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ECSU staff: Listening, teambuilding key in next chancellor

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Pernell Bartlett, a staff member at Elizabeth City State University and past chairman of the ECSU Staff Senate, addresses members of the ECSU Chancellor Search Committee at a forum for staff feedback on the committee's chancellor search, in the G.R. Little Theater on the ECSU campus, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Elizabeth City State University staff are looking for a strong leader who will listen to their ideas, articulate policies clearly and hold everyone accountable for their performance.

Non-faculty staff members at the university weighed in Tuesday on what kind of chancellor they’d like to be hired during a forum sponsored by the ECSU Chancellor Search Committee in the G.R. Little Theater on campus.

As it be­gins its search for the uni­ver­sity’s next chan­cel­lor, the com­mit­tee is hold­ing a se­ries of fo­rums this and next month to re­ceive com­ments from ECSU staff, fac­ulty, stu­dents, alumni and com­mu­nity mem­bers. A sec­ond fo­rum in fact was held Tues­day af­ter­noon for uni­ver­sity fac­ulty, and a community forum is scheduled for today at 7 p.m. at the Hugh Cale Training Center on Road Street.

ECSU trustees have set February 2019 as the target date for having ECSU’s next chancellor in place. The new chancellor will succeed Thomas Conway, who retired at the end of May. Karrie Dixon, a vice president of the University of North Carolina System, is currently serving as ECSU’s interim chancellor.

Pernell Bartlett, university program specialist, said at Tuesday’s forum for staff that the next chancellor needs to be able to set standards and expectations. He thinks the next chancellor needs to be skilled in team-building and willing to collaborate with staff.

“I think together we can make a change on this campus,” Bartlett said. “It will take a team effort.”

Bartlett said the next chancellor also needs to understand ECSU’s special relationship with its 21-county service area. ECSU’s primary mission, as established by the University of North Carolina System, is to meet the needs of people in northeastern North Carolina, Bartlett said.

Elizabeth Linney, who noted she has worked at ECSU 25 years, said the university needs a chancellor with experience as a chancellor — “someone who has leadership ability.”

Linney echoed Bartlett’s concern for teamwork.

“We do need to come together as a team,” Linney said. “We have too many towers on campus.”

The next chancellor needs to have the professional knowledge to assemble a cabinet of top administrators but also be willing to dismiss those top administrators who don’t work effectively with the rest of the cabinet, Linney said.

Former Chancellor Mickey Burnim, who led the university in the late 1990s and early 2000s, did those things and was an excellent leader, she said.

“We haven’t had that since,” Linney said.

Deanna Byrum, who works in academic affairs and has been at ECSU two years, said the next chancellor should have a clear vision and make that vision known to everyone on campus. She also said the chancellor should have an open door policy, listen to staff and hear their concerns, and encourage teamwork.

The fact the university serves an area that is rural and many of its students are first-generation college students is also something the next chancellor should understand, she said.

The new chancellor also needs to support ECSU’s efforts to engage with the larger community, Byrum said.

Rosa Adams, who works in the office of retention and has been at ECSU nearly 10 years, said the next chancellor needs to be someone who will value staff but remember that the university’s first focus is on students.

Melanie Baker, who chairs ECSU’s Staff Senate, said believing in staff is a necessary qualification for chancellor. The chancellor brings a vision, Baker said, but “we’re the ones that implement that vision.”

Baker also suggested the next chancellor needs to be someone open to criticism. Staff shouldn’t fear losing their job just for questioning the chancellor on something, she said.

Esmin Baptise-Mateo, a member of the Elizabeth City State University Business and Finance Department, said she has been disappointed in the lack of training for staff. The chancellor should have a true open-door policy and a strong management background. Policies needs to be written down, she said.

“When policies are not written down they are just ideas,” said Baptiste-Mateo.

Trina Gregory, who works in academic affairs, said employee morale needs attention from the next chancellor.

“The new leader that comes in has to pick up on the morale issues that we have here at ECSU,” Gregory said.

Staff needs to be included and feel important, she said.

“We need to have our voice heard,” Gregory said.

Gregory said Chancellor Jimmy Jenkins, who served from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, allowed staff time off to attend Viking Fest and provided other opportunities for staff to interact with students in a more casual environment. That helped the university “feel like a close-knit family,” Gregory said.

Byrum said the next chancellor also needs to be someone who will work on building a positive image for the university. 

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