On May 9, 1906, the Board of Regents selected Ruric Nevel Roark, former director of the normal department at the University of Kentucky, to be Eastern's first president. Roark had a national reputation as an expert on public school management.
He and his wife, Mary Creegan Roark, advocated progressive educational reforms. Eastern Normal School opened with seven faculty members. Roark faced many tribulations, but none greater than a challenge to the constitutionality of the normal school law, especially from President James K. Patterson of the University of Kentucky who opposed the creation of normal schools. In 1908 the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the law, and the normal schools were saved. Shortly thereafter the legislature appropriated $150,000 for campus buildings.
During Dr. Roark's tenure, he expanded a physical plant that originally consisted of an athletic grandstand and three Central University buildings- the University Building, the Miller Gymnasium, and Memorial Hall. By 1911 the home economics house, a home for the superintendent of buildings and grounds, Roark Hall, Sullivan Hall, and a power plant had been completed . . . all at the staggering cost of $164,481.64.
The founders of Normal No. 1 showed great foresight in their educational objectives as reflected in their "exit requirements," as stated in the 1907 Normal School catalog:
The proper place at which to safeguard an institution's standards of scholarship and efficiency is at the exit rather than at the entrance. Acting according to this proposition, the State Normal will place their courses of study within the reach of any student who can profit by them, and in most cases the student will be permitted to show whether he can profit by them, by being given an opportunity to do the work rather than by being required to submit to an entrance examination. Students will find it easy to get in.
But every student must prove himself or herself to the full before being allowed to go out with the certificate which the law empowers the State Normal to confer. There must be evidence at the exit that the student has attained the high standards of scholarship and teaching skill which have been set by the Normal Executive Council.
In April 1909, Roark died and the regents appointed Mary Roark acting president of Eastern.