Elon community dedicates Francis Center
University administrators, faculty, staff, students and civic leaders came together Oct. 26 to honor Executive Vice President Gerald L. Francis.
A longtime Elon University administrator was hailed for his “managerial brilliance” and trustworthiness on Friday morning in the formal dedication ceremony of a state-of-the-art building that today bears his name.
The campus community gathered at the Gerald L. Francis Center on East Haggard Avenue to celebrate its namesake’s nearly four decades of service to the institution, first as a math professor, then provost, and today as executive vice president. True to his nature, Francis sprinkled his remarks with a trademark wit and self-deprecation that has endeared him to hundreds of colleagues over the years.
The Francis Center is home to the university’s School of Health Sciences, which includes the Doctor of Physical Therapy program and the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies, as well as research space for undergraduate programs. The school occupies about one third of the building, and future plans for the undeveloped part of the facility include the 13,000-square-foot Scott Studios, providing expanded practice and performance spaces for the acting, dance, music theatre, theatre studies and theatrical design and production programs.
“This is quite an honor,” said Francis, speaking to a crowd of more than 100 people, including his wife, daughter and grandchildren. “I have struggled greatly with what to say today until it became clear to me that this is a dedication and not my retirement!
“In all sincerity, this recognition makes me really proud,” he continued, pausing for a moment to hold back tears. “Really, mostly, my mom and dad, they’d be proud. Thanks, friends, for being here. I know you were 'required' to come, but thanks for that! And thanks to Elon for all of my opportunities.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was Elon University President Leo M. Lambert; John Currin, president and CEO of Alamance Regional Medical Center; and Professor Elizabeth Rogers, dean of the School of Health Sciences.
Lambert described three qualities about Francis that have made him an invaluable confidante over the past 15 years: trustworthiness, management abilities and charm. Francis, he added, has the ability to bring together diverse viewpoints to work for the betterment of the university and, by extension, the broader Alamance County community.
"In sum, he is as good of a man as you will find anywhere, and it has been on of my greatest life privileges to serve Elon alongside him," Lambert said.
Currin praised Francis and the larger Elon University leadership for their vision in creating partnerships to improve medical access to countless people in the community. “This is a story about the power of collaboration,” Currin said. “This is what happens when engaged learning and inspiring care work together. … You’ve made a lasting legacy and deep impact on access to quality health care.”
Rogers also thanked the Board of Trustees for approving the plans to make the facility home to the programs she oversees.
“We in the School of Health Sciences thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the wonderful new facility,” Rogers said. “And without the support we have from the fabulous communities of Elon and Burlington, we would not be here.”
The Francis Center features three classrooms dedicated to the DPT program and two classrooms for the physician assistant program, with three clinical laboratories, five simulation/exam rooms and two observation rooms, an anatomy lab, a biomechanics lab, a human performance lab, an ultrasound lab, a neuroscience lab, an anthropometry lab, an electrophysiology lab, a metabolic lab and an osteology lab.
New teaching and research equipment includes a second Biodex system for campus, a Qualisys gait analysis and rehabilitation system, which includes 12 cameras and a 16-channel wireless EMG system, plus two force plates; and a Robomedica system. The first floor of the building also includes a large commons area, student lounge and fitness facility.
The Francis Center formerly served as a Smithfield Foods processing facility, which was purchased by the university in 2011 and fully renovated. The property adjacent to the building includes new student recreation fields, with a road connected to the Danieley Center residential neighborhood.
Prior to assuming the executive vice president position in June 2009, Francis served for 15 years as Elon's provost and vice president for academic affairs. He came to Elon in 1974 as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics. In 1981, he received the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching.