New Chancellor Ray Wallace wants to share the secret of IU Southeast


Bekah White

New Chancellor Ray Wallace slaps hands with faculty and staff on Induction Day.

Joel Stinnett, Digital Managing Editor

IU Southeast Chancellor Ray Wallace knows what it is like to be a newcomer in a foreign land. In 1978 the Northern Ireland native arrived in the United States thanks to a track scholarship, and promptly stumbled out of the starting blocks.

“It was wild,” Wallace said. “Intellectually, I knew about American political geography and American politics. Culturally, all I knew about America was what I had learned watching ‘Starsky and Hutch.’”

“I was a fish out of water. I had never seen a pizza before. I had never had a Big Mac. There was nothing like that (in Northern Ireland).”

Wallace, however, has hit the ground running since taking over for Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer on July 1.

He has met with local businesses, including taking a tour of the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant. He attended the American Association of State Colleges and University’s New President Academy. And he has met with countless faculty, staff and students to set a strong course for the future of IU Southeast.

“This area is going to boom,” Wallace said. “And we better be preparing students for the types of jobs that a vibrant, more technology-driven world is going to require.”

Back home in Northern Ireland, however, if an area “boomed,” it meant something much different.

Wallace grew up just outside of Belfast during a violent political struggle referred to as The Troubles. The conflict began in 1968 with clashes between Unionist, mostly Protestant, groups who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, and Nationalist, largely Catholic, groups who wanted to form a united Irish state.

Intellectually, I knew about American political geography and American politics. Culturally, all I knew about America was what I had learned watching ‘Starsky and Hutch.’”

— Chancellor Ray Wallace

The result was bloody para-military campaigns by both sides and atrocities against civilians along the southern border. Nearly 3,600 people were killed before the conflict ended in 1998.

“Where I grew up it was dangerous because you didn’t have to go very far to be in an area that you weren’t wanted,” Wallace said.

Wallace, whose family was Catholic, also faced discrimination from the protestant majority.

“Many in the Unionist community would not allow people in the non-Unionist community civil rights, equal rights, voting rights, housing rights, education rights,” Wallace said. “A lot of things that people here take for granted.”

Wallace says that lessons he learned during that time still influence him today as an educator.

“I think everyone should have the opportunity to advance,” he said.

Despite being Catholic, Wallace’s mother worked for the ministry of defense and was a Unionist. Wallace also attended a rare mixed Catholic and Protestant school, where he first began to appreciate the value of an education.

“Everyone looked at education as, ‘This is how I improve my lot in life,’” Wallace said. “And most people that made it to university did not go back to the places they were from.”

Wallace began to get attention from American track coaches and was offered multiple scholarships. He chose Eastern Illinois University because of its small size, a trend that he has continued throughout his administrative career, all the way to IU Southeast.

“Do students really want to go to a school with 30,000 or 40,000 people? Do they really want to sit in a lecture hall with 300 people where no one knows their name?” Wallace said. “Or do they want to have that relationship with a faculty member and be involved.”

Wallace arrived in the U.S. with little more than a pair of track shoes and some clothing. On his first night, his track coach took him to a local store to buy some bedding. Wallace entered the store and raised his arms up waiting to be patted down for weapons.

“I walked in Kmart like I would any store in Northern Ireland, and I put my hands out to be searched,” Wallace said. “It was a natural thing and he (his coach) looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing?’”

One thing that wasn’t so natural to Wallace was the campus library.

“It seemed like a different planet,” Wallace said. “I remember walking in and looking up books and reports that had been banned in Northern Ireland. They had them all.”

“All my friends back home wanted me to make copies and send them.”

Wallace said the most influential difference in attending an American university was the simple freedom to register for classes. In Northern Ireland students were directed to focus on subjects they showed strength in, he said, while at Eastern Illinois he could take classes in whatever subject he chose.

“It was like a supermarket,” Wallace said. “I could take a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever I wanted.

That freedom, Wallace says, is what introduced him to his love of learning.

On Friday, Aug. 22, Induction Day at IU Southeast, new students walked through rows of cheering faculty and staff giving high fives and encouragement. Wallace was perhaps the event’s most eager participant, giving as many students as he could high fives or fist bumps that would then explode into the Indiana sky.

Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Jason Meriwether said that kind of enthusiasm is one of the reasons Wallace was his pick to be the new chancellor from the moment he met him.

“He is a warm person with a lot of wit,” Meriwether said. “I love that his sense of leadership is one of community.”

Wallace says he knew IU Southeast was the place for him almost immediately as well.

“What I liked is that people talked about student development,” Wallace said. “I wanted to go to a place where we are attracting good students and developing better students.”

Student Government Association President Stephon Moore, who was on the chancellor search commitee, says that Wallace’s student-centered approach is one of the reasons he was hoping Wallace would get the job.

“He really wants to brainstorm and hear from the students about what they think can imrove the campus,” Moore said.

Among Wallace’s goals are expanding the offering of online courses, making transferring into IU Southeast a more seamless process, and creating a weekend college to better serve non-traditional students.

Wallace said he intends to increase internship opportunities, create a master’s in health care administration, build more lodges and reach high school students earlier.

More than anything, Wallace says, he wants to get the word out about IU Southeast.

“I want to look with the faculty to see what areas and programs we are proud of so that we can sell them across the river and throughout the area,” Wallace said. “This whole idea of ‘the best kept secret’ is not a good thing. Man, I want to tell that secret, a lot.”