N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White is taking a medical leave of absence to concentrate on her treatment for cancer, UNC system officials said Monday.
Saunders-White requested the leave to focus her full energy on her treatment and to make sure the university is moving ahead as a new academic year begins, according to a news release from the UNC system. She has been chancellor since 2013. Last year, she said she was undergoing chemotherapy for kidney cancer.
UNC President Margaret Spellings announced Monday that NCCU’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, Johnson Akinleye, would serve as acting chancellor, effective immediately.
“I wholeheartedly support Chancellor Saunders-White’s decision to direct her complete attention to treatment, and NCCU is fortunate that Provost Akinleye has agreed to assume even greater responsibilities while she is on medical leave,” Spellings said in a statement. “Given his extensive administrative experience, he is exceptionally well qualified to assume oversight of the campus. The university will be in very good hands, and I am grateful that he has accepted this important assignment.”
Akinleye has served as NCCU’s chief academic officer since January 2014. In that role, he is responsible for faculty development, academic planning and assessment, oversight of the university’s seven schools and colleges, and enrollment management.
He is a former vice chancellor for academic programs at UNC Wilmington and held leadership roles at Edward Waters College and Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. He began his academic career as a faculty member at Bowie State University in Maryland and holds a doctorate in human communications studies from Howard University.
Saunders-White is a former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. Previously, she was a technology administrator at UNC Wilmington and at Hampton University in Virginia, after a 15-year stint at IBM.
Last fall, in speaking about her cancer fight, she thanked students and faculty for their support, calling them “my prayer warriors.” She had an upbeat attitude and quoted former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in a speech to the campus: “You have to accept whatever comes. The only important thing is that you meet it with courage and the best that you have.”