N.C. Central University narrows chancellor search

University wants to have its new leader on the job by July

jstancill@newsobserver.comJanuary 9, 2013 

— N.C. Central University is closing in on the search for its next chancellor, with a short list of candidates now under consideration.

Harold Epps, an NCCU trustee who chairs the search committee, said the pool had been narrowed from 65 initial candidates to between five and eight people. The committee aims to narrow that list to three finalists to submit to UNC President Tom Ross by late January or early February, Epps said. Ross will then make his choice, and the UNC system’s Board of Governors will elect the new chancellor.

“I’m encouraged with the depth and breadth of the candidates,” Epps said. “We will have tough choices to make, and that’s what we want.”

He said the candidates bring various skills and backgrounds to the table. They represent a wide range of experience, from sitting presidents to chief academic officers to private sector professionals and those with skills in both business and academia. And, Epps added, “he or she” could be in place in the spring, or by July 1 at the latest.

Some of the candidates have already visited the NCCU campus in Durham, Epps said, while others have not.

The next leader will succeed Interim Chancellor Charles Becton, who took on the role last August after the abrupt departure of Charlie Nelms, who at 65 announced that he would leave a few weeks before the start of the fall semester. Nelms had been on the job for five years.

The committee is looking for people who can commit to a longer tenure – six to 10 years, Epps said. NCCU wants a leader who can pursue public-private partnerships, leverage NCCU’s position in science and technology fields and boost fundraising, Epps said, while maintaining the proper balance of athletics and academics after the university’s move from NCAA Division II to Division I.

“In higher ed today,” he said, “you need people who can walk on water.”

The next leader will take the helm at NCCU at a time when the university had taken steps to lift academic standards and graduation rates.

Baffling departure

The university increased the required minimum grade point averages. Returning students have to have a 2.0 grade point average to remain in school. That has forced underperforming students to leave campus, which is expected to improve completion rates of students in the long run.

Nelms received praise for implementing that change, as well as efforts to improve customer service on the campus.

But his departure is still baffling to many.

Nelms said he was retiring, but he received a severance payment of nearly $57,000, or two months’ salary. UNC system officials refused to discuss the reason for the payout, citing confidential personnel information.

After Nelms’ announcement, Ross briefed trustees about a personnel matter behind closed doors. When asked whether the matter was related to Nelms, Ross said, “in part, yes,” but declined to elaborate.

The former chancellor has since established a nonprofit called Destination Graduation Initiative. Nelms’ website lists him as director of the effort, which is billed as a way to help historically black colleges and universities increase their retention and graduation rates.

Nelms the blogger

Nelms is also a blogger on Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning news and commentary website.

He recently wrote a piece titled “20 Things Every Aspiring HBCU President Should Know.” In it, he wrote that three of his protégés are finalists in presidential searches by black colleges and universities.

He offered his advice for them and others, including, “Ultimately, you are accountable for the institution’s success in all areas. Translation: The buck stops with you,” and “Access without success is hollow. Translation: Unless students graduate, your university has not done its job.”

And finally, he advised up-and-coming leaders to have an escape hatch: “Keep yourself some go-to-heck money. Translation: Be prepared to walk away rather than sacrifice your values.”

In an email Tuesday, Nelms said his graduation initiative was proceeding and he would share the results on his blog and in higher education publications.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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