New Board Member Cites CSO as Reason for Moving to Conway

When current University of Central Arkansas First Lady Jenny Davis met now president Houston Davis years ago at the University of Memphis, she was already taken.

Jenny said Houston asked her out but she was dating someone and continued to date that person for two more years.

During that time, she said, Houston would call every now and then and check to see if they were still together so when Jenny broke up with the other guy she decided to give Houston a chance.

Jenny said it didn’t take long for her to realize that Houston was the man she was going to marry.

Now, the two have three kids, Polly, Whitney and Josh, and have lived in several different states chasing after dreams and supporting each other along the way.

When Houston was serving as president at Kennesaw State University, Jenny said, he realized how much he missed interacting with the students and wanted to get back to that; as a high school teacher, she said she understood that.

“We’ve always kind of had this deal that you don’t have to have a job you don’t want [or] if you want a job, go get it,” Jenny said.

So the two agreed he would start looking and see what was out there.

When Houston got the job as UCA president, Jenny said the family was sad to move but happy for what that meant for him.

“I’ve missed every place I’ve ever lived,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve ever moved to.”

Jenny said the transition has gone fine but the role she now plays is different from her role as a high school teacher, which was separate from that of Houston’s.

She said she misses being a teacher but still feels she’s been able to add value to the experience of the UCA students and faculty by being supportive of their endeavors, attending their events, celebrating their successes and trying to attract attention to and publicize things that matter, the local art scene being included in that.

Jenny said two things that stood out to them about Conway was the symphony orchestra and the Shakespeare Theatre, both of which are rare in a town of Conway’s size.

″[We want to] make sure that when Houston and I are done with this presidency and I go back to being just an English teacher, which is truly all I really am, even now, that we will have hopefully strengthened or at least done our part to make sure those things are still around because it’s pretty neat,” she said.

Diving into the hostess type role that she and Houston play has been both strange and not.

She said she tells her students all the time that their main job on this Earth is to turn to the person next to them and ask how they are doing, paying attention to people.

“It’s not hard to meet people when you’re generally interested in them,” Jenny said. “I am ... people are really cool. You ask enough questions you learn some really neat stuff.”

That logic, she said, is applied to every event they host at the house.

“It can be exhausting to interact a lot, but at the same time, it’s also really intellectually varying,” Jenny said. “If you approach it from that paradigm, [and] that perspective, then it’s not a chore. It’s a privilege.”

She said they open the president’s house for certain events and knew that that would be part of taking the job — living in a house that people are rightfully proud of — and has even spoken to Jimmy Bryant, who works in the UCA Archives Department, to learn more about the house.

“We are just caretakers here and our function here is to be the host and hostess of the university,” Jenny said.

Throughout the past year, she said she’s been able to see Houston interact with students, dancing with them, seeing him sit with them in the student section at ball games and more, having a lot of fun getting to be with him.

“I knew that he would be that way but also [Houston’s] had the benefit of watching some really good presidents do their jobs,” Jenny said. “If you want your faculty and your staff to have a certain attitude toward your students you have to model that.”

She said Houston was so ready to be president that when they moved to Conway he had a notebook of ideas that he’d watched other presidents do right ... both beneficiaries of people doing their jobs well, “just like he’s doing his job right now.”

“Both of us will make mistakes and for that we beg patience,” Jenny said. “But, our hearts are in the right place. [We] very much understand that our job is not about us and it’s to leave UCA when our time comes, hopefully years and years from now, a little further ahead than when we found it.”

She said that should be the job of every president ... to leave it in good shape for the next.

“That’s what we want,” Jenny said. “We want the students to have a good experience, we want the faculty to feel good about the work that they’re doing, we want the staff to understand how important they are to the student experience.”

As far as her favorite memory of being in Conway so far, she said it would have to going to the playoffs in football and the tailgating.

“At that experience, you get everybody,” Jenny said. “Every football game is like a reunion of sorts, like a family reunion, where you have the alums and you have the students out and you have the staff and a lot of faculty come and everybody’s there together.”

She said of all they do, interacting with everyone is the most fun.

As for the year ahead, Jenny was just named to the Conway Symphony Orchestra board.

“I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to promote something that I found so impressive,” she said.