Western Carolina gets new chancellor. A previous search had broken down at the last minute.

Western Carolina University

Nearly a year after a previous search for a Western Carolina University chancellor fell apart at the last minute, the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday elected Kelli R. Brown, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University, to serve as WCU chancellor.

The selection was made during a special session of the board in Chapel Hill, after Western Carolina’s Board of Trustees offered its list of three finalists. UNC system interim President Bill Roper announced Brown’s selection, saying, “Western Carolina deserves a chancellor with a keen focus on student and faculty success, and Dr. Brown has demonstrated that focus throughout her esteemed academic career. I welcome her to the UNC System and look forward to working with Dr. Brown in her new role.”

Western Carolina’s interim chancellor, Alison Morrison-Shetlar, listened in by phone and said immediately after the vote, “We are completely excited.”

Brown will begin the job by July 1. Her initial annual salary will be $325,000.

Western Carolina has had an interim chancellor since the the death of Chancellor David O. Belcher, who passed away in June 2018 after struggling two years with brain cancer.

The selection of his successor generated strife on the Board of Governors a few weeks later. In July, as a list of candidates was winnowed to a top contender, board member Tom Fetzer, a former Raleigh mayor who is now a lobbyist in Wilmington, contacted an outside firm to look into the candidate’s background.

Several fellow board members reproached Fetzer and said he had breached confidentiality by revealing the candidate’s name to the outside company.

Fetzer said he was trying to keep the board from making a bad decision.

A few days later, the unnamed candidate dropped out.

Harry Smith, chairman of the Board of Governors, welcomed Brown in a statement, saying, “On behalf of the Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the selection of Dr. Kelli R. Brown to lead WCU into the future. Western Carolina has seen tremendous growth, particularly now as an NC Promise institution. Now, under Dr. Brown’s leadership, it is poised to see even greater success.”

A time of flux

Brown will serve as the university’s 12th president.

She joins the 16-university UNC system at a time of flux: It’s under the leadership of an interim president, its flagship in Chapel Hill and its presence in Greenville, East Carolina University, have interim chancellors; and the Board of Governors is shrinking from 28 to 24 voting members in July.

For what may be the first time ever, no members of the Board of Governors are Democrats.

Brown holds an associate in applied sciences degree in dental hygiene from Michael J. Owens Technical College in Toledo, Ohio; a master of science in education in public health and a bachelor of science from the University of Toledo; and a doctorate in education from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

She worked at Western Illinois University from 1987 to 1994, eventually serving as the graduate program coordinator in the Department of Health Sciences and assistant to the dean in the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She spent two years as chair of the Department of Health Sciences at Illinois State University, then joined the faculty of the University of South Florida in 1996 in the College of Public Health. She was interim dean of the Graduate School at USF from 2003 to 2006. In 2007, she became associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Florida, a position she held until 2012, when she became interim dean and professor in the school’s College of Health and Human Performance.

According to a UNC announcement, Brown joined the faculty at Georgia College as a professor in the School of Health and Human Performance in June 2013. In July 2016, she was appointed interim president of Valdosta State University in southern Georgia until a permanent president was named and took office in January 2017. She then returned to her position at Georgia College.

While at Georgia College, UNC said, Brown has led faculty and student initiatives, including revitalizing a Center for Student Success, centralizing academic advising and helping to raise the four-year graduation rate at the school by 25 percent.

According to UNC, Brown’s research interests include adolescent and youth health issues and prevention marketing techniques. She has worked on several projects using social marketing in community and school settings, and was a leader of Florida’s statewide social marketing campaign called Florida Cares for Women, aimed at increasing screening for breast and cervical cancers.

She has been married for 30 years, the announcement said, to Dennis M. Brown.

She will live in the chancellor’s residence in Cullowhee.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.