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Gerlach appointed ECU's interim chancellor


ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach, right, stands with UNC Interim President Bill Roper during a press conference at the Main Student Center on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The president of a major philanthropic organization has been appointed interim chancellor at East Carolina University.

Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, an organization charged with increasing economic opportunities in the state’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities, was introduced by UNC System Interim President Bill Roper at a Tuesday news conference on campus.

Gerlach begins his new position on May 6. His salary will be $350,000 annually, according to a UNC System spokesman. 

Roper said Gerlach already has been a tremendous advocate for higher education and eastern North Carolina.

“He’s been deeply focused on rebuilding the eastern North Carolina economy,” Roper said. “Dan knows eastern North Carolina from the ground up. He knows how to make thoughtful and tough decisions. I have great confidence in him.”

Gerlach will work with ECU’s Board of Trustees, the UNC Board of Governors, faculty, staff and students, alumni and the entire East Carolina community to move the university forward, Roper said.

“Through my (more than) 20 years in public service in North Carolina, and especially deeply rooted in eastern North Carolina, where East Carolina calls home, I have come to know that this university — more than any other — matters to the whole community in so many different ways,” Gerlach said.

He said one of his first challenges is to increase enrollment at the university. During last week’s ECU Board of Trustees meeting, administrators said even though initial freshmen enrollment numbers have increased, overall enrollment is likely to remain flat because of a large pool of graduates this school year and a decreased number of community college transfers.

Gerlach said he will tackle the problem by working to develop more transfer opportunities for community college students. He also will encourage graduates to talk about the value of East Carolina University.

“We are, make no mistake, North Carolina’s rural university,” he said. “We enroll more rural students than any other campus in the system and beyond. Make no mistake, we are proud of that heritage.”

ECU is a university of opportunity, Gerlach said. It must measure its success by bringing people in and building their knowledge, talent and skill so “they can be equipped to be great citizens, great employees, and great business leaders.

“I will measure success by convincing people, more North Carolinians, that ECU has the great breadth and depth of resources to offer them and they can come here and get a high quality education,” he said.

UNC System Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith called Gerlach a “proven leader” and said ECU is fortunate to have him come aboard.

“Dan will bring a fresh approach to transparency and accountability and is a proven leader in developing relationships with key and critical stakeholders that will ensure the strategic decisions made in re-positioning ECU for success are the right decisions for the institution,” Smith said.

Gerlach and the incoming group of Board of Trustees members will work quickly to “return ECU to healthy enrollment growth and financial stability on all fronts,” Smith said. 

Gerlach holds a masters in public administration in state and local public finance from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and bachelor’s degrees in economics and English from the University of Notre Dame. He has served as an adjunct instructor of public administration at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University.

Prior to joining the Golden LEAF Foundation in 2008, he served as a legislative budget analyst, nonprofit policy director and senior adviser to Gov. Mike Easley.

Although he would not confirm he is applying for the permanent chancellor’s position, Gerlach said he has left his job at the Golden LEAF Foundation and plans to move to Greenville. Roper did not indicate when the search for a permanent chancellor will begin.

The Golden LEAF Foundation has awarded 18 grants totaling nearly $6.9 million to the university since 1999. These awards included more than $1 million to create a Pharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence in 2015. Earlier this year the foundation also awarded more than $1 million towards a program designed to stimulate local entrepreneurial activity by helping businesses through the Miller School of Entrepreneurship.

Gerlach also mentioned that the Golden LEAF Scholars program has brought 81 students to ECU’s campus, including newly elected Student Governor Association Vice President Taylor Chappell of Perquimans County.

A rising senior majoring in accounting, Chappell said she is excited to see what Gerlach will bring to the university.

“Mr. Gerlach is one of the most genuine and honest people I know,” she said. “It’s refreshing in a political environment. He never stops until he accomplishes what he wants, but he never forgets his people.”

She first met Gerlach when he traveled to Perquimans County High School to present her with her scholarship, which is awarded annually to two students from across the state.

“It was a blessing,” Chappell said. “I am a first-generation college student, so it was an honor to be recognized. To have someone invest in me even though I come from a small pond of fish, so to speak, really meant a lot to me. It really pushed me to push myself at university.”

Jeff Popke, chairman of the faculty, said he spoke briefly with Gerlach on Tuesday and is encouraged.

“In my brief conversation with him this afternoon he did reach out and express an interest in working with faculty. He plans to attend the Faculty Senate meeting next week,” Popke said. “I feel like we’ll be able to really dig in and move the institution forward.”

Popke said there will be concerns because Gerlach doesn’t have a traditional academic background but he sensed “a lot of positive energy in the room and a real sense of optimism” among the administrators and other ECU officials at Tuesday’s announcement.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.