John W. Garland '74: The Driving Force Behind Central State University's Turnaround
In a life full of personal and professional triumphs, John's most recent work is unsurpassed. In 1997, with Central State University (CSU), his undergraduate alma mater, buried in a financial crisis that jeopardized the future of the school, John offered his services as a consultant to friend Fred Ransier '74, the newly appointed Board of Trustees chairperson.
John's resume ended up in the wrong pile.
John ended up as president.
Needing to fulfill 23 state-mandated requirements to stay open, John and company dug in.
"It was worse than I thought," he says. "There were no vice presidents, two of the three deans were acting, faculty was dispirited, media was swarming, maintenance problems were mounting and enrollment had dropped to 950 students from 2,800."
Now, the school is reaccredited, has maintained its status in the federal student loan program and has eliminated its debts. Enrollment jumped to 1,621 in 2003. John is quick to credit the team that surrounds him, as well as a laser-like focus on key issues and a willingness to be honest about the school's problems.
"I don't feel I've done anything beyond giving it my all. What has happened, happened because of the good people who put their time, energy and lives on the line for this institution." Humility aside, none would disagree that John is the one leading that team, a team that continues to move forward.
"We've fully rebounded and are poised to move to the next level. We want to go from good to great. We want to have more and better facilities; more and better students; more and higher quality academic programs; more and stronger faculty. We're poised to reach for those things. It's like clay. In order to sculpt it, you have to get all the clay in one place and get it to the consistency that you need. We're now at the point where we want to mold the clay." John and other school representatives are lobbying for additional state support to help improve academic programs and attract more staff.
John's journey to his current position has been a fruitful one.
A New York City native, he dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1962, serving in Panama and Vietnam until his honorable discharge in 1967. While serving as an infantry squad leader, hewas wounded in combat in Vietnam, and is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans.
After getting his GED, he took a job at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York , where co-workers encouraged him to try college. "I wanted to go to school in California , but those schools told me to try junior college first. I wasn't interested in that. One of my best friends had graduated from Central State and was talking it up to me," he says. In three years, John graduated with a degree in political science. During his last year, he toured what is now the Moritz College of Law. Three years later, John had his law degree.
After a brief stint with the Federal Communications Commission, John went to work for the Washington Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, directing a pilot program defending veterans with less-than-honorable discharges. "There were a large number of them. Getting that designation crippled many of them for life," he said. "Typically they were low income, many were minorities."
Many stories were the same, John says. The military dropped its standards, admitting more than 100,000 soldiers during Vietnam who previously would not have been admitted. After training, they were sent directly into a 12-month tour. They returned to the U.S. with little additional counseling or guidance. Many went AWOL, among other infractions, leading to discharges. John identified and trained 125 lawyers to represent soldiers. Personally, he represented 250 soldiers, succeeding in 70 percent of his cases.
John spent five years in a general practice based in Washington D.C., when he moved into higher education as the general counsel for the University of the District of Columbia.
"Once I got into higher education, it felt like the right place for me," John says.
His next job was at the University of Virginia, where he served as associate general counsel, then executive assistant to the president, which included the temporary management of both the school's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. He then moved into the job of Associate Vice Provost for Intellectual Property, the position he held when Ransier called his old friend about CSU.
Among his many accolades, John received Moritz's 2001 Outstanding Alumnus Award. In his nominating letter for the award, Ransier said, "There are few who could have overcome the tremendous odds John faced and have enjoyed the exceptional record of achievement and contributions to the legal profession."
John married Carolyn Farrow-Garland, also a graduate of both CSU and OSU. They have two children, Jabari, an architecture graduate student at Miami University, and Amy, a student at Moritz, set to graduate 31 years to the day after her father.
"OSU played an important part in my career success. I came out of school better trained, experienced and knowledgeable in my field. I could stand toe-to-toe with any other law school graduates. . It's a fine school, so fine I encouraged my daughter to go there. There is no higher compliment you give than to say, here is my first-born."