North Carolina Central Chancellor Charlie Nelms to Retire

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by Reginald Stuart

The rapidly growing help wanted list for college presidents and chancellors expanded again Thursday with the surprise announcement from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) that Dr. Charlie Nelms, its chancellor for the past five years, was retiring effective August 6.

Veteran Durham, N.C., attorney and former judge Charles L. Becton, a Howard University graduate with law degrees from the University of Virginia and Duke University, will become interim chancellor.

Nelms, who turns 66 in November, has been hinting about retirement since his state of the university speech at the start of the 2011-12 academic year, said a higher education official in North Carolina, hastening to add it is not uncommon in that state for university chiefs to start thinking retirement when they become vested in the state’s retirement system. Nelms, who is paid $315,000 a year as chancellor, will remain at the university through August to work with Becton to “help ensure a smooth transition in leadership,” said a university statement.

NCCU Provost, Dr. Debbie Thomas, the most likely candidate for interim chancellor, has been on medical leave from the university.

NCCU joins a long list of institutions, including more than a dozen HBCUs, in search of new chief executives.

Earlier this month Florida A & M University hung out its help wanted sign after severing ties with its president, Dr. James Ammons. Ammons left NCCU to become president of Florida A&M. Among other HBCUs actively seeking chief executives are Tennessee State University, Morehouse College, Fisk University, Bennett College and St. Paul’s College.

Nelms, who went to NCCU from the Indiana University system, came to his post as the state and nation’s economy was entering a protracted slide, including steady cuts in state funding that prompted a reorganization of state universities across the nation. Amid the cuts, he placed a new focus on increasing African-American male student retention, helped establish the first Ph.D. program at the school in more than 50 years and oversaw the implementation of higher admission requirements and academic progress standards.

Filling Nelms’ slot and others like it is becoming tougher and tougher, say those involved in recruiting candidates for academic administrators, as the demands of people in those jobs have increased significantly in recent decades and as more traditional candidates—those with rich histories as professors than as academic leaders—are dropping from the race.

“As a search person, you continue to rely on the academy to produce a well-developed slate from inside,” says Lucky Leske, a consultant with one of nearly a half-dozen leading firms in the academic leadership talent search business. That said, Leske adds, “People are being creative” in considering no traditional candidates for university leaders.

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