Saturday, July 13, 2024

College commanders: Room at the top

Help wanted signs are up at the top rungs of several North Carolina campuses these days, with Appalachian State University’s Sheri Everts and Campbell’s J. Bradley Creed among the latest to create work for search committees.

Other campuses seeking permanent chancellors include the following:

N.C. Central, where Johnson Akinleye is retiring at the end of June after leading the Durham school since 2014.

UNC Chapel Hill, where interim chancellor Lee Roberts succeeded Kevin Guskiewicz in January.

Winston-Salem State University, where Elwood Robinson retired last June after seven years. Provost Anthony Graham is interim chancellor.

N.C. A&T State University, where Harold Martin is retiring in September after leading the Greensboro campus since 2009.

Separately, Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State University, is widely expected
to retire after his current contract expires in June 2025. He’s led the state’s largest campus for 15 years.

The average tenure of university presidents is five years, reflecting the pressures of attracting students as the traditional college-age population plateaus, raising money and dealing with constant controversies such as the recent protests over the war in Gaza.

Appalachian State joined that list in April, when Everts said she would step down within a week of notifying UNC System President Peter Hans, citing “significant health challenges.” Heather Norris, the provost since 2020, was promptly named interim chancellor.

Everts’ move came a month after trustees Chair Mark Ricks criticized the chancellor and her staff for what he termed “a failure of process” in their handling of the university’s plan to bring emergency dispatching for its campus police in-house. The move sparked considerable criticism from elected leaders of Boone and Watauga County, which established a consolidated 911 center less than two years ago.

Ricks said the administration had “advanced this initiative without engaging our opinion,” even as it was “blindsiding town residents.” Under UNC rules, management and oversight is largely the responsibility of the system office in Raleigh, with trustees serving in a mostly advisory role.

Appalachian State showed strong enrollment growth during Everts’ decade-long tenure, and she helped negotiate the addition of a second campus in Hickory. Like many university leaders, she had her share of quarrels, including a “no-confidence” resolution passed by the Appalachian State Faculty Senate in 2020.

“The trajectory of the university has been going in the right direction,” says ex-trustee Bob Hatley, the former CEO of Raleigh’s Paragon Bank. “The reputation of Appalachian State has continued to increase, the enrollment has increased, its national reputation has been increasing.” Hans praised Everts’ tenure as “a time of growth and momentum for Appalachian State.”

The five UNC System searches are happening after approval of a revised policy that allows Board of Governors members to take part in the searches. Under the new rules, the system president appoints a search committee of as many as 13 voting members, which includes the president, the BOG chair or a designee, and the BOG member who is the designated liaison to the university seeking a new leader. A sitting or retired chancellor from another UNC campus is also required, along with faculty, staff, student and alumni representatives.

At least three finalists are submitted to the system president, who then chooses a nominee for a vote by the BOG. (If the president doesn’t like the choices, he can send the slate back to the Board of Trustees.)

On the private college front, Creed announced plans to retire next year, ending a 10-year run at the helm of the university based in Buies Creek, one hour east of Raleigh. Creed is only the fifth president in Campbell’s 137-year history. A national search for his successor is planned.

Creed oversaw Campbell’s most successful capital campaign, raising $105 million. It was a key factor in the development of the Oscar N. Harris Student Union, which opened in 2020.

“After more than 30 years of leadership in higher education, I’m eager to take on other projects and to spend more time with my loving wife, children, and grandchildren,” Creed said in a release. Creed was dean at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Texas when Campbell tapped him for its top post in 2015. He also had been provost at Samford University in Alabama.

Campbell’s Wiggins School of Law is based in downtown Raleigh, and it maintains additional satellite campuses in Fort Liberty/Pope Air Force Base and at Camp Lejeune.

During the Fall 2023 semester, the university had approximately 5,100 students, including about 2,800 undergraduates. It also runs the only osteopathic medical school in North Carolina.

Campbell was led by founder James Campbell from 1887 until he died in 1934. His son, Leslie, was president until 1967, followed by Norman Wiggins, Jerry Wallace and Creed.

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