Ball State's new president strikes contrast with past

Geoffrey S. Mearns answers questions from the media and audience members for the first time after being named 17th president of Ball State on Jan. 24 in Sursa Hall. Breanna Daugherty // DN
Geoffrey S. Mearns answers questions from the media and audience members for the first time after being named 17th president of Ball State on Jan. 24 in Sursa Hall. Breanna Daugherty // DN

Geoffrey S. Mearns doesn’t share the usual background of past university presidents.

"The obvious contrast is that he's a person that has had a career in two professional fields," said Bruce Geelhoed, co-author of "Ball State University: An Interpretative History." "Our presidents up to this point, Ferguson, Gora, Brownell ... They were all pretty much people who were in the education field." 

Ball State released Mearns’ curricula vitae, a document that’s like a long-form résumé, to the public following his announcement and with his permission. The entire document can be found at the bottom of this page.

Mearns, the current president of Northern Kentucky University, will become Ball State's second president who has practiced law, according to Ball State’s website. Benjamin Burris, serving from 1924 to 1927, worked as a county attorney some time before becoming president. 

It's not all differences, Geelhoed, a history professor, said. A number of past Ball State presidents, like Paul W. Ferguson and Jo Ann Gora, had served as president or in an executive position prior to coming to the university. 

"To the board's credit ... we have thirty years of experience of hiring people who have already served as president," he said.

Mearns, 57, worked as an attorney for 17 years before entering academia full time in 2005 at Cleveland State University. He served as provost and vice president for academic affairs for the university near the end of his time at Cleveland. He became president at NKU in 2012. His contract at NKU ends July 31 and he will take office at Ball State no later than Aug. 1.

Strategic planning has been core to Mearns' work at both NKU and Cleveland State, something he said in his first speech to the university would be a primary focus once he comes to Ball State. He's previously led successful efforts to raise funds for new buildings and renovations as well as efforts to improve retention and graduation rates, according to his CV. 

"My sense of this is that you have an individual who is very comfortable in a leadership role," Geelhoed said. "He's been in a leadership position both in higher education and, I assume, the legal field." 

The incoming president previously taught law for about five years at Cleveland State before becoming provost there. However, his first teaching job, after graduating from Yale in 1981, was as an English teacher at The Delbarton School, an all-male Roman Catholic college-preparatory school, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Mearns taught law as an adjunct professor at New York Law School from 1994 to 1995 and Case Western Reserve University Law School from 1998 to 2005 while working as an attorney.

A couple of high-profile cases stand out from his time practicing law. The new president prosecuted Carlo Gambino’s son, of the Gambino crime family, in Brooklyn and a juror that sold his vote to acquit a mob boss in a racketeering case while working as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City and Long Island from 1989 to 1995.

From 1995 to 1997, Mearns worked as first assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, where he handled political corruption cases.

He also served as a federal prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing case from 1997 to 1998, where he helped the U.S. Attorney General prosecute Terry Nichols, an accomplice to the bombing. Afterward, he worked at two Cleveland law firms, which involved white-collar criminal matters.

The CV indicates that Mearns has been published in journals six times since 1999. The document contains numerous citations for selected presentations, coverings topics like the Oklahoma City Bombing, professionalism and ethics and forensic science.

Below is his CV in full with certain sections highlighted. 


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