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UNC board names Dixon ECSU chancellor

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New Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Karrie Dixon (right) poses for a photograph with ECSU Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Kim Brown in Chapel Hill, Friday. Dixon was named chancellor on Friday.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, December 14, 2018

CHAPEL HILL — Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Karrie Dixon no longer has the word “interim” as part of her title.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted unanimously Friday to name Dixon as ECSU’s chancellor on the recommendation of UNC System President Margaret Spellings. The UNC president had tapped Dixon, a vice president of the university system to serve as interim chancellor following Thomas Conway’s retirement as chancellor at the end of May.

Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said at a press conference following the Board of Governors meeting that Dixon was already doing a tremendous job as interim chancellor. He also said “northeastern North Carolina, Elizabeth City and the state of North Carolina have a high-value athlete and rock star” in her.

Smith said the Board of Govenors had recruited Dixon to work with ECSU’s leadership team in turning the university around. He noted that Dixon and ECSU have done that, as enrollment and other indicators are moving in the right direction.

Spellings said the transformation at ECSU under Dixon’s leadership has already been dramatic.

“If you haven’t been to Elizabeth City (State University) in the past six months then you haven’t been to Elizabeth City (State University),” Spellings said.

Dixon said she was excited and “full of energy” as she begins her next chapter at ECSU, adding that she was “ready to get back to campus.” She said she is committed to staying at ECSU as long as is necessary to bring stability to the campus.

“My priority is stability for the university,” Dixon said.

Stability in the chancellor’s office was a key concern voiced by a number of participants in the staff, faculty, alumni and community forums held by the chancellor search panel that recommended Dixon and two other finalists for the job to Spellings. The university has had three chancellors since 2013 and Dixon will make the fourth. Overall, she is the campus’s 12th chief executive officer and seventh chancellor. She is the second female to hold the post.

Discussing her priorities on Friday, Dixon said she believes ECSU’s enrollment will return to 3,500 or more.

“Five years is realistic but I think anything is possible, especially with NC Promise,” Dixon said, referring to the tuition-reduction program that began at ECSU this fall. “If it takes five years then that’s OK, but we could get there way before.”

New programs such as drone aviation, emergency management and homeland security will fuel continued growth of the campus, she said.

ECSU Trustee Kim Brown said the university got great support in its chancellor search from the UNC System office, adding that he’s very proud of the process that led to Dixon’s selection.

“We interviewed some tremendous candidates,” Brown said.”The reality is she rose to the top. We are just excited that the process worked.”

Dixon’s strong leadership set her apart from the rest of the field, he said.

“She has displayed, in the time she has been with us, impeccable character and integrity,” Brown said. “She is a leader. A leader can’t lead from the back but has to lead from the front, and she has been in front setting the standard for where we should go.”

Brown said he thinks Dixon’s selection as chancellor will help boost ECSU’s growth.

“Increased enrollment will definitely continue now that people will know the stability of leadership that is there,” he said.

Steve Long, a member of the Board of Governors, thanked Brown, Search Committee Chairman Harold Barnes and the rest of the panel members for their work.

The ECSU Board of Trustees last week forwarded the names of three finalists for the chancellor’s job to Spellings for her consideration. Until Friday’s vote at the Board of Governors meeting the names of the finalists were kept confidential in accordance with UNC System policy.

The trustees voted to forward the names after receiving a report at its Dec. 5 meeting from the ECSU Chancellor Search Committee. The search panel reviewed resumes, interviewed half a dozen candidates in person, and narrowed the field down to three.

The Board of Governors meeting Friday was the last for Spellings, who is leaving her post next month. She thanked the UNC System leadership and grassroots leaders across the state for their work to “create a college-going culture in every county.”

“Building a statewide college-going culture is not a one-person endeavor,” Spellings said.

Spellings distributed a summary of statistics that shows the system exceeded its goal for rural enrollments in year one of the five-year Higher Expectations strategic plan by 313 students, coming in at 60,973.

In addition to increasing enrollment from rural counties, the system also increased low-income enrollment by 1,257 students, enrolling 64,173 low-income students.

The system also has increased its graduation rate and the number of graduates with degrees in fields deemed critical to building the state’s workforce, she said.

Spellings told the board that NC Promise is strengthening enrollment and that “in our core business we are stronger than ever.”

NC Promise is a state-funded initiative that offers in-state tuition of $500 a semester and out-of-state tuition of $2,500 a semester at ECSU, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.

Spellings said she appreciates the leadership team and the dedicated alumni at all UNC campuses.

Smith congratulated Spellings and her team on what he called “some incredible accomplishments.” The board unanimously adopted a resolution honoring Spellings, specifically citing her work in improving enrollment and graduation rates systemwide.

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