Education

Former NCSU Chancellor Bruce Poulton dies at 88

Former North Carolina State University Chancellor Bruce R. Poulton.
Former North Carolina State University Chancellor Bruce R. Poulton. NCSU Libraries

Bruce R. Poulton, a former N.C. State University chancellor who helped develop the vision and a master plan for Centennial Campus and later stepped down amid controversy over NCSU athletics, died unexpectedly at his home Friday, a son said.

At N.C. State, Poulton worked with Gov. Jim Hunt and Gov. Jim Martin to transfer 900-plus acres of state property to the university and then asked Claude McKinney, a former NCSU design school dean who became chief planner and advocate for Centennial Campus, to craft the development concept, said George Worsley, vice chancellor for finance and business for N.C. State from 1976 through 2004.

Poulton sought an appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly to expand the College of Textiles, which was set to be built on the original campus. After the school received the funds, Poulton mandated that a College of Textiles building be built on Centennial Campus, Worsley said.

“That then proved to be the kickstarter for the campus,” Worsley said. “And it really didn’t slow down after that.”

Poulton, 88, of Raleigh, started as N.C. State’s 10th chancellor in 1982. A memorial service has been set for 1 p.m. Thursday at Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, 300 Saint Mary’s St. in Raleigh. Visitation, at the same location, will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of former Chancellor Bruce Poulton,” N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement Sunday.

“He was instrumental in the master planning for and development of Centennial Campus and led a major expansion of the university’s research budget.”

Poulton was born in Yonkers, N.Y. in 1928. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and then enrolled in Rutgers University, where he earned three degrees including his doctorate in endocrinology in 1956.

Poulton, a dairy physiologist, then became an associate professor at the University of Maine in the agriculture department, where he worked his way up to vice president of the school from 1971 to 1975, according to a son, Pete Poulton, 50, of Wilmington, and a biography posted on N.C. State’s website.

Bruce Poulton went on to lead the public university system in New Hampshire from 1975 to 1982, when he accepted the chancellor position at N.C. State.

He resigned from the position in 1989 after newspaper reports on the pending publication of the book “Personal Fouls” by Peter Golenbock, which alleged wrongdoing in the NCSU basketball program.

Basketball Coach Jim Valvano denied the charges and invited the NCAA to investigate. The NCAA found the university in violation of eight rules, which mostly centered on players’ sale of complimentary tickets and athletic shoes.

Valvano was forced to resign as athletic director but remained basketball coach. He later took a buyout after other allegations emerged.

Poulton’s son, Pete, said Sunday that the situation “impacted him greatly.”

“I think he felt like he was a little bit betrayed by the board of directors,” Pete Poulton said.

Karen Helm, who is director of planning and accreditation for NCSU, said Poulton had a vision that led the development of a master plan and focused on partnerships that led to interdisciplinary and partnered research. Those efforts moved the school forward and “has contributed substantially to the economic development of the state,” said Helm, who worked with Poulton when he was head of the University System of New Hampshire and was his assistant when he became chancellor at N.C. State.

After Poulton resigned from the chancellorship in September 1989, he became director of the university’s Literacy Systems Center. He left that job about five years ago, Pete Poulton said.

Pete Poulton said his father was disciplined, generous to others, but “a total skinflint” when it came to himself. Bruce Poulton had a loud laugh and sense of humor that was dry on the surface but a little more juvenile when you got to know him, his son said.

“If you could get him to actually start laughing, he would usually end up laughing until his face was crying and beet red,” Pete Poulton said. 

After Bruce Poulton’s wife Betty died in 2011, he spent the majority of his time completing a manuscript outlining the history of Centennial Campus.

Pete Poulton had taken his father to a routine doctor’s appointment on June 11 and tests indicated he likely had cancer, but the family didn’t get a final diagnosis before he died.

Bruce Poulton leaves behind four children and five grandchildren. “He was your average good-guy dad from back in the day,” Pete Poulton said.

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