DURHAM — Charles L. Becton, an attorney and former judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals, took office as interim chancellor of N.C. Central University on Monday.
His appointment was announced in July by UNC President Tom Ross soon after Charlie Nelms, NCCU chancellor since 2007, announced his retirement.
A Durham resident who grew up in the eastern North Carolina town of Ayden, Becton has had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, judge and law professor. He is an internationally recognized expert in trial procedures. He earned his undergraduate degree at Howard University and holds law degrees from Duke University (J.D.) and the University of Virginia School of Law (LL.M.).
“I am honored to be named interim chancellor of this great university,” Becton said. “I will embrace the strategic directions of the university enthusiastically. In many ways, the things that are so good about this university – the things we proudly celebrate – are the things we can build upon.”
Becton began his legal career in 1969 with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York. In 1970, he joined the Charlotte law firm of Chambers Stein Ferguson & Lanning, where he worked alongside Julius L. Chambers, the noted civil rights lawyer who subsequently served as chancellor at NCCU from 1993 to 2001. Becton helped establish the firm’s Chapel Hill office, where he practiced until his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 1981. He served on the appellate bench until 1990, when he returned to private practice with the Raleigh law firm of Fuller, Becton, Slifkin & Bell.
The former judge recently served as the John Scott Cansler Lecturer at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law and a visiting professor at the Duke University School of Law. In 2010, he was the Charles Hamilton Houston Chaired Professor of Law at the NCCU School of Law. He has taught and lectured at trial advocacy skills institutes across the country, in Canada, and in South Africa.
“We have the utmost confidence that Interim Chancellor Becton, a talented and knowledgeable leader, will continue to advance the key priorities of NCCU in the coming months,” said Dwight Perry, chairman of the NCCU Board of Trustees.
Nelms shocked NCCU July 26 with the news that he would step down almost immediately, weeks before the start of a new academic year. The abrupt announcement was unusual; typically, university leaders will announce their departure with several months’ notice.
But Ross said Nelms, 65, had always planned to serve five years. The president complimented Nelms, who raised academic standards during his time. “He added greatly to the university,” Ross said. “This institution is headed in the right direction and doing a lot of things right, and we owe Charlie Nelms a great deal for steering it for the last five years.”
Nelms agreed to help with the transition through the end of August, said Laura Fjeld, vice president and general counsel of the UNC system’s General Administration. He will receive any accrued leave balance plus two months’ and six days’ salary, covering the period from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6. That comes to $56,972.
When asked whether there was any kind of investigation or scandal looming on the campus, Ross said, simply, “I’m not in a position to talk about personnel issues.”
Perry said he hoped to have a search committee named in the next two or three weeks. The process of finding the next chancellor could take five to six months, he said.
Ross said it could take longer, perhaps the end of the academic year or next summer, before a new leader is place. He said he had great confidence in Becton, the interim chancellor, who he said had “great leadership skills.”