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UNC chairman praises ECSU, calls UNC episode 'difficult'

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(l/r) Chancellor of ECSU Karrie Dixon, and University of North Carolina Board of Governors chair Harry Smith talk about his visit at Elizabeth City State University.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, January 17, 2019

University of North Carolina Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith visited the campus of Elizabeth City State University on Wednesday to take celebrate the recent appointment of Chancellor Karrie Dixon and to renew his commitment to advocate for adequate resources for facilities and programs.

ECSU is important to northeastern North Carolina in terms of impacting lives, changing lives and creating jobs, and deserves attention, advocacy and funding, Smith said in an interview on campus, flanked by Dixon, ECSU Board of Trustees Chairman Harold Barnes and Vice Chairwoman Jan King Robinson.

“Elizabeth City State was forgotten for a long time,” Smith said. “We’re trying to correct that,

With adequate resources for programming and facilities and the affordability made possible through the NC Promise tuition discount program that keeps tuition for in-state students at $500 a semester, ECSU can reach the 3,500-4,000 enrollment level that will begin to transform the region, Smith said.

“Affordability matters,” Smith said, and NC Promise will help ECSU grow. In-demand programs such as the university’s signature aviation program are another key to growth, he said.

The university will thrive as it builds aviation and other majors that spur solid job creation, he said.

Making all that happen will take investment in ECSU’s facilities, infrastructure, athletics, and all aspects of the university, he said.

“That’s an investment that we need to be willing to make,” Smith said.

Aviation is especially important for ECSU because it’s the only program of its kind in the UNC System and one of only a few nationwide, Smith said. A new library facility is important.

Smith said getting the right leadership team in place at each institution is of the utmost importance, and he doesn’t know of any campus where the board has gotten the team right as much as it has at ECSU.

“I came down here today for a big thanks for this lady,” Smith said, gesturing toward Dixon. He said his visit to the campus was a way to support ECSU’s leadership team and its vision.

Dixon said the university continues to focus on strengthening its marketing and branding, especially throughout North Carolina and in next-door Virginia. Branding is being built around “quality education for an affordable price,” she said.

 The visit was a respite of sorts from the controversy swirling around the sudden resignation this week of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, who announced her resignation to the UNC Board of Governors Monday and ordered the removal of the base and commemorative plaques at the site of the “Silent Sam” monument on the Chapel Hill campus.

Smith said the way the issue played out with Folt and the resignation was “unfortunate.”

Asked if he thought Folt’s action in removing the base and plaques amounted to insubordination toward the Board of Governors, Smith said he did not think that. But he said the situation was unfortunate and avoidable because the board was willing to meet with Folt and others to discuss their concerns in a transparent and healthy process, Smith said.

The board needs to be open to all viewpoints at this time and have a transparent, healthy public discussion, he said.

“I don’t think it had to happen,” Smith said of Folt’s resignation and the abrupt removal of the base and plaques.

Smith said he doesn’t want Folt’s departure to eclipse her important accomplishments.

“I don’t want to forget all the great things that she did,” Smith said.

Smith said the controversy over the monument has been a difficult thing to deal with.

“At the end of the day it’s unfortunate,” Smith said. “It is difficult.”

Smith said he and his family have received death threats amid the controversy.

The issue can be resolved through “healthy, robust, honest dialogue,” Smith said. The polarization of the issue is indicative of today’s society, he said.

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