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Search on for next ECU finance leader

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Rick Niswander


Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Friday, August 18, 2017

ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton issued a difficult challenge Monday to the members of a newly assembled search committee: Find a suitable replacement for Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

Niswander announced this summer that, after seven years in his administrative position, he will transition back to the university’s faculty effective March 31, 2018. Before serving as vice chancellor, Niswander served as dean of the College of Business, and before that as an accounting teacher and faculty chairman.

As the top financial administrator, Niswander has been responsible for leading the university’s business services, campus operations, financial services, human resources, information technology and university facilities, including construction and renovation of campus buildings. He served his term during a critical period that has included extensive growth of the physical campus, key collaborative efforts with the private sector and the continuing integration of the professional medical practices of ECU Physicians and Vidant Health through Project Unify.

Ron Mitchelson, ECU Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs will chair the search committee. The other committee members include Jim Hopf, Staton’s chief of staff; Jeff Compher, ECU athletic director; Dr. Nick Benson of the Health Sciences division; Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs; Wanda Wynne of the Office of Research, Economic Development and Engagement; Stephanie Coleman and Dee Bowling of the administration and finance division; Grant Hayes of the College of Education; John Miller of the Faculty Senate; Kimrey Miko of the Staff Senate; and Kieran Shanahan, chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees.  

Mitchelson spoke this week with The Daily Reflector about the challenge of replacing Niswander and the importance of finding the right person for this position.

“Rick is highly accomplished and highly regarded in the system,” Mitchelson said. “His services have been invaluable, especially as we have coped with the series of public budget cuts while experiencing significant growth on the campus, a testimony to Rick’s abilities and talent.”

Mitchelson said the position of vice chancellor for administration and finance is crucial because it touches everything the university does.

“Whether it is human resources or all the foundational parts of the university, it all reports to this leader, who serves as the hub, guiding us through the budget process,” he said. 

The position is expected to become even more important as the university advances under Staton’s new leadership, Mitchelson said.

“This is a complicated university, but I think it’s going to get even more complicated,” he said. “Our relationships with the private sector will grow and the millennial campus (where ECU will work with private companies to commercialize research discoveries) will expand and be a crucial portion of the new vice chancellor’s agenda, in addition to managing a highly regulated state budget. We can’t make the deals we need to diversify our revenue streams and make sure we’re maximally effective in the region without these partnerships, and they are very complicated.”

Project Unify is the latest and most prominent example of Mitchelson’s point.

“It’s been a huge investment of time, effort and talent on many people’s parts, but none more than the role Rick has played for the university,” he said. “There is plenty more work to do and (the person in) this position will be front and center in implementing the new agreement.”

The job of helping the search committee find its best candidate was given to the Massachusetts-based executive search firm  of Witt/Kieffer, selected by Staton after it was employed to bring him to ECU. 

“Their knowledge of ECU through the chancellor search was a key ingredient, particularly because of the outcome of that search, which brought Chancellor Staton to us,” Mitchelson said. “In addition to the fundamental components of character that we look for, we made sure that the firm knew we want somebody who has been through some of the complicated work we see ahead in the next few years,” Mitchelson said. 

Exceptional levels of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial spirit and collaborative experience were requirements highlighted in the search parameters, the provost said.

“We likely will cast the net more widely than it was in the last search, which required a minimum of seven years of administrative experience in higher education,” Mitchelson said. “There could be people outside of higher ed who might do just as well because of the complicated nature of this position.”

A rigid timeline has been established to find a new vice chancellor by Feb. 1, with approval specifications established by September and  full implementation of the search process underway by mid- to late November, the committee chairman said.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.