Melvin Scarlett was Dynamic MTSU President

January 20, 2020, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal

The name ‘Scarlett’ has a Norman French origin and is a surname for ‘seller and dyer of rich, red expensive escarlate cloth.’ The first recorded spelling was derived from William Scarlet of Staffordshire (1185) in the Templar Records of England. Many of the Scarlett ancestors originated in medieval Scotland with a later migration to America.

On August 16, 1968, Dr. Melvin G. Scarlett was appointed 5th president of Middle Tennessee State University, of which he served valiantly in a tenure from 1969-1978.

Melvin was born on December 30, 1920 in Reading, Pennsylvania to Clarence and Mossie Scarlett. He wed Caroline Vawter Scarlett (1929-2018) of Carroll County, whom he met at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee; and they had three children: Nan, David and Jon. Caroline was a beautiful young woman and both gracious and active in goodwill within MTSU and the Murfreeesboro community. She was an excellent high school basketball player and later an avid golfer. She was also very involved with North Boulevard Church of Christ Meals-on-Wheels program for 30 years. In the 1960s, Caroline taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska while her husband worked at Hastings College. She was talented with singing and a huge supporter of MTSU basketball games. Son Jon Barry Scarlett of Smyrna (1950-2013) was also a talented athlete and educator at MTSU. He died of a lung ailment just five years before Caroline, who was laid to rest at age 89 beside Melvin in Evergreen Cemetery.

Melvin graduated from Catawba College in North Carolina and was the first in his family to achieve this honor. He moved around the country with his wife and children, as he gained new experiences in academic leadership. After he taught at Bethel College in McKenzie (1948), he served on staff at Kent State in Ohio. He was president at Mankato State College in Minnesota and president of Farmington State College in Maine. He was also an early professor in the University of Memphis for nine years.

As MTSU President, Dr. Scarlett hit the ground running over ten productive years. His inauguration was a meticulous affair and staged beneath a host of large trees by the Cope Building. Representative John Hood offered administrative assistance to Dr. Scarlett, and Audene Walkup served as secretary.

Scarlett’s chief objective (1974) was to initiate the Doctor of Arts degree and Specialist designation for teachers, which proved the foremost curriculum offered in the Southeast. In 1975, the Learning Resources Center improved technology for teachers under his guidance. He also promoted higher pay for female professors and requested students become active members on university committees.

Construction was ever-present from 1967-1975 with the addition of Peck Hall, Keathley University Center, Davis Science Building, Murphy Center, and McWherter Learning Resources Center. He was a huge supporter of athletics and launched the Blue Raiders Sports Hall of Fame. The Raiders competed for the first time in the Olympics under Dr. Scarlett’s leadership, as Tommy Haynes participated in Track and Field and was the Captain of the U.S. Olympic Team in Montreal in 1976

A crowning achievement for Dr. Scarlett was his determination to create a University Honors and Recording Industry program and Communications Department. The avant-garde curriculum was a big success and continues today as prominent on campus. He maintained great interest in science and engineering on campus and was named ‘Aerospace Educator of the Year.’

Scarlett coordinated the two-level construction of the 1972 Charles Murphy Center that seated 12,000 spectators. As president emeritus, he traveled with architects to tour facilities throughout the nation to gain the ideal perspective for this majestic structure. His insight was to provide a larger facility to house concerts, sports and graduation. Elvis Presley sold out the arena in one day for his March 14, 1974 appearance. He went on to perform five sold-out shows in this arena in Spring of 1974 and 1975. Both of my children Katherine and Michael graduated in this building, and it remains a gem 47 years later.

In 1974, the school attained a milestone of 10,000 enrolled, as the academia gained national attention. Scarlett’s policy as president was an ‘open door for all’ and he led his administration in this manner every day.

On a personal level, Dr. Scarlett was a generous man, who loved music, humor, and baseball. He was a trustee and Sunday School Superintendent of First Presbyterian Church and embraced every job seriously. His prime aspiration was to be a devoted husband and father every day. Melvin and Caroline retired in Murfreesboro and continued on as a ‘bonus’ to community and mankind.

When I researched this special man, I gained immediate knowledge that he was not one to sit down but stood tall in his ambition to advance Middle Tennessee State University. At 91 years old, Melvin passed this earth in 2012. Scarlett Commons Apartments stand tall as the newer student housing on the east side of the campus and a beautiful legacy. President Scarlett was a catalyst for change and growth for our campus of 21,000 students today.

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