CARY — The University North Carolina Board of Governors unanimously selected Dr. Stacey Franklin Jones to be the new chancellor of Elizabeth City State University on Thursday.
“The future of Elizabeth City State University is bright and I am honored to have been elected to help shape it,” Jones told the Board of Governors and UNC President Tom Ross during their retreat in Cary.
To ECSU administrators, trustees, alumni and students and ECSU’s service area, she pledged to turn the small campus into “northeastern North Carolina’s regional flagship.”
Jones also said she sees ECSU “being the most affordable academic success university in North Carolina” and becoming a national model for a quality, accessible education.
Ross said Jones, currently a corporate consultant on government contracts and a former provost of Bowie State University, brings dynamic leadership to ECSU at a “pivotal point in its history.”
“She brings to the role of
chancellor a rare blend of leadership, experience in higher education, industry and development as well as a practical understanding of how to guide institutions through serious challenges, whether academic or financial in nature.”
Jones, 53, will be officially welcomed on campus Tuesday and starts Oct. 1. She relieves interim ECSU chancellor Charles Becton, who’s held the post for more than a year following the abrupt retirement of Chancellor Willie Gilchrist in June 2013.
Jones was one of three finalists ECSU’s 23-member chancellor search committee forwarded to Ross last month, ending an eight-month, national search for the university’s next leader.
Rasheed: Great news
Abdul Rasheed, chair of the ECSU board of trustees as well as the search committee, said Thursday Jones’ selection great news for ECSU and all of North Carolina. He lauded Jones as a product of a historically black institution, instructor and administrator in higher education and involved in management of Fortune 500 companies. He said he was humbled to have helped find the next leader of ECSU, noting it’s his last major act on the board of trustees. He’s near the end of his second term and term limits preclude him serving another.
“I feel like this is probably the greatest contribution I could make to the university,” Rasheed said. He declined to say if Jones was his preferred candidate of the three finalists, saying any of the three would’ve been great choices.
Tony Lassiter, a member of ECSU’s National Alumni Association, said he and other alumni were also pleased ECSU once again had a permanent leader. He welcomed Jones as both a newcomer to ECSU and the UNC system.
“I feel good about it because it’s the 21st century and sometimes you need change,” he said.
ECSU instructor and search committee member Dr. Margery Coulson-Clark also said faculty are excited to work with Jones as well. Faculty are eager to have someone who can raise the profile of faculty and students’ accomplishments. Good news has often gotten drowned out due to falling enrollment and bad news on campus, she said.
ECSU students McKinley Strothers and Mr. and Ms. ECSU, Donayai Moffatt and Daneal Banks, were also present for Jones’ selection. They said school officials have done well minimizing disruptions to students as enrollment drops forced them to cut programs and consolidate schools and departments. Prior to joining her on-stage for photo ops, they said students are eager to turn ECSU around.
“Viking pride is definitely back,” Banks said.
Jones: Students come first
Jones also pledged that, while she works to strengthen ECSU’s bond with the greater Elizabeth City community, including its elected leaders, other learning institutions, businesses and cultural and philanthropic groups, she wouldn’t forget students come first.
To ECSU students, she said, her two young daughters and many former students have “trained me to hear you, ECSU students, and, when necessary, take direction from you, and as your new chancellor, I’ll have no more important role than to enable you to find your strength so you can impact the world.”
Thursday, Jones, Ross, Rasheed and Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque also addressed some of the challenges ECSU has faced since 2013.
Ross said Jones, who has a doctorate in computer science, brings data-driven leadership and passion that will help grow ECSU’s enrollment. He also noted ECSU had slightly exceeded its enrollment target of 1854, reporting 1867 students for the fall semester. That’s still a drop of more than 40 percent of students from 2010, when ECSU had 3307 students.
'Community effort’ to grow
Jones said it will take a “community effort” to grow ECSU, adding it’ll also be crucial to engage Elizabeth City’s Coast Guard Base in growing its aviation program. Ross and local officials have all touted aviation as an essential sector for ECSU to serve. Asked if ECSU’s aviation program, which has struggled to graduate students on time due to limited access to aircraft, would need more resources, she said that the program’s future must go through a “process.”
As to why she wants to lead ECSU, she said she sees the university’s potential rather than its challenges.
“I think ECSU is the perfect place, and this is the perfect time, to create a model” of affordable academic success universities, she said. “I see much more opportunity than challenge.”
Regarding enrollment, Rasheed said Becton had done excellent work for ECSU, but he didn’t consider ECSU “stable” at only about 1,800 students. He predicted ECSU’s enrollment would rebound greatly in two to three years.
'Moving in right direction’
Jones also said she believed the campus police department, which faced several challenges last year and whose former police chief has faced charges in connection to obstruction of justice and witness intimidation, is “moving in the right direction,” thanks to Becton and other officials’ leadership. The school has hired personnel to train the entire campus in the importance of reporting crimes, and hired more police and expanded their training on investigating sexual and gender violence.
There’s also the question of ECSU’s support in the General Assembly. State senators proposed studying the closure of ECSU in a draft state budget this summer, triggering an outcry from ECSU and local elected officials. The senate swiftly pulled the measure and replaced it with a study on how to stabilize and grow ECSU.
Jones said she felt lawmakers strongly supported ECSU despite some calls for the closure study. She said the unanimous Senate vote, 47-0, to remove the provision showed lawmakers’ commitment to ECSU.
Fennebresque also said the Board of Governors unanimously and strongly supported ECSU. As a gesture of Viking pride, he added, the governors and Ross all wore blue ties matching the school color.
“I view ECSU, as Dr. Jones said, as the regional flagship of the northeastern part of the state,” he said. “We also feel that way on the Board of Governors. It will be the economic engine that drives the economy in that part of the state, and it’s vitally important to North Carolina and the northeastern part of North Carolina.”