SE: David Hall Returns for Landon Lecture, Reflects on K-State's Impact

David Hall sauntered through the Ice Family Basketball Center, admiring every aspect of K-State’s state-of-the-art practice facility and reflecting on his time with the Wildcats (1969-72). 

Hall’s tour of the facility culminated a rare and profound trip back to Manhattan, his first in over a decade. The former Wildcat was one of three K-State graduates to take part in a special Landon Lecture panel discussion on issues in higher education on September 26

While Hall was a standout on the court for K-State, finishing his career with 1,007 points (12.3 PPG) and 827 rebounds (10.1 RPG), his post-basketball journey has been even more decorated. 

Hall is now the president of the University of the Virgin Islands, a position he never aspired to reach while at K-State. Back then, Hall, one of the founders of K-State’s Black Student Union, strived for a career as a lawyer, which he achieved and then some. After K-State, the Georgia-native earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Oklahoma and his LL.M and Doctorate of Juridical Science from Harvard Law School. 

Eventually, a calling to higher education pulled him down a path of teaching law for more than 25 years. Hall became the Dean of the Northeastern University School of Law, becoming the first African-American to hold the position, before taking on the role of Provost and Senior Vice President of Northeastern University. 

In 2009, Hall took over as president of the University of the Virgin Islands, which will host the K-State women’s basketball team in the Paradise Jam this November. K-State’s men will play in the tournament next season. 

K-State Sports Extra had the opportunity to catch up with Hall, who was on two Big Eight title teams (1969-70, 1971-72) that included a trip to the Elite Eight as a senior. 

SE: What was it like being back in Manhattan? 

DH: It exceeded my expectations. One, participating in the Landon Lecture series and being able to reflect on the impact that Kansas State had on my development as a student, as an athlete, as a person, has been exciting. The night before I got to meet with the Black Student Union. They had a reception, so touching base with students who are going through some of the same changes that I went through and trying to make the institution responsive to those needs was very good. Then coming here (the IBC) and seeing how impressive the facilities are, I begin to feel like I’m from an ancient world (laughs), because what we had at that time does not compare to what is here. It’s wonderful to see the progress and to see how the athletes are being supported. It’s clear that people have been investing in the athletic programs at the university and that’s very inspiring.

SE: What did it mean to you to be part of the Landon Lecture Series? 

DH: It meant a whole lot, especially on the topic, which was higher education. The types of questions that were being asked were some of the pressing challenges facing higher education. As a university president, being able to have that forum to be able to talk about those things was very important, and to share the stage with two other K-State alums who are outstanding presidents of outstanding universities was also very nice.

SE: In what ways did K-State impact your life? 

DH: It clearly gave me a very sound education, and participating in (basketball) allowed me to compete at the highest level. We won two Big Eight Championships, went to the Midwest Regionals for two years out of the four that I was here, and really only three since as freshmen you couldn’t play then. That was very important because it taught me a lot about competition, about teamwork and about all of those other things that go into success. Third, so much of my experience here was being a leader on campus around issues of diversity and social justice, and that helped shape my view of myself, of my role in life. It’s something that I still try to embrace in the university that I’m leading now, that we have to be educating more than just the minds of our students but also their hearts and souls and trying to inspire them to be good leaders in society. For me, a lot of that started right here at K-State, and that means a lot. 

SE: When you look back, what are some of your favorite memories at K-State?

DH: So many. Clearly from an athletic standpoint, my sophomore year in particular when we had such a successful year. Then my senior year we were able to win the Big Eight Championship again and go to the Midwest Regionals and make to the finals (72-65 loss to Louisville). We were eight points away from making it to the Final Four, and there are very few players who can say that, so I’m delighted that I was able to have those types of experiences. The relationships and friendships that I made stand out. My roommate and teammate Jack Thomas came back to hear me at the Landon Lecture, and to see a relationship that spans over 40 some years, that relationship was made here, so that stands out. The last thing I would mention is after the reunion with the Black Student Union, we went to the archive room and they had preserved many of the newspapers and many of the other things I worked on, articles I wrote, and to see that is just very precious. The memories of writing in the newspaper and the organizing that we did as students stands out, but to come back and know that it was preserved lets you know that it really did happen (laughs) and that it was important. All of those things stand out.

SE: What attracted you about a career in higher education? 

DH: I came (to K-State) wanting to be a lawyer, and that’s why majored in political science. I eventually became a lawyer and practiced law for a while. I think the first attraction (to higher education) was just the opportunity to go and teach at a law school and try to be a role model, especially for African-American students when there weren’t that many law professors at the university where I was recruited, which was Ole Miss. Staying on that path, you began to realize you have some other talents and people within the institution saw me as having the potential to be an associate dean and then a dean. You began to understand that although you can make a difference in the classroom, teaching students, you can make a different type of difference by being in administration. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed that. Some of the same values that are important in athletics, which includes teamwork, become important in administration. I have a cabinet that works with me, and I don’t see them as individuals who just do what I say. They are there to help me think through problems, to share their perspective on what we need to do to develop policy for the institution. When you get it right, you feel the same way that you do when you won a good game, and when you make mistakes, it reminds me of the losses that we encountered. What athletics taught me is just because you have a loss, it doesn’t mean this is the end. You get up and start tomorrow to try and get the next victory. Even when it’s at the end of the year and you got to wait for a whole new season to come around, you still have to learn about getting up when you failed and trying to get better. Those things really do shape how I view life and the whole spiritual aspect of life is something I think we need to nurture within ourselves and I think that’s a part of leadership. 

SE: What have enjoyed about your current role as the president of the University of the Virgin Islands? 

DH: One, the opportunity to help shape an institution. I think we undervalue how leaders can make a difference in the direction a university takes. I’ve enjoyed the privilege in being able to contribute to that. I can honestly say that the UVI that I met is not the UVI of today. We’re not perfect and we have a lot of things we need to work on, but being able to work with other people to bring about that change is important. To work with students, both student-athletes and students in general, to see them develop and evolve in an institution where you are ultimately responsible for what happens there is an awesome responsibility but it also is an awesome joy, especially when you get it right. When you talk to students about how much they gained, how much the institution supported them and even alums who talk about how their experience helped to make them who they are, to know that you had some small part in that is very, very rewarding. When I was here, being president of a university is not something that was on my mind and not something I aspired for, but life has a way of moving you in certain directions and I’m glad it moved me in this direction because it is very fulfilling.