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Bringing People Together

David Cordle, university Provost

When Dr. David Cordle leaves his office in Plumb Hall for the last time in June, he will conclude a career in higher education that spans four decades. If you count his years as a student, he has spent five decades on college and university campuses.

During that time, Cordle, ESU provost and vice president for academic affairs, has seen the evolution of higher education in the United States.

“Just to illustrate how much has changed, the technology I used in my first faculty office was an IBM Selectric typewriter, and in the classroom, it was an overhead projector!” said Cordle, who noted the many positive changes brought by technology, including reaching out to and enrolling students who might not have had opportunities in postsecondary education.

“Another big change is the attitude of higher education about who we serve, and for what purpose,” he explained. “When I started, most colleges and universities didn’t worry too much about diversity and inclusion, or who had access to higher education. If I’m honest about it, we didn’t even accept much responsibility for our students’ success.

“Today, we hold ourselves much more accountable, and that’s a good thing.”

When Cordle entered Shorter College in the 1970s, he didn’t envision a career in higher ed administration. He did know, however, that he wanted a career on campus.

“My dream was to be a music professor, he said. “To me, being a musician and working on a university campus seemed like a perfect combination. And fortunately, I got to be a music faculty member for a while before the administrative opportunities came along.”

Cordle earned three degrees in piano performance — a bachelor’s from Shorter College (1976) and master’s (1977) and doctor of music (1984) from Florida State University. He taught in music departments at William Woods College and Virginia Commonwealth University before his first administrative appointment, chair of the VCU Department of Music from 1989 to 1998.

He served as dean of College of Arts and Sciences at Longwood University from 1998 to 2005 then the same position at University of North Carolina, Wilmington until 2013, when he came to ESU as provost and vice president.

As he advanced in the ranks of higher ed administration, Cordle discovered that his academic background was immensely helpful.

“There’s a stereotype that most musicians and other ‘creative types’ aren’t particularly well suited for administrative work. That doesn’t hold up, in my experience,” he said. “Musicians and artists need more than talent to succeed. They need discipline, problem-solving skills and the ability to work with others. That’s pretty much what the provost’s job demands, and my musical training was a big help in developing those skills.”

When asked about goals and accomplishments, Cordle is quick to say that administration does not happen in a vacuum.

“Administrators don’t really accomplish much on their own,” he said. “Mostly we try to create the conditions that make it possible for other people to accomplish things. But over time I’ve had a role in developing strategic plans, starting new academic programs, revising general education, raising funds and hiring and mentoring other academic leaders.”

And during his seven-year tenure at Emporia State?

“We’ve been able to do some things at ESU that I believe will make a long-term difference for the university and the people it serves,” he said. “We’ve set institutional priorities. We’ve established an Honors College. We’ve started new academic programs, and our Accelerated Online Program initiative has extended the reach of existing programs. Our emphasis on Open Educational Resources is saving money for students and encouraging innovation in our teaching. Our high-impact learning experiences are preparing students better for life after graduation.”

“As best I can recall, none of these were my idea originally, and in some cases I didn’t even lead the charge. But I learned a long time ago not to worry about that. When people come together to accomplish good things, there’s plenty of credit to go around.”

All of these accomplishments, he said, came from collaboration.

“The best part of the provost’s job, to me, is the teamwork. In Academic Affairs, our deans and directors make up the best leadership team I’ve ever led. And at ESU we have a tradition of cooperating across unit boundaries that’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in my four previous universities. President (Allison) Garrett sets the tone for that, and the other vice presidents are all in.”

As retirement draws ever closer, Cordle thought about what he might do when he no longer reports to an office every day. From 1978 until 2003, Cordle regularly presented piano performances. Beginning in 1984, the majority of performances were duo-piano recitals with his wife, Pam.

“We would usually play part of the program using two pianos, and part of it together at one piano,” he explained. “Each piece of music is written specifically for one format or the other, so we would aim for variety in the program. The challenges of playing at two pianos versus one are actually very different.”

As he climbed the ladder in academic affairs, Cordle didn’t have enough time for the preparation needed for performances.

“Performing hasn’t been a focus for quite a while,” he explained. “It’s funny, because as a young faculty member I would never have believed that administrative work could be as rewarding as teaching and playing music. But that turned out to be true, for me at least.”

For now, Cordle anticipates playing piano for himself.

“I’ll be happy just to do some playing for my own enjoyment! There really won’t be any excuse not to, because I’ll actually have some time for a change.”

As part of the duo-piano recitals the couple would perform, they keep two grand pianos in their house situated together. Whether that continues when they move to Georgia to be closer to family is still in question, he said.

“We’re in the process of figuring that out now,” he said with a smile. “This might be a test of those problem-solving skills that I mentioned earlier.”

The Cordles have also given generously to Emporia State through numerous philanthropic gifts. Recently, they became members of the Lyman B. Kellogg Society, ESU’s legacy giving society, by creating the David and Pamela Cordle Family Fund. This fund will support scholarships for undergraduate students in any discipline. Emporia State is grateful to David and Pam for being leaders, advocates, and champions of Hornet Nation.