USI founding fiscal officer, Byron C. Wright, 88, passed away Friday, April 27, 2018. He is remembered as one of the early contributors to the success of the University of Southern Indiana and helped to lay the groundwork for the University and campus we call home today.
Wright came to the University of Southern Indiana in 1967 and had an early role in the founding USI, working alongside USI's first president, David L. Rice. The work he did was important—first guiding the business side of developing a region campus of Indiana State University Evansville, then working alongside Rice to advocate in the legislature for funding important academic programs and facilities, and later overseeing the details of the transition of ISUE to the independent four-year public University of USI we know today.
Wright served the University from 1967 to 1994, as business manager, vice president for Business Affairs, treasurer and senior vice president. In 1991, he received the Honorary Alumni Award from the USI Alumni Association. He also received the high honor of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the USI Board of Trustees.
Wright retired in 1995 as vice president of Business Affairs at USI. Upon his retirement, the Wright Administration Building was named in his honor.
As we remember Byron Wright and his legacy, we look back at excerpts from an interview he conducted in 1995.
Excerpts from an Interview with Byron Wright, USI Vice President Emeritus for Business Affairs
February 21, 1995
What are your recollections when you first arrived in Evansville in 1967 to become the director of business affairs of the ISU [Indiana State University, now USI] regional campus?
One Friday afternoon, late in August, we rolled into campus or the old Centennial School parking lot. After walking through the building, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But then we drove out to where the new campus was going to be, and … it was pretty easy to see there was a lot of possibility there.
Tell us about the students in the early years at ISUE.
The students were the most important thing. This was during the height of the Vietnam War, and we had a predominance of male students… now it is the other way around. [At the time,] it was a lot of people who hadn't thought about coming going to college, because the opportunity hadn’t existed for them in the community previously.
With regard to the early development of ISUE, what personal insights do you have related to early construction projects and the addition of academic programs and faculty?
I was primarily involved with the construction and facilities, more than the faculty and the students. I remember the first buildings; the classroom building and the administration building. Those buildings were built in less time than any building we have built since. But it still seemed like it took forever. Students were eager, faculty was eager and the community was very eager, too.
I remember one incident when I was invited to take Dr. Rice's place talking to a group of sheet metal workers in town. We had a model of the campus and would take it around and tell them about the school. They wanted to ask questions, and the question was when it was going to begin, because that meant jobs to them. I [saw] the enthusiasm of the community, and that they were anticipating that building as much as the students and the faculty were.
The other buildings all came along in good fashion. We were very fortunate to be able to get the Library building right away. In fact, part of the original building was designed to house a library and before we could ever buy the equipment to put in there, we got approval to build the new library.
Many of the buildings that we were able to build on campus were the first of their type to be built on a regional campus. I think we had the first university student center built on a regional campus. I think we had the first library, and definitely we had the first physical education building.
Describe your personal insights and feelings regarding the legislative struggles for ISUE independence.
Well, the main thing, of course, was the separation legislation. It was something that was destined to be, and I think that everyone thought that it was. Although, at the time, I wondered if it would ever happen in my time. The community worked hard, students, faculty… everybody worked hard to let the legislature know that. And I don't know whether former Governor Orr has ever gotten the real credit he deserved. But it took a lot of courage on his part to face the opposition from the other universities. That was really the highlight of the legislative battles.
Other things were routine. Often we would be in there fighting for a building or fighting for a budget. We had the same involvement as many other institutions, and other employers, on a lot of the legislation, but the separation was obviously the big thing.
With regard to the development of USI since 1985, what are your thoughts on the rapid growth of the University?
You've heard of the movie Field of Dreams? Build it and they will come. I think that's basically what has happened here since we got our independence. Our enrollment and growth has been big and dramatic and I think a lot of it has to do with the publicity that we have received surrounding our independence.
We tried to provide the same facilities and opportunities as any campus would. And we’re not there yet, of course. But, the growth has come. People came without a lot of work on our part. But, [going forward,] our outreach is going to have to be farther out in the state to do a good job of bringing in students. We can’t just say, “Here we are, come see the ball game.”
Do you have any thoughts on the tremendous community support that USI has received over the years?
The numbers speak for themselves. The campus, the land itself was bought by contributions that the citizens made to Southern Indiana Higher Education, Inc., which has been a tremendous factor in our growth and development. So, we've had community support from the very beginning and continue to have it. It's interesting, you used to run into people who would say I paid for part of that campus on payroll deduction from Whirlpool, Mead Johnson, or something like that.
What do you feel when you drive out on campus today?
Well, the first thing I see is something that I had nothing to do with, and it's that beautiful bridge that the citizens of Vanderburgh County built for us… When I look around the rest of the state… I don't know of another place where the county has done something like that for an organization such as ours. It’s unmatched support.
And, I'm happy to see everything happening on campus, and that will go on. It's a real good feeling.
Do you have any suggestions for the future?
I think it would be improper to give any suggestions, because I think what we tried to do has been done. It's an ongoing thing. It isn't something that is done and then you try to do something else.
Be prepared for what comes along new, like new technologies. Here I am in front of the television camera. We will be teaching classes by television and distance education. We're teaching them by computers. When we started, nothing like that was thought of. So in a few years that new thing, or those new things, will be around that we can’t predict. … Be flexible.
We do have to make changes. Sometimes those changes are hard to make, because people are involved. But programs will become passé and we'll need to move on and we can't continue to do everything. And that will be the hard thing to do. My only advice is to remain flexible and be ready for the changes and adapt to them.
Do you have any final thoughts?
The biggest thrill or buzz that I get today is when I run into somebody. I met a gentleman the other day at the health club. He told me his two children had graduated from USI. When I run into people who have children who go there, that really makes me feel good. And I also feel good because I have four grandchildren who live two miles away and, in all probability, they will attend USI.
Byron C. Wright