DAN GERLACH: Thoughts from East Carolina University’s interim chancellor
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally appeared in The East Carolinian, East Carolina University’s campus newspaper.
Two months ago, I did not know that I would be serving as interim chancellor at East Carolina University. I was president of the Golden LEAF Foundation in Rocky Mount, where I enjoyed the opportunity to provide resources and insight to help rural communities in North Carolina transform economically. While there is much work to be done there, it was a good gig.
Throughout my 25 years in North Carolina I have come to love and respect East Carolina University. So when Dr. Bill Roper, the interim president of the entire public university system in North Carolina, asked me to take on the challenge of serving this institution during a time of transition, I agreed to do so.
I respect ECU because we pride ourselves on our historic mission of bringing people into higher education, not keeping them out. We graduate a greater percentage of our students in four years than similar universities do in five years, saving taxpayers and student families $21,000 by moving them to graduation faster. Our wide range of programs attracts a wide diversity of faculty, students and staff to meet the needs of eastern North Carolina and beyond. We all feel a sense of ownership and pride in athletics and the arts that we share with our community and our region.
Do I want to be part of that? You bet I do.
Much has been written about financial challenges, enrollment numbers, and decisions that many might second guess. But our university and the region in which we live have been challenged before and will continue to be. It’s about building a team – made up of all of us – to answer those challenges.
Frankly, I don’t want students to enroll at East Carolina because the institution needs their tuition check and the state support that follows. I want them to enroll because North Carolina needs an estimated 2 million MORE people to obtain some college degree or certificate past the high school level by 2030. I want them to enroll because East Carolina offers high-quality education provided by dedicated and talented faculty and staff who prepare them to be more successful and productive than they otherwise would have been. I want them to enroll because Greenville, with a revitalized Uptown just steps from our campus, is a great place to be part of a college community.
We need to make our case more strongly not only to high school seniors, but also to community college transfer students, people who started but did not finish college, and scholars capable and interested in graduate education. Initiatives are underway to do this, but nothing sells our university like our students.
So here’s what I ask of you: be our witness. Tell prospective students why you came here and why it’s a great choice. I’m paid to advocate for ECU, but you’re our customers and therefore your testimony matters.
We have financial challenges, but they cannot intimidate us. Since 1990, I’ve worked on state budgets as a legislative staffer, as a lead budget negotiator for the state’s governor, and as head of a billion dollar foundation. We will work to protect the quality of education at good value for our students. Period.
When I was at the Golden LEAF Foundation, the organization sponsored scholarships, leadership development and paid internships for students from rural counties to go to college. ECU led all North Carolina public and private colleges in the number of scholars. I have personally watched the growth of many students who I met when they were seniors in high school through their college graduation.
No other university has the same level of impact on a student as ECU does. None. This place is special. Let us work together to make it more so.
In just a week on the job, I’ve been witness to many instances of East Carolina excellence, such as the newest class of Pirate Nurses studying for their NCLEX (licensing) exam as they aim to best last year’s mark of 99 percent passage rate. I’ve met with engineering and technology faculty leaders as companies come to them demanding well-trained workers for jobs already waiting. I’ve welcomed home our baseball team from Wichita, where they claimed the conference regular season championship.
I look forward to meeting many more Pirates in the weeks to come and experiencing many more instances of East Carolina excellence, and it will be my job to expand these stories and that impact into more communities, reaching more students.