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Alumni near and far weigh in on next chancellor

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, September 7, 2018

A savvy politician able to engage diverse groups of people.

A skillful recruiter of students who is also a successful fundraiser.

Someone knowledgeable about higher education with a background in historically black colleges and universities.

Someone willing to stay and work for the long haul.

That’s a snapshot of the qualities Elizabeth City State University alumni say they would like to see in the university’s next chancellor. 

ECSU alumni weighed in on their desires for the next chancellor during a forum Thursday evening conducted by telephone conference call. The call was the latest in a series of forums hosted by the ECSU Chancellor Search Committee as it moves toward having a recommendation for chancellor ready for university trustees by January.

The conference call was hosted by Abdul Rasheed, president of the ECSU National Alumni Association, and Todd Twine, southern region director for the association.

Michael Johnson, president of the Raleigh-Durham-Wake chapter of the alumni group, said it’s important ECSU’s next chancellor be politically savvy. The next chancellor also needs to have the ability to build bridges with private industry and the greater Elizabeth City community, he said.

“We still need to mend some fences with the community in Elizabeth City,” Johnson said, adding the community needs to be similarly committed to mending its relationship with ECSU.

ECSU and the city of Elizabeth City need to work together, he said, to make both Elizabeth City and the university sought-after destinations. People who live in the Raleigh-Durham area have never regarded Elizabeth City as a nice place to be, he said.

“One challenge that we have always had is geography,” Johnson said.

Student recruitment should be the top priority for the new chancellor, Johnson said. ECSU has seen an improvement in enrollment the past two years, Johnson said, “but we’re still a ways to go from where we were 10, 11, 12 years ago.”

Echoing a sentiment voiced by students and faculty at other recent forums, Johnson also said the next chancellor needs to be committed to ECSU for the long haul.

“We need stability,” Johnson said, adding the next chancellor should make a commitment to stay at least five years.

ECSU is seeking its fourth chancellor in five years. Willie Gilchrist, who had been chancellor since 2010, resigned under fire in July 2013. Charles Becton served as interim chancellor until Stacey Franklin Jones was hired in October 2014. Jones left a year later in December 2015 and was succeed by Thomas Conway, a veteran university administrator, in January 2016. Conway retired this May. Karrie Dixon, a vice president of the UNC System, was tapped by UNC President Margaret Spellings to serve as the university’s interim chancellor until Conway’s successor is named.

Rosa Sylvester, a member of ECSU’s Atlanta Metro alumni chapter who graduated in 1996, said the next chancellor needs to understand the importance of technology in admissions, “really amping up the technology piece in that department.”

Engaging the community is an important role for the chancellor, Sylvester also said. She echoed Johnson’s enthusiasm for ECSU’s aviation science program.

Ann Barnett, a 1980 graduate and member of the Raleigh-Durham-Wake alumni chapter, said the next chancellor needs to be both professional and approachable — “someone you can call and talk with at any time.”

The chancellor also needs to be committed to preserving ECSU’s identity as a historically black university, Barnett said. ECSU is one of a number of colleges and universities across the country, including 10 in North Carolina, that are federally designated as historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. 

Barnett said the chancellor needs to be a skilled fundraiser, team-oriented and committed to longevity.

“The top priority of the position should be recruitment,” Barnett also said.

Judy Wiggins of ECSU’s Class of 1977, who is a member of the Raleigh-Durham-Wake alumni chapter, said the chancellor needs to nurture a culture of trust and professionalism on campus.

“I would really like someone that has an HBCU background,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins echoed the call for longevity and added the chancellor needs to be approachable and transparent.

Ulysses Bell, a 1965 graduate of ECSU and resident of the Raleigh-Durham area, said the next chancellor needs to be able to work with diverse groups of people, someone who can negotiate solutions amid disagreements and different perspectives.

Bell said the chancellor also needs experience in higher education. The position at ECSU shouldn’t be on-the-job-training, he said.

Business experience is also important, he said. So are expertise in fundraising and finance.

“We need a chancellor who really understands fundraising,” Bell said.

ECSU should be looking at a capital campaign with a goal of $50 million, $100 million or even $150 million, Bell said.

Rob Williams, a member of the Class of 1972, said his pick for chancellor would be “someone who has a love for Elizabeth City State University and a love for the Elizabeth City community.”

Keith Richardson said the next chancellor needs to be someone who can reach out to local businesses to help Viking Pride become a community-wide passion.

“Viking Pride should be all over the city,” not just limited to alumni, Richardson said.

Citing ECSU’s founding as a school for training teachers, Richardson said he’d like to see the university strengthen its teacher education program and work to promote it.

Shaquita Overton, a 1999 ECSU graduate and member of the Atlanta Metro alumni chapter, said the chancellor should be strategic and business-savvy, and should be someone who delegates tasks rather than micro-manages them.

Faculty and staff should feel they’re working in a great environment and students should find the chancellor approachable, Overton said. The chancellor also needs to foster a “culture of giving” and should understand how important ECSU’s legacy is to alumni, she said.

Robin Patterson, a 1998 graduate and member of the Tri-State aliumni chapter, said transparency is important in the next chancellor — including being transparent in communication with alumni. The chancellor should build a bridge with everyone, she said.

Elizabeth City City Councilman Johnnie Walton, an ECSU graduate, noted that ECSU website’s has a link that allows people to nominate someone they believe would be a great chancellor. Walton encouraged alumni to make nominations.

Rasheed thanked alumni for their participation at the conclusion of the forum.

“Viking Pride was quite alive on this call tonight,” he said.

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