Road to President's Office Began at Oxford

As president of East Tennessee State University, Paul Stanton Jr. built programs that benefited thousands of students.

Sometimes your life can be influenced by a single remark. For Paul E. Stanton Jr. 63OX 65C, who recently stepped down after fifteen years as president of East Tennessee State University (ETSU), something a high school friend in East Point, Georgia, said led him to a college decision. She told him she was going to go to Oxford College. “I didn’t know about Oxford before then,” says Stanton, “but when she said that, I looked into it, too.”  One thing he did know was that he had always wanted to be a doctor. Focusing on that goal, he was heavily involved in science classes, but Oxford opened up a broader world as well, the world of a liberal arts education. “I enjoyed more than the sciences. I loved history. I loved Latin—in fact, I received a Latin scholarship.”

After earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Emory, Stanton graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and went on to a surgical residency at Georgia Baptist Medical Center (GBMC) in Atlanta and a fellowship in vascular surgery at Northwestern University in Chicago. Later he practiced vascular surgery at GBMC, where he became chief of surgery in 1982.

Stanton says that it was gradual changes along the way that led him to higher education. At GBMC he oversaw its surgical residency education program and MCG-associated fellowship in vascular surgery. GBMC was also affiliated with the Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, which he served as adjunct professor of pharmacy.

With this increasing involvement in education, Stanton realized how much he enjoyed teaching. He decided to turn his career toward medical education. In 1985 ETSU Quillen College of Medicine selected him as an associate professor of surgery, and once again he took on ever-increasing responsibilities. Only a few years later, Stanton was named dean of the college of medicine. In 1996 he was selected as ETSU’s eighth president.

In the years since then, he has overseen unprecedented growth for the university—enrollment has increased 25 percent in the past fifteen years to its current approximately fifteen thousand. ETSU added several doctoral programs during his tenure and set new highs in funding for research and sponsored programs. One of Stanton’s crowning achievements is the establishment of a College of Pharmacy, which produced its first graduates in 2010.

Even as he welcomed ETSU’s new president this past January, he was not retiring—he just assumed a new schedule. He now works one day per week with the new president and one teaching at the College of Medicine.

Asked to remark on his career, Stanton says, “My dad built houses. I can’t build anything [like that]. But I can build programs.” Wherever he has served, he has left behind a legacy of that ability—and thousands of students have benefited.

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