BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (KMSP) - St. Cloud State is mourning the death of university president Earl H. Potter III, who died in a rollover crash in Brooklyn Center, Minn. on Monday evening.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities chancellor Steven J. Rosenstone confirmed Potter, 69, was en route to a meeting with the Foundation Board Chair.
One month ago, Earl Potter sent St. Cloud State students off into the world, presiding over his ninth commencement as president of the university. No one knew it would be his last.
Potter died in a one car accident Monday night in Maple Grove, his SUV veering from one side of I-94 to the other before rolling several times. The seat-belted 69-year-old was dead at the scene. He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, grandchildren and an entire campus in a state of shock.
“We’ve lost a great guy, we’ve lost a great guy,” said Haji Yussuf, who graduated a few years ago and credits Potter with reaching out to aggressively attract minority students like him.
“Through his leadership and his example and the way he did things, I’m going to be like him,” Yussuf explained I want to be like him and I’m sure that everyone who came and went to him would do the same thing.”
At a SCSU news conference, Potter’s colleagues praised the president for his outreach and inclusivity, painting a picture of Potter as someone who transformed the campus.
“He was unwavering…unwavering…in his commitment to equity and access and diversity and it’s not always an easy commitment to make,” said Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Earl Potter spent 24 years in the US Coast Guard, retiring in 1993 and turning his attention to carving out a second career in higher education. He was executive vice president and provost at Southern Oregon University before coming to St. Cloud in 2007. In February, he accepted a three-year deal to continue his duties through 2019.
He not only encouraged minority students to enroll at SCSU, but also reached out to students internationally and encouraged traditional students to spend time studying abroad. His colleagues say he had a keen interest in giving students a global perspective to prepare them for careers in an ever shrinking planet.
But, he also worked at a very local level to better integrate the campus into the community.
“We often refer to that town and gown relationship that communities around the country try to strive for,” said St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. “We’ve achieved that here because of Earl’s leadership.”
Provost Ashish Vaisya was immediately named acting president. Next week, he’ll be recommended to the MNSCU board to take over as interim president, which is a formality of holding the job until a permanent successor is named.
Haji Yussuf had a haunting final memory of his last meeting with President Potter about a week ago. As he left Potter’s office, he turned at the door, he saw Potter surrounded by the streams of sunlight coming through his window. Potter then said goodby, surrounded in a glow. It’s eerie to remember now.
“An amazing, amazing, amazing human being,” he said, still in disbelief.
According to Minnesota State Patrol officials:
At about 5:36 p.m., Potter was driving east on I-694 in a Toyota 4 Runner when he "suddenly went off the road and hit the guard rail." Potter overcorrected into the center lane, nearly hitting another vehicle, then overcorrected to the left, causing him to flip multiple times until he struck the cable barriers. He was wearing a seatbelt.
Ashish Vaidya named acting President and speaks of Potter's huge impact on SCSU. pic.twitter.com/7somNi0YGW— Rob Olson (@RobOlsonFOX9) June 14, 2016
Statement MnSCU chancellor
Dear colleagues at St. Cloud State University,
It is with tremendous sorrow that I write to share the tragic news that Earl H. Potter III, President of St. Cloud State University, died Monday evening in an automobile accident en route to the Twin Cities for a meeting with the Foundation Board Chair. Earl’s passing is a huge loss to SCSU, to the state of Minnesota, and to higher education. His leadership, on so many fronts, will be missed. Earl was a colleague and a friend – a thoughtful, insightful leader – who cared deeply about the university, its students, and the St. Cloud Community. I know he was deeply respected on your campus, as well, and my condolences go out to you all.
At this time of grief and transition it is important that there be continuity in leadership. For this reason, I have asked Provost Ashish Vaidya to serve as Acting President and will bring to the board next week for its consideration, his appointment as Interim President. I have complete confidence in Ashish’s ability to lead the university over the months ahead. He is singularly equipped to do so. I ask that you lend your support to Ashish and to the university’s leadership team as they work through this untimely transition.
I will be in St. Cloud today to help the campus community through this tragedy in any way I can, lend my support to Ashish, and be available to the St. Cloud community. I also hope to have the opportunity to spend time with Christine Potter and family.
Once again, my condolences to the entire St. Cloud State University and the greater St. Cloud community.
Steven J. Rosenstone
Chancellor, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities
Statement from Gov. Mark Dayton
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned late last night of the tragic death of St. Cloud State University President Earl Potter. President Potter accompanied me on all four of my international trade missions, as he sought to find new students for the university and to expand educational opportunities for St. Cloud State's present students.
“We worked together on several other projects benefitting the University. He loved St. Cloud State University, and he loved the students, faculty, and staff with whom he worked. I extend my deepest condolences to all of them and to his family for their terrible loss.”