled to Tennessee Wesleyan to visit the campus and partake in another series of interviews. It was on the visit that Knowles knew his current position was fate. “It was a good fit,” Knowles states. “East Tennessee was very different [from anywhere else I had been]. Tennessee Wesleyan had values that I shared, and when I came to campus, one of the things that I discovered right away was how warm and hospitable the folks are in East Tennessee.”
Despite the positive aspects that Tennessee Wesleyan has to offer, no school is without its flaws. For Tennessee Wesleyan, this flaw came in the form of a financial crisis within the school as well as within the economy. While most people would run in the opposite direction at the words “financial problems,” Dr. Knowles embraced this challenge. “To be honest, most colleges have financial problems. I wasn’t too concerned about that, but I did think that I could be very helpful because part of my career focused on external affairs and fundraising so I knew I could bring a set of skills that would benefit the college. I was called to be here.” In a time of economic turmoil, Dr. Knowles proved to be a figure confident with his skills to help the college become even more successful in the future.
As a previous Dean of Students and Vice-President of student affairs, it is obvious that Dr. Knowles is comfortable around students. “For me to feel comfortable here, I had to start with the students. I had to know what the students valued about the campus and what they viewed as failures of the campus in order to do my job correctly. A major part of my job deals with the community and fundraising, but I never forget that it all starts with the students.”
In addition to his participation with students, Dr. Knowles has experienced the same close relationship with the faculty as well. Dr. Knowles credits the faculty with taking a stand when issues like tuition raises are enforced and ultimately caused a sense of respect with the faculty. When the school was faced with a tuition raise mid-year, the faculty confronted the issue with passion and ferocity. Dr. Knowles states that the faculty were very concerned about how this issue would affect students. “Most professors don’t care about who they teach. They have the mentality of ‘Whoever is in my class, I’ll teach.’ That’s not how it is at TWC. The faculty genuinely cares about each and every student, and that passion was something that helped me develop a better relationship with the faculty and something that I admired.”
After speaking with Dr. Knowles, it is apparent that his vision for the future of Tennessee Wesleyan’s campus is not a limited one. In the future, Dr. Knowles sees Tennessee Wesleyan as a campus complete with Masters Programs, better living facilities, and an improved Student Center along with a new workout facility for all students. With Dr. Knowles passion and wisdom these options are not only possibilities, but a strong likelihood. It is not hard to see that Tennessee Wesleyan is a campus that will continue to expand to better things even after the current generation is gone.