Ball State fills yearlong vacancy in president’s office

Ball State University's trustees hired a new president Tuesday, a year after the school's previous leader resigned without explanation.

Geoffrey S. Mearns, president of Northern Kentucky University since 2012, was named Ball State’s 17th president. Mearns says he'll start at Ball State no later than August and that a transition date will be worked out with Northern Kentucky.

Former President Paul Ferguson resigned in January 2016 after 17 months leading the 21,000-student school. The trustees faced criticism for a lack of transparency following his departure.

The Star-Press of Muncie reported in December that it had obtained an email Ferguson wrote about 10 months before his resignation in which he described wide-ranging conflicts with trustees chairman Rick Hall. Those included differences over hiring decisions and strategies dealing with enrollment and revenue losses.

"Geoff Mearns is exactly the leader Ball State needs to move us boldly into the next 100 years," Hall said Tuesday in a written statement. "His prior experience and knowledge of higher education will enable him to partner with our faculty, staff, and administration to provide Ball State students with a life-changing education."

Northern Kentucky is public university with about 15,000 students in Highland Heights, about seven miles southeast of downtown Cincinnati.

According to Ball State officials, Mearns led an advocacy campaign to garner additional state support for the university in an effort to address a historic funding disparity. The multiyear effort reaped an additional $5.1 million in funding for the university.

Mearns also landed the largest single capital investment in Northern Kentucky’s history—a $97 million appropriation from the state for the institution’s health innovation center.

"He will be a champion of the university, building with our alumni and friends, and the greater community, the relationships that are so critical to Ball State's continued success," Hall said.

His base salary will be $450,000 a year, the same as Ferguson, Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd said.

Mearns spent 17 years as a practicing attorney after getting his law degree from the University of Virginia, including a stint as federal prosecutor in the United States Department of Justice.

He also served as dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and provost at Cleveland State University. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University in 1981

Provost Terry King has been Ball State's acting president since the departure of Ferguson.

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