By Lawrence J. Smith

CHARLESTON - If accolades are a precursor of things to come, then West Virginia's chancellor-apparent will have a long tenure in the state, or be actively recruited for bigger endeavors.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is expected to complete its search for a new chancellor today during its regularly scheduled meeting in South Charleston. The commission's search committee is expected to recommend Brian Noland of Nashville, Tenn. for the post.

Currently, Noland is associate executive director for policy at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the state agency that oversees all of the state's public higher education institutions, including the University of Tennessee system. THEC Executive Director Richard Rhoda says West Virginia can expect good things from his soon-to-be former right-hand man.

"He will excel," Rhoda said. "He is a rising star in the national level of higher education. Your state will benefit from having him as your next chancellor."

Previous ties to WV

Should Noland accept WVHEPC's offer to be the next chancellor, it will end a search that started last Fall. In August, Chancellor J. Michael Mullen announced his resignation effective in September.

Vice-Chancellor Bruce Flack has acted as interim chancellor until a replacement for Mullen is found.

On March 20, Noland, along with former Appalachian State University Chancellor Francis T. Borkowski, were selected as finalists from an undisclosed pool of candidates.

Noland visited the state shortly thereafter where he was interviewed by the search committee, and met with other state and higher education officials.

Accepting the chancellorship will be a sort-of homecoming for Noland. He attended West Virginia University where he obtained a bachelors of science and masters degree.

Upon completion of his studies at WVU, Noland enrolled at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to pursue a doctorate. In 1998, when Noland was nearing completion of his doctorate, he first came on board at THEC.

In addition to moving up the ranks to the number two position at the commission, Noland was also successful in obtaining a teaching position at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

A good listener

Aside from the typical goal of every chancellor to bolster attendance and retention, Noland said he has several goals he'd like to achieve during his tenure. However, Noland said those goals won't be revealed or implemented until he first listens to students, educators and policymakers as to what are the state's most pressing educational needs.

"I'm going to spend a fair amount of time of listening, learning and finding out about the issues," Noland said.

Listening is one of Noland's strong suits, Rhoda said. Though he has a Ph. D. and enjoys teaching, Noland isn't afraid to step back into a student role, Rhoda said.

"Dr. Noland is incredibly intelligent," Rhoda said. "He's constantly learning and applying what he's learned."

House Education Chairman Thomas Campbell (D-Greenbrier) concurs with Rhoda's assessment. In the 30 minutes he spent with Noland during his visit last month, Campbell said he was pleased with his attitude and understanding of people in the state.

"I was certainly impressed with him," Campbell said.

Open to protecting free-speech

A hallmark he hopes to make of his administration is openness, Noland said. That includes all public institutions being open to debate and exchange of ideas, and resist the urge to place limits on free-speech.

"I sincerely believe in the rights of all students to express their opinions," Noland said.

The issue of censorship on the state's college campuses has arisen in recent years. Most notably are the attempt by administrators at WVU in 2001 to limit protesting to designated areas of campus, and former Glenville State College President Thomas H. Powell ordering a "review" of The Mercury, the student newspaper, in 2000 after several satirical articles outraged administrators.

Though censorship efforts were successful at Glenville (a task force appointed by Powell recommended the Mercury be brought under the direction of the administration and not the faculty), they were thwarted at WVU when faculty and students, with the assistance of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia, Penn.-based civil liberties watchdog group, challenged the constitutionality of the "free-speech zones."

In any event, Noland, 38, is looking forward to bringing his wife, Donna, and young son, Jackson, to the Mountain State. With a young family in tow, Noland said, he has an incentive to bolster the state's higher education system.

"I want to get engaged in a state that's on the edge of accomplishing great things," Noland said.

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