New Friends president sees 'real opportunities'

T.J. Arant said he's excited about leaving the mountains of North Carolina for the prairie of Kansas.

Arant will take office July 1 as the 13th president of Friends University, which was founded in 1898.

Currently executive vice president at Mount Olive College in North Carolina, Arant said he sees in Friends the opportunity to build nationally recognized programs.

"There a real opportunities to expand the reach of the program," Arant said Monday from his office at Mount Olive.

Arant pointed to the Zoo Science, and Marriage and Family Therapies programs as two with such potential.

"Those are real gems," Arant said. "And those are just a couple of examples.

"Friends clearly has outstanding fine arts."

Arant, 55, was the unanimous selection by the Friends University Board of Trustees, topping a list of four finalists. His background includes:

* A doctorate in English from Duke University in 1991, following a master's from the University of North Carolina and a bachelor's from Vanderbilt University.

* Full professor positions at Duke, Appalachian State University, Notre Dame College and Mount Olive.

* A move from teaching into administrative positions in 2000. He led educational institutions with enrollments varying from 1,100 to 4,000 students. Friends has about 3,000 students.

Arant has held his current position at Mount Olive since 2008, overseeing internal operations at the college.

"In each position, he led mission-building efforts that resulted in progress and growth for various liberal arts colleges," Rod Pitts, who chaired the presidential search, said in a statement.

At Mount Olive College, Arant turned a major budget deficit into a surplus, Friends officials said.

At Notre Dame College, student enrollment and faculty doubled in size under his leadership.

At Appalachian State, he won multiple top teaching awards.

When serving as head of the East Central Colleges Consortium, Arant led a group of nine colleges in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

At Friends, Arant will inherit a 20-year endowment buildup under current president Biff Green, who will retire this year.

Green built Friends' endowment from $3 million in 1991 to $53 million.

"His record as president is one of the things that made Friends such an attractive place," Arant said Monday. "He has built a platform from which the rest of us will stand.

"And Friends' position as a non-denominational religious university also puts it in a unique position, I believe," Arant added.

Arant will move to Wichita with his wife, Susan, a fundraiser and former director of alumni affairs at a small private college. The couple has two grown daughters.

"My wife and I just fell in love with Wichita," Arant said. "It had so many amenities of a bigger city. We really think we're going to enjoy ourselves there."