Interim Three Rivers President Confident in Face of Changes

Aug 18, 2014

Dr. Wesley Payne (left), Interim President of Three Rivers College, explains the system of tutoring and student support services at Three Rivers to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster during Koster’s visit to Three Rivers’ Poplar Bluff campus in May.

There’s less than two weeks left before fall classes start up in earnest at Three Rivers College, but the man who’s suddenly found himself in charge of an entire college doesn’t seem worried at all. In fact, Dr. Wesley Payne is downright cheerful, cracking jokes and telling tales in his native Mississippi drawl in between serious discussions of Three Rivers’ future.

“I don’t believe in getting stressed out about it. It’s a less-than-ideal situation, but this is a strong institution with an incredible team of people. That doesn’t change just because we’ve had a change in leadership,” Payne says. “We’re going to keep offering our classes, training the local workforce, and providing all the services that Southeast Missouri has come to rely on. I’m confident that we have the strength and momentum to carry us through to a better place than we started in.”

Payne assumed the position of Interim President in June, after the sudden departure of former President Dr. Devin Stephenson, and will remain in that position through at least November 1. After that point, the institution’s Board of Trustees must decide whether to extend the interim contract, offer Payne the position permanently, or begin the hunt for a new college president. Payne also currently pulls double duty as the Vice President for Learning, the position he held before being named Interim President.

“I’ve never worked just 40 hours a week in my life, and I don’t plan on starting now,” Payne says with a smile. “There’s plenty of work that needs doing, and I appreciate a challenge. I just split my time between the two offices, with the help of my fantastic support staff.”

Prior to hiring on at Three Rivers in July 2009, Payne served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the College of Coastal Georgia. He has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration and teaching, and received his doctorate in Philosophy in Leadership from Mississippi State University. Payne is also an accomplished pilot, and worked as a flight instructor before beginning his career in higher education.

According to Payne, his top priorities right now are getting fall semester classes up and running, and dealing with a series of vetoes and withholds in state funding that have already forced Three Rivers to cut over $670,000 from its 2014-2015 budget. He also said that he’s attempting to bring greater transparency to college administration so the institution’s faculty and staff can make better-informed decisions during their yearly planning cycles.

“The bottom line is, there’s still a huge amount of people out there who need the services we offer. We’re still seeing huge demand for affordable higher education, especially in our off-campus Centers,” Payne says. “We’re going to keep filling that need, going to keep growing and solidifying. The specifics of who’s in charge doesn’t change that. It’s about the college, the students, and impact we can have on our region. No matter what, that’s the work that will keep getting done.”

Three Rivers College is committed to contributing to the quality of life in Southeast Missouri with quality, affordable higher education opportunities and community services that support and encourage the economic, civic, and cultural vitality of the region. For more information about college and workforce programs and upcoming events, visit