Kelly Damphousse became Chancellor of Arkansas State University on July 1, 2017, thanks to a personal email. An academic administrator at the University of Oklahoma since 2004, Damphousse (DAM-fiss) was serving as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He and his wife Beth were the family in residence at OU’s freshman Headington Hall. In addition to enjoying teaching “Introduction to Sociology” to 700 first-year students each year, he was the Sooners’ Big 12/NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative.
Then, he got that email.
The last person to say so, Damphousse over the years had become a highly sought-after, but “thanks, not interested,” recruit of numerous president or chancellor searches. He’d seen his share of head-hunter pitches. But on that day, there was a personal message from the President of the Arkansas State University System. Chuck Welch explained how he was convinced Kelly Damphousse was the man for the job at A-State.
A personal touch with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the Norman community was Damphousse’s hallmark. His emphasis on placing students first became apparent during his campus visit to A-State in May 2017. The A-State Staff Senate heard the message and made “Every Red Wolf Counts” t-shirts that welcomed him and Beth when they were introduced later that month.
His self-effacing humor and a lifetime spent relating to individuals regardless of the job led him to Jonesboro to become the third permanently appointed Chancellor of Arkansas State, the sixth to hold the title since it was instituted in 2006. Damphousse joins the line of successors to the university’s founding leader, V. C. Kays, from 1909 as the 13th chief executive of the institution.
Raised in a small fishing village in northern Canada, Damphousse attended Lethbridge Community College where he earned an associate’s degree in law enforcement in 1982. A failed professional hockey tryout foiled one of his two early life ambitions, a career as a goalie in the NHL. His degree was the starting point for his other goal: becoming a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. As he likes to say, three years in prison at the Alberta Correctional Service where he served as a correctional officer refocused his dream of becoming a Mountie.
Heading south, Damphousse enrolled at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where his life was changed forever. Along with completing his bachelor’s in criminal justice, specializing in law enforcement and police science in 1987, he met Beth Smith, a College Station native who, in Kelly’s words, “neither wanted to marry a cop or a Canadian.” After a brief stint as a security manager for Macy’s in Atlanta and New Orleans, he returned to graduate school at Texas A&M University where he discovered Satanism.
Actually, it was his thesis on the etiology of youthful Satanism that earned him his master’s in sociology in 1991. After completing his master’s degree, he progressed into drug use at A&M, completing his doctorate under Howard Kaplan, the director of the laboratory for the Studies of Social Deviance, and examined in his dissertation the long-term consequences of using drugs.
He began his university career as an assistant professor in the Department of Justice Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1994, and then returned to his alma mater of Sam Houston State one year later as an assistant professor in the College of Criminal Justice.
Damphousse moved to OU in 1997 as member of the Department of Sociology, where he directed several research projects, most notably the “American Terrorism Study” with Brent Smith of the University of Arkansas. He also worked on the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring project in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the first-ever field test of voice-stress analysis deception detection software. Damphousse was the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on 42 projects at Oklahoma and Sam Houston State.
The co-author with Smith and Jeffrey Gruenewald of the forthcoming 2018 book, Patterns of American Terrorism, Damphousse also served as the co-editor of Social Science Quarterly, volumes 92 through 97. He has authored or co-authored 26 peer-reviewed articles in scholarly publications, 31 book chapters and 20 peer-reviewed technical reports.
Becoming associate dean in 2004, he was appointed the interim dean of CAS at Oklahoma in 2013. Damphousse was made the permanent dean in 2014. As the leader of OU’s largest and oldest college, Damphousse led the first college-wide strategic planning exercise as well as assisting faculty and staff in the raising of more than $30 million in private giving.
He and Beth have two daughters who are both graduates of Oklahoma. Kayleigh, a 2014 sociology graduate, earned a master’s degree at Kansas, and is now the assistant director for retention and persistence at the University of Florida. Kristen, a 2016 biology graduate, is at Emory University working on her master’s degree in public health. The Damphousses are also the proud parents of Maple Leif, a standard poodle and lab mix, who serves as the First Dog of A-State and tweets at @MapleLeifDamp.