Saunders: Chancellor's exit from NCCU has us wondering what happened

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJuly 30, 2012 

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms

NCCU

Good Lord, man. Even the fry cook at Quick’s Grill in Rockingham would give you at least two weeks’ notice before he split – if he wanted a good reference when he applied for another gig.

So how come when Charlie Nelms announced he was retiring as N.C. Central University chancellor a mere three weeks before school resumes, he barely gave two weeks’ notice?

Probably because he doesn’t plan to need another reference – or job. Nelms’ stated reason for retiring is that he hasn’t had a break in his extensive academic career, and he finally wants to take one.

Yeah, but three weeks before school starts?

C’mon, man. The dude seemed to care for NCCU too much – or he was a great actor – to leave so abruptly without a compelling reason.

Nelms was a hands-on administrator who actually helped students move their furnishings into dorms. A cynic could’ve called that a publicity stunt, but a few years ago, I watched from a distance as he did something that was not for publicity.

Nelms was walking across campus, resplendent as always in a navy or black pinstriped suit, and – instead of calling up groundskeeping and reaming somebody out – began picking up trash.

That simple act reminded me of a passage I’d read in Booker T. Washington’s autobiography in which he said he never saw a piece of litter on the ground that he didn’t want to pick up, or a fence that needed painting that he didn’t want to paint.

It also made me realize that Nelms viewed the university as more than just a warm-weather respite en route to retirement after a career spent in the cold, cold – did I mention cold? – Midwest.

In the lurch

So what’s the deal with leaving NCCU in the lurch?

Dwight Perry, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, insisted that Nelms did no such thing, even though he acknowledged that the board was caught off guard. He also said the “administrative team” knows what it’s supposed to do even if the chancellor isn’t there. Besides, he added, even though Nelms’ retirement takes effect Aug. 6, he “has agreed to stay on until Aug. 31 to help with the transition.”

In politics, when someone says they are leaving office to spend more time with their family or to stop and smell the roses, what they really mean is “the posse is on the front porch fixing to kick the door in.”

In higher education, tenure, contracts and tight budgets or popularity typically preclude you being forced out without a really good reason.

Ready to retire? Really?

Hmmm. You don’t reckon Nelms really does just want to enjoy retirement, do you? Perry thinks so. “There was absolutely no conflict with the board,” he said. “He was just ready to retire.”

NCCU is Nelms’ first stop at an historically black university. I’ve never run a black university, but as anyone who has ever attended one and tried to register for classes can attest – I’ve attended a couple and love’em to death – they can tax your last nerves.

Perhaps Nelms just got tired of dealing with other people’s young’uns.

Just a week ago, NCCU had a suspended football coach who brought negative attention to the campus after assaulting his wife – and it had an admired, committed chancellor.

Now, NCCU says the football coach has been cleared and is back.

And the chancellor is saying – too abruptly – “I’m outta here, yo.”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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