Leading by Example
The students call him “P Court.” His grandkids call him “Papa T.” At one time, he was addressed as “representative,” and now “President,” but if you run into him on the University of Central Arkansas campus, he’ll ask you to simply call him “Tom.” Serving as UCA President since December 2011, Tom Courtway is a man who wears many hats, but what he truly cares most about are the students who call UCA home.
“He puts students first. He keeps his focus on them, first and foremost,” said Colin Stanton ’04, ’06, director of New Student Programs. “People who work with students daily, like me, appreciate that because of how it supports the University. It’s just little things that he does so well that says a lot about where his focus is as a leader.”
“When a UCA student is sick and in the hospital, he always goes to visit, and I think that is so kind and telling of his personality,” said Shelia Vaught ’71, vice chair of the UCA Board of Trustees.
“Leader” is just one positive word that is commonly used to describe Tom. “Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Mary Harlan ’65, former chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “He always recognizes, remembers, notices, praises and congratulates. He doesn’t want to get the recognition himself or receive any attention, but he wants to make sure everyone else gets his or hers.”
A great leader does not ask for recognition, but instead leads by example, serving his community and staff. Tom is the embodiment of humility with a spirit of service.
“I think he makes life easier for everyone around here,” said Monty Rowell ’80, Student Center assistant director. “He may be the first president who literally gets down there in the trenches with the students and says, ‘What do you all need? How can I help you make this happen?’ We’ve really got us a winner.”
For example, during the winter of 2014 there were five heavy snow days that shut down campus. When this happens, Physical Plant employees work to make sure the campus is clear of snow and to ensure the safety of students upon their return. “President Courtway and Kelley Erstine [chief of staff] went to Colton’s and bought steak dinners for everybody who had to come in and work. He didn’t have to do that, but it means a whole lot to the people on my team,” said Kevin Carter ’10, recycling and custodial manager. “Things like that go a long way. A lot of people don’t even realize how many things the Physical Plant does to keep UCA up and running, but Tom knows and he lets us know that we are appreciated.”
Tom doesn’t only serve on campus. As a survivor of prostate cancer, Tom takes time out of his busy day to personally connect with and offer help to men who have been diagnosed with the same illness. “He’s been amazing, about being a mentor and helping other men who are going through the same thing he did,” said Tom’s wife, Melissa. “I think that helped him deal with it, knowing that he could go and help somebody else.”
With a history of commitment to the University, Tom continues to show his vision for UCA. With the renovation and expansion of both the Lewis Science Center and the Health, Physical, Education and Recreation (HPER) Center, the construction of Donaghey Hall, the opening of five sorority houses and a sorority complex as part of Greek Village and, for the first time in 20 years, an approval of an operation budget that does not include an increase of tuition or fees, Tom’s leadership and service has proven time and time again to be successful for students and the community.
“This is a great University and it always has been, but I think Tom did so much to improve the image of UCA that was held by the community and by the state,” said Elizabeth Farris ’77, UCA Board of Trustees member. “That will be his legacy.”