UVa-Wise Board names facility in honor of Chancellor Prior

A $30 million facility touted as a necessity for Southwest Virginia’s growth has been named in honor of the late David J. Prior, the UVa-Wise Chancellor who recognized and promoted the building’s economic development and educational potential.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise Board voted unanimously on Friday, March 23, to name the college’s convocation center the David J. Prior Convocation Center. The UVa-Wise Committee on Names voted in February to recommend to the College Board that the facility be named in honor of the college’s seventh chancellor. The naming received the support of the college’s senior leadership, University of Virginia liaison Leonard Sandridge, and Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia.

Chancellor Prior died suddenly on Feb. 2, 2012. During his seven years as chancellor, UVa-Wise experienced remarkable growth in both student enrollment and the campus in general. It was during his administration that UVa-Wise reached an important milestone as it celebrated the success of its “Fulfilling the Dream” campaign. During the campaign, the college exceeded its goal of $50 million.

He was at the college’s helm during construction of many buildings, including the Hunter J. Smith Dining Commons, the Gilliam Center for the Arts and two residence halls, as well as the renovation of the Leonard W. Sandridge Science Center. Chancellor Prior was extremely proud of the construction of the center that now bears his name.

 The building was funded by the Virginia General Assembly and gave Southwest Virginia its first major venue for hosting conventions, sporting competitions, concerts and other events. It seats up to 3,000 people for sporting events and nearly 4,000 for concerts and similar events.


Chancellor Prior began his work at UVa-Wise in September 2005. He earned a Ph.D. in neurophysiology from the University of Virginia in 1972. Before that, he earned an A.B. in biology from Olivet College in Michigan in 1965 and a master's in animal physiology and biochemistry from Central Michigan University in 1968.  He was also a post-doctoral fellow in neurobiology at Princeton University from 1972 to 1973.  

He began his teaching career in 1973 at the University of Kentucky, where he eventually held dual full professorships in biological sciences and physiology and biophysics. He left in 1987 to become chairman of the Department of Biology at Northern Arizona University and was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there in 1992. He served as dean of the graduate school of Northern Michigan University. For seven years, he served as a provost in the University of Wisconsin system.

As a researcher, he had more than 20 years of continuous funding and is credited with more than 100 research publications, symposium presentations, review articles and book chapters.