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Interim dean accepts life's challenges, issues one of his own

April 29, 2003

Known as the floating administrator, Dr. Gaines Hunt has bounced around in some of the Universitys top positions. Lack of commitment? Hardly. Hunts commitment is as strong as an Angus bull and deep as the Georgia clay. And it has been demonstrated not only in his 33 years of service to Austin Peay but in his willingness to play whatever role the University needs him to playprofessor, dean, assistant vice president, coordinator, representative, supporter, donor.
April 29, 2003

Known as the “floating administrator,” Dr. Gaines Hunt has bounced around in some of the University's top positions. Lack of commitment? Hardly. Hunt's commitment is as strong as an Angus bull and deep as the Georgia clay. And it has been demonstrated not only in his 33 years of service to Austin Peay but in his willingness to play whatever role the University needs him to playprofessor, dean, assistant vice president, coordinator, representative, supporter, donor.

Hunt first stepped foot on Austin Peay's campus as a student back in 1961. He completed a bachelor's degree in agriculture with a minor in math. He went on to Mississippi State University for a master's degree and a doctorate in animal nutrition and reproduction.

When it was time to look for a job, Hunt returned to Austin Peay. He began as a professor of agriculture and animal science and became chair of the agriculture department in 1978. He served in that capacity for the next 17 years. Simultaneously, he served as the faculty athletic representative to the OVC and NCAA.

“It was quite a bit of work, especially in the early ‘'90s, but I enjoyed it. I love Austin Peay sports.”

In 1995, Hunt became interim administrator, a position he shared with Dr. Camille Holt, former professor of education. Hunt managed the professional programs; Holt managed the graduate programs.

Two years later, the University asked him to serve as assistant vice president for academic affairs over the College of Graduate and Professional Programs and Austin Peay's Center @ Fort Campbell.

In 1999, Hunt got back to his first love, teaching. But, two years later, the University once again asked him to serve as an administrator, first as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, now, in his current position as interim dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.

In that position, Hunt performs administrative work such as planning curriculum, managing personnel actions and dealing with complaints and crises.

“I try to have an open-door policy, especially for students. Students come first. They're the reason we're here.”

As often is the case for those who work in higher education, Hunt says working with students is one of his greatest joys.

“I love that part of it. To see students grow, see them do things they didn't know they could do, to be the one that brought that out in them is amazing.”

Hunt's eyes light up when he talks about his students' successes. Perhaps his most famous graduate is Dr. Lannett Edwards, a researcher at UT who made national headlines for cloning calves and who studied with Dr. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep.

“She's one of the cloning pioneers in the United States and a graduate of the agriculture program.”

Hunt figures that out of the small agriculture department with which he has been affiliated, 20 graduates have gone on to get doctorates and about 40 are doctors of veterinary medicine. APSU agriculture graduates also are teaching at other institutions around the country including Michigan State, Clemson, the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee.

It's not for his own glory that Hunt mentions the success of his students, although he is proud. He sees them as yet another testament to the educational excellence offered at Austin Peay.

It's easy to see how much Austin Peay means to Hunt when he recalls how his work and Austin Peay family saw him through the most difficult year of his life. The recollection is emotional. Hunt was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. He has undergone chemotherapy and is currently in remission.

“Being able to come to work every day really helped. It's been a tough year, but I got a lot of support from my Austin Peay family.”

Also standing by his side was his wife, Lynda. The couple will have been married 37 years in September. They have two daughters, Laura and Leslie, and one granddaughter, Anna.

With more than 30 years of Austin Peay experience, a new lease on life and a loving family behind him, Hunt was more than happy to get involved in the Peay Pride Campus Campaign. In fact, he and Lynda have been contributors to the University for years.

Since 1988, the couple has been giving a portion of their donation to the agriculture department and a portion to athletics. Along with other professors in the department, they established a scholarship fund for agriculture students.

“It did wonders for the department,” says Hunt. “Students apply for all types of financial aid and scholarships, but it really means a lot when you can put a couple hundred dollars in their hand and say it's from their own department.”

Hunt has encouraged his colleagues to give to the University through the Peay Pride Campaign. In fact, he issued a challenge to his fellow deans to see which college could have the highest participation.

“Give to something you want to helpscholarship funds, operating budgets, athletics. Your money won't just go into a big pot if you identify where you want it to go.”

Whether it's accepting new responsibilities at work, battling a frightening illness or championing a giving campaign, Hunt never backs down from a challenge. Much like the cattle he works with on his farm, he is strongstrong in his commitment to the University that has given him so much.