Dr. Barbara Hatton,
President of Knoxville College

* Personal Philosophy: "Anybody who stands before a child in a school or in a church has got to be a role model. If students respect you, you can teach them anything. If you're giving them your best, it doesn't matter if they're 10 or 25, they'll respond to you. But you must first meet those high standards yourself."

* Memorable Moment in the Past Year: "The students at Knoxville College came to me and asked if they could have a sleep-out to show their solidarity with the homeless. These students, in the midst of all their troubles, wanted to reach out to others."

* Work in Progress: A book on how to replicate successful educational programs. "It's a technology transfer process that is missing from our field. We have these wonderful programs and when the developer dies, the program is gone. We have no way to give these successes legs."

* Living Legacy: Daughter Kera Washington, a graduate of Wellesley College and Wesleyan University, who teaches music in Boston and is preparing to return to graduate school for a degree in anthropology. Says Hatton: "I told her to go be a lawyer, make some money. She said, 'That's not what you did.'"

* Impressions of Knoxville: "It's what Atlanta used to be. I hope it never loses that combination of wonderful neighborhoods and the corporate community. If they could just do something about downtown, they'd have Atlanta beat hands down."

* What She Does to Relax: "Not much, these days. I do like to go antiquing, and I used to be a pretty good tennis player."

by Stephanie Piper

Dr. Barbara Hatton is precisely on time for our lunch at Chesapeake's. She pauses for a moment to question a young waitress about the cast on her hand—"What did you do?" she wonders in a low murmur of concern—before settling in a booth and turning her attention to crab cakes and a catalogue of questions.

It's Monday, and Hatton has had quite a weekend. Eight students completed their Knoxville College careers— "the smallest class in America," she says—and insisted on a ceremony to mark the occasion.

Their college president would have preferred to wait a year. In the 10 months since Hatton took the helm of the troubled school, she has charted a new course. But the work, she says, is just beginning.

"I wanted them to wait until next spring, when we could do it right. But they said no, they wanted the ritual. Rituals are important to communities, and a college campus is a little community."

So faculty, staff, and students mobilized to pull together a Spring Convocation. Knoxville College alumnus George Curry, editor of Emerge magazine, was the guest speaker.

"He called our graduating students 'the magnificent eight' and challenged me to put up a plaque on campus with their names—because they hung in there, because they had faith in the college," Hatton says.

The 123-year-old Knoxville College lost its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1997 after a recent history of internal struggles, financial mismanagement, and instability in leadership. Most of its students transferred to other schools, but a small cadre returned, determined to ride out the storm. Last July, Hatton came out of retirement to join them.

"I had decided I was going to write and consult for the rest of my life. I was not going back into the fray," she says with a laugh. Then an educational search firm called and described the Knoxville College situation and the urgent need for leadership there. Hatton's reply was direct and to the point.

"I said, 'I'm not crazy. Are you?"'

Reluctantly, she agreed to meet some board members. Her sister was a graduate of Knoxville College, and Hatton felt a connection with the school. Insisting that she was not a candidate for the presidency, she flew to New York and met with alumni and members of the board.

"I talked to a lot of people," she says. "I'd known about Knoxville College for a long time. I knew it was the compatriot of the best black private liberal arts colleges in the country. All of them are growing. My question was: Why is this one languishing?"

The more she learned, Hatton says, the more her interest grew. In the end, her decision was motivated by anger and by a sense of responsibility.

"The injustice of it got to me, that anybody could mistreat an institution like this," she says. "And then, people kept telling me that I had the skills needed to do this kind of job. I've been through some of the finest educational institutions in this country, and there was always someone to help me, someone to make sure I had everything I needed. I feel a real obligation to pay back."

A graduate of Howard University, Hatton received her doctorate at Stanford and went on to pursue a distinguished career in teaching and educational administration. She served as deputy director of the Ford Foundation's Education and Culture Program and was Dean of Tuskegee University's School of Education. Before coming to Knoxville College, she was president of South Carolina State University.

The oldest daughter of a school principal and a teacher, Hatton says her vocation was never in question.

"My earliest memories are of riding a tricycle around my father's office while he worked," she recalls. "My mother was his favorite substitute teacher. When he needed a substitute, she would pack me up and off we'd go. For as long as I can remember, educational issues were before me. My papa was a dyed-in-the-wool educator. I do what I do because he handed that legacy to me."

Her mother's example, she says, was equally important.

"My mother was an elegant Southern woman. The tradition she represents is so important, that devotion to the highest principles, that refusal to settle for less than the best. I hope we don't lose that as we deal with the independence of women. Her elegance wasn't about being pretty. It was about the highest standards, the cultural imperative that calls us to be good people."

Hatton's 10 months at Knoxville College have called on all her resources as an educator and administrator. "I get bored easily," she says. "This isn't boring, I can tell you."

She has been alternately perplexed, furious, inspired, and hopeful.

"The college has so many assets: land, alumni, goodwill, connections," Hatton says. "This college has had national impact in terms of what the graduates are doing, the kinds of connections they could make for us. Why hasn't that been used?

"You're sitting here with 50 acres of property in Knoxville and 50 acres in Morristown and no mortgage. All the debt is current operating debt; there is no long-term debt. I kept asking myself, what's wrong here?"

The loss of accreditation spawned rumors she has worked hard to dispel.

"We did not lose our accreditation because the educational program was at fault," Hatton says. "It was not the curriculum. It was not the quality of teaching. It was governance. It was mismanaging money. It was infrastructure issues. I tell people: 'The buildings may be raggedy, but the faculty's fine."'

The students, now 90 strong, have been her strength.

"They held a meeting in the dorm last fall, just students. They voted to stick it out. When we heard about it the next day, we were all in tears."

The faculty, faced with the prospect of yet another change in administration, had their doubts about her, Hatton says.

"In the beginning I would go to faculty meetings, and the eyes that looked at me seemed to say: Who is this crazy person? Now they are engaging in a different kind of conversation with me, which is: How are you going to get this done?"

The answer, Hatton believes, lies in a return to the college's original philosophy.

"We're going to become a work college, like Berea and College of the Ozarks. These are schools where work is considered educational enhancement, an ethic of the educational experience."

In a work college, every student is employed either on campus or in the community. Their tuition is discounted, based on their earnings, while they gain experience in their chosen fields.

"The work program is a way to build a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with the community. It's a way to establish our niche," Hatton says.

Five students have paid internships lined up for next fall at area businesses like TVA, The Initial Group, and the Phillips 66 management trainee program.

Consultants from Berea and other work schools have recently held workshops on campus, and Knoxville College is seeking entrance into the work college consortium. Hatton plans a kickoff event in June to formally announce the program to the Knoxville business community.

"Our new message to students is that if you're willing to pay a little and work very hard, you can get a quality liberal arts education with virtually no debt," she says.

Recruiting new students to a college working to regain accreditation is a challenge, Hatton acknowledges.

"This is not for everybody," she says. "This is for people who like to be pioneers. We're very open and we explain that if things do not go as we hope they will, we will make other arrangements for our students. If we have not regained accreditation by the time they're upperclassmen, we will arrange for them to transfer."

While squarely facing reality, Hatton does not ignore hopeful signs. Enrollment increased by 30 percent in the spring semester. The college budget is balanced for the second consecutive year. The fundraising campaign is close to achieving its $1.5 million goal. HUD and 18 other local organizations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help the college strengthen its economic position and increase community involvement.

Meanwhile, Hatton presses on, sustained by faith and by a fierce belief in the importance of the task at hand.

"Small colleges, whether they're historically black or not, are opportunity structures. There are so many young people whose opportunities are restricted because of their race or their economic status. Places like Knoxville College help to bridge that gap. We're looking for the rough diamonds, the students who can change their lives through education. We play a complementary role to the UTs and the community colleges, producing a small number of folks powerfully prepared to make a tremendous impact."