East Carolina University’s newly appointed Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson is the second person to accept the position in the span of six months, and he plans to lead until the search for a permanent chancellor concludes.
Following the resignation of former Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach on Oct. 26, the appointment of Mitchelson to the interim chancellor position was announced by the University of North Carolina (UNC) System Interim President Bill Roper five days later, on Oct. 31.
In an interview with The East Carolinian, Mitchelson said he was not surprised to be appointed to the position. Prior to the appointment, Mitchelson had been working the jobs of both ECU’s provost and acting chancellor between the time Gerlach had been placed on administrative leave and his resignation.
“I think he (Roper) went through a pretty deliberate process and he called me on a couple of occasions to let me know about the process, so he kept me apprised along the way, so I don’t think there was a lot of surprise (with the appointment),” Mitchelson said.
Mitchelson said he remains in contact with Gerlach now that the investigation has subsided. He said he thinks Gerlach made the right decision in resigning but hopes the community continues to support the former interim chancellor.
Gerlach has since moved back to his permanent residence in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to Mitchelson.
“I’m going to do my best to maintain a good level of visibility, but I think Dan (Gerlach) was remarkable in that effort and his ability to be visible, so think they’ll be some drop off there but I’ll be visible,” Mitchelson said. “He’s (Gerlach) going to be fine, he's going to land on his feet, such a committed and talented human being that there’s a role out there for him.”
Mitchelson has been employed by ECU since 1999, coming to the university as a professor and chair of the Department of Geography and serving as provost for the past four years, according to an ECU News Services press release.
Until the UNC System Board of Governors finishes out the search for ECU’s next permanent chancellor, Mitchelson will serve as ECU’s interim chancellor.
Mitchelson said the transition from provost to acting chancellor to interim chancellor has been hectic at times, but he accredits the chancellor’s and provost’s teams to keeping things organized and running smoothly.
“For at least five weeks there I was trying to keep the two jobs glued together, which is not easy to do, and I’ll attribute the chancellor’s team and the provost’s team for keeping it all glued together and making sure I was in the right place at the right time,” Mitchelson said.
Mitchelson said he hopes to see a permanent chancellor hired by July 1, 2020, by the beginning of the next fiscal year. He said he does not plan to abandon the interim chancellor position.
Once the university’s next permanent chancellor is hired, Mitchelson said he would like to return to his position as provost.
“I don’t have any intention of applying for the permanent (chancellor) position,” Mitchelson said. “I would intend to return to the provost position, now you’d also understand that a new chancellor has choices to make and that could be in the cards as well, that a new chancellor might want a change in leadership.”
Mitchelson said his immediate goal as interim chancellor is to assist with the new student recruitment cycle. He said by increasing enrollment some of the university’s “budget shortcomings” will be corrected.
The main priority is to focus on the recruitment of transfer and graduate students, along with the freshman class of fall 2020, Mitchelson said. Last year’s enrollment numbers were “healthy,” and ECU needs to see a repeated outcome, he said.
“The reason I’m here is mission. I just love East Carolina University and its mission, so it’ll continue to be all about bringing students to ECU and making sure they’re successful and making sure that the region is successful,” Mitchelson said.
Last Wednesday, Mitchelson appointed Grant Hayes, the former dean of the College of Education (COE), to the position of acting provost for the time being.
According to Mitchelson, having an acting provost will help balance the workload the senior administration has.
“I really wanted to make sure it was one of the deans for a variety of reasons, visibility, credibility, and Grant is a remarkably popular leader and I think right now we could use his stability,” Mitchelson said.
In an emailed statement to The East Carolinian, Hayes said the transition from dean of the COE to acting provost has been “exciting.”
Hayes said he has received support from other deans, vice chancellors, the provost’s office, faculty and staff during his transition.
“I am honored to have been asked to step into this role as Acting Provost & Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. I am ready to continue to support ECU’s mission, now not only in the College of Education, but throughout the university. Being a part of ECU’s senior administration gives me the opportunity to advocate for the faculty, staff and students at this university,” Hayes said in the emailed statement.
Virginia Hardy, ECU’s vice chancellor of student affairs, said she believes Mitchelson was the right person to be chosen to lead the university during this time period.
Hardy said she hopes Mitchelson will help ECU continue to move forward by providing a “trusting, helping hand.” She said his “unquestionable ethics, integrity, commitment and passion” for the university will serve the community well during the transition period.
“East Carolina, as we all have been reading it, seeing it, living it, of course, has had some challenges over the past few years, but even with those challenges the thing that’s been consistent is the way East Carolina pulls together during those times of challenge and adversity,” Hardy said.
Hardy said she hopes the university sees a permanent chancellor hired after the search committee, ECU Board of Trustees and BOG finds the right candidate to take the position.