Prather inaugurated as 17th Franklin College president

Taking on the role of a college president was a challenge in itself, but adding on a pandemic took the challenge to an unfathomable level.

Prather took on the role of interim Franklin College president in January 2020, after Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin police arrested former president Thomas Minar on charges related to alleged sex crimes, including child pornography possession. Prather had to navigate the aftermath of those charges, which made national news, and then lead Franklin College through a pandemic and circumstances no one had any experience dealing with.

COVID-19 has made gatherings and celebrations difficult or impossible for the past 18 months. But on Saturday afternoon, Franklin College gathered to honor Prather in his inauguration ceremony.

Nearly two years since Prather took the helm at Franklin College, first as interim president before shedding the interim label in February 2020, the college community came together to recognize a man who has spent 39 years at Franklin College.

“The successes we have shared over the past 21 months since I became president reflect the trust and camaraderie that we have developed over the many previous years of working together, focused on the best possible experience for our students and the best possible future for the institution,” Prather said in his inaugural address.

Prather is the 17th president in Franklin College history. He joined the Franklin College staff in 1982 as the assistant men’s basketball coach and was promoted to head coach the following year. He was named athletics director in 1989. Under his leadership, Franklin College expanded athletic opportunities for students to the current level of 21 intercollegiate sports and upgraded and built new athletic facilities throughout the campus.

During his tenure as the college’s president, Prather has led the way in establishing the college’s Center for Tech Innovation and the Johnson Memorial Health Athletic Annex; launched a competitive esports program on campus; and created a digital fluency initiative that serves as the capstone to the already transformative education Franklin provides.

His leadership has earned the confidence of Lilly Endowment Inc., with the college being awarded a $1 million grant in 2020 to help strengthen technology integration and expand learning opportunities. He also led the college to its most successful fundraising year ever in 2020 and welcomed the largest incoming class in five years.

Prather has not only led Franklin College, but has built a relationship with the city of Franklin, Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett said.

“Today’s not only a celebration for Franklin College, but the city of Franklin,” Barnett said. “The city of Franklin and Franklin College have not always had a great relationship, but when Kerry took over, that relationship changed. He embraced the leadership role with grace, and Kerry, your accomplishments are even more impressive because of the global pandemic. He understands the importance of collaboration, and he has an exciting vision for Franklin College.”

Prather is not just a good leader, but maintains a human connection with students, said Britany App, the student congress president at the college.

“Since February 2020, you’ve impressed us with your dedication and leadership in these unprecedented times,” App said. “From the times we’ve seen you cheering at athletic events to the times you’ve been eager to connect with any of us in the halls of Old Main, you’ve shown you care about students. From the energy around campus to the strong leadership. Our spirit is high today.”

When the college’s board of trustees asked Prather to be the school’s president last year, he never had doubts about the decision, Prather said.

“When I was approached by our board leadership in early 2020, at a time of institutional crisis, many thoughts passed through my mind. The only one that didn’t was declining the request,” Prather said. “It is important to say here today that my over-riding motivation was not wistful nostalgia or even, necessarily, a sense of duty. Rather, it was my fervent faith in the mission and future of Franklin College and its importance in the world.”