Campus mourns St. Cloud State president killed in I-694 crash

St. Cloud State President Earl Potter
St. Cloud State President Earl Potter was killed in a car accident Monday, the school announced.
State Cloud State University via Twitter

Updated: 3:30 p.m. | Posted: 6:25 a.m.

Flags flew at half staff Tuesday on the campus of St. Cloud State University in honor of Earl H. Potter III, the school's president.

Potter, who was 69, was killed in a car crash Monday while en route to the Twin Cities for a meeting with the foundation board chair.

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According to the Minnesota State Patrol, Potter was driving east on Interstate 694 in Brooklyn Center at about 5:36 p.m. when his Toyota 4 Runner went off the road and hit a guard rail.

Potter over corrected into the center lane, almost hitting another car, before over correcting to the left, causing the car to roll over until it hit cable barriers.

Walid Issa, 28, was shaking his head and weeping as he walked away from a news conference about the tragedy. "It's a hard day for everybody," he said.

Issa, an immigrant from the Middle East, earned undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in economics from St. Cloud State. He said his life would be much different had he not crossed paths with Potter. He said he had a close relationship with the president that included Potter's help settling an unpaid tuition bill in 2012.

"Dr. Potter paid it from his own pocket to support my journey," Issa said. "I was born in refugee camp. I came here in 2009. Without the generosity and the support of Dr. Potter I would not have graduated from college."

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenstone called Potter a colleague and friend, saying he was thoughtful, insightful, and cared deeply about SCSU, its students and the St. Cloud community.

"Earl's passing is a huge loss to St. Cloud State University," he said. "It's a loss to the state of Minnesota and it's a loss to higher education. He was a highly respected leader."

Rosenstone and others heaped praise on Potter for his efforts to make SCSU an affordable and welcoming place for everyone.

"He was unwavering unwavering in his commitment to equity and access and diversity and that's not always an easy commitment to make," Rosenstone said.

Rosenstone appointed SCSU Provost Ashish Vaidya acting president and said he'll ask the MnSCU Board of Trustees to name Vaidya interim president at its meeting next week.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis credited Potter with forging strong ties between the university and the community.

"The connection between St. Cloud State University and the city of St. Cloud has never been stronger and that's because of his leadership," Kleis said. "A true measure of that leadership if the impact that be sustained because it wasn't a top-down approach."

Kleis also underscored the former Coast Guard member's efforts to help veterans on campus.

Lee Ladue, assistant director of the SCSU women's center, said Potter's death is going to be tough on the many students he personally connected with.

Going forward, she predicted she and her colleagues will build on Potter's legacy of inclusion.

"I think part of being a good leader is recognizing you're not the only one carrying that forward," Ladue said, "and I think everyone here knew and recognized that was important to him and so all of us will carrying that on."