Bruce Poulton was a tall, imposing man with a hearty laugh whose early days as chancellor of N.C. State University were marked by an attempt on his part to adjust to the Southerners on the university staff and faculty and by their attempts to adjust to this plain-spoken New York state native. It worked out over time.
Poulton, who died Friday at the age of 88, came to the campus in 1982 as N.C. State’s 10th chancellor, picked for the job by William Friday, the University of North Carolina’s president. At the time, Poulton was head of the public university system in New Hampshire and had spent his academic career in New England, including a stint as a professor and administrator at the University of Maine.
Poulton is remembered by some as the chancellor who resigned under fire during the controversy that erupted over a book alleging wrongdoing in the NCSU men’s basketball program under the late coach Jim Valvano. In addition to being the basketball coach, Valvano had become athletics director, a position from which he ultimately resigned before taking a buyout to depart the coach’s position. In the end, the NCAA governing body found relatively little in terms of rules violations.
Poulton deserves notice and credit, however, for being one of those who helped develop the vision and a master plan for NCSU’s now-lauded Centennial Campus. Poulton was the one who named the late Claude McKinney, a former design school dean, to lead the Centennial crusade. And Poulton and his late wife, Betty, remained contributing members of the university community.
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Poulton’s tenure as chancellor was relatively brief, but the Centennial Campus is a significant achievement that he helped make possible. That will be a lasting part of his legacy.