Presidents / Chancellors
Hugh Cale was born as a slave in Perquimans County in 1835 and worked at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island during the war as a freedman. In 1867, he moved to Elizabeth City and became active in politics, serving as a county commissioner and in the state legislature for four terms beginning in 1876. In 1882, he became a trustee of Zion Wesley Institute, which later became Livingstone College, and also of the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race from 1891 through 1899. In 1891, he introduced House Bill 383, proposing the establishment of Elizabeth City Colored Normal School to educate black teachers.
ECSU's first leader, Peter W. Moore, served as Principal and then President until his retirement as President Emeritus, on July 1, 1928. During his tenure, enrollment increased from 23 to 355 and the faculty from two to 15 members.
John Henry Bias was born in Palmyra, Missouri on June 11, 1879. Bias attended Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri from which he was graduated with B.S.D. and A.B. degrees in 1901. He attended the University of Chicago for two and a half years for post-graduate study. In 1904, he became professor of mathematics and science at Elizabeth City State Normal School and remained there until 1910. In 1923, six years later, Professor Bias returned to Elizabeth City Colored Normal School to assume the role of Vice Principal. Dr. Bias was named President – the first chief executive to have that title – in 1928, and served in that office until his death in 1939.
Harold Leonard Trigg earned a B.A. degree from Morgan State College (1913), a M.A. degree at Syracuse University (1918), and several years later a doctorate in education at Columbia University. He went on to teach at Bennett College, New Orleans College and Winston-Salem Teachers College before his election as President of Elizabeth City State Teachers College in 1939. He remained President until 1945, when he resigned to become associate executive director of the Southern Regional Council – an organization dedicated to improving racial and economic conditions in the south.
Dr. Williams was ECSU's third president, appointed in 1945 following Dr. Trigg's resignation. He boosted the athletic programs and instituted the Vocational-Technical Institute on campus while forestalling a move to close the school. During his administration, the Association of Colleges and Schools (an organization of historically black institutions) recognized Elizabeth City State Teachers College as an "A"-rated institution in 1957 and improvements occurred in the curricula and across the institution as a whole. Dr. Williams was designated the second President Emeritus of the institution by the Board of Trustees on September 16, 1969. He served until his retirement on August 31, 1958.
Walter Nathaniel Ridley, the first African-American to receive a degree from the University of Virginia, a traditional Southern white college, became the fifth president of Elizabeth City State College on September 1, 1958. During his 10 years as president, Dr. Ridley presided over a significant growth of the school's enrollment, campus and academic standing, laying the groundwork for its inclusion as a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina General Administration in 1969. He also made sure during his years as president that the traditionally black college admitted its first white student, an event documented by Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace in a televised CBS documentary, “Integration in Reverse.” Dr. Ridley resigned from the presidency of Elizabeth City State College in 1968.
On July 1, 1968, at the age of 36, Dr. Marion Dennis Thorpe assumed the position of sixth president of ECSU. He became the school's first Chancellor when the university was made one of the 16 institutions of The University of North Carolina, and successfully led the institution through the turmoil of the early 1970s. Dr. Thorpe's administration was marked by vigorous efforts to improve the institution academically and physically. Increased UNC System funding allowed employment of additional experienced faculty members with doctorates, doubling the faculty size at ECSU. Special programs for freshmen, increased emphasis on inter-institutional cooperation, and major fund-raising programs also highlighted his tenure, including incorporation of the ECSU Foundation in 1971.
Following extensive service to the institution as Assistant Academic Dean/ Administration, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dean of the Faculty, and Acting Chancellor, Jimmy Raymond Jenkins became the first alumnus to be named chief executive officer of ECSU on October 14, 1983. He was instrumental in establishing several institutional improvements, including the construction of several new buildings – the Jimmy R. Jenkins Science Complex, which includes the only planetarium in northeastern North Carolina; the E.V. Wilkins Computing Laboratory; the Commuter Center; and a 200–bed residence hall. His administration fostered numerous academic improvements including seven new academic majors and eight degree-granting variations of existing programs. Dr. Jenkins' staff was the first to occupy the newly finished M. D. Thorpe Administration Building named in honor of his immediate predecessor. Dr. Jenkins resigned August 31, 1995 and on December 19, 1995 a grateful Board of Trustees named him ECSU's first Chancellor Emeritus.
On July 1, 1996, Dr. Mickey Lynn Burnim became the eighth chief executive officer of ECSU upon election by the UNC Board of Governors. Dr. Burnim quickly demonstrated his ability and interest in moving the university forward, giving special attention to developing a comprehensive strategic plan, enhancing faculty and staff governance, establishing the university's first two endowed professorships, providing leadership for the establishment of the university's first three master's degree program in elementary education, biology, and mathematics, and implementing several new baccalaureate degree programs, including marine environmental science, social work, communication studies, graphic design, aviation science, and pharmaceutical science. In 1999, ECSU was featured for the first time in the US News and World Report's Best Colleges issue, here ECSU was ranked #3 among Best South Regional Public Liberal Arts Colleges. In fall 2005, under Dr. Burnim’s leadership, the university implemented a joint pharmacy program in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. To improve operational efficiency, Dr. Burnim is credited for having reorganized the university into four schools: Arts and Humanities; Business and Economics; Education and Psychology; and Mathematics, Science, and Technology. In 2001, he began the oversight of the largest construction and renovation project ($46.3 million) ever undertaken at ECSU, including the construction of a physical education/field house facility, a student center, and a new residence hall.
On March 15, 2007, Dr. Gilchrist, Class of '73, became the ninth chief executive and second alumnus to be named officer of Elizabeth City State University. Under the leadership of Dr. Gilchrist, the university saw tremendous growth in enrollment, donor contributions, and scholarships and grants opportunities for the university. Notable awards during his tenure include a $316,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Defense for the Study of the Microbial Ecology and Biodegradation Project; $135,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for Community Services for WRVSFM; and $116,632 from the U.S. Department of Education for ECSU's Minority Science Improvement Project in Critical Teaching Through Technology. Dr. Gilchrist resigned from his position on May 13, 2013.
Former NC Court of Appeals Judge Charles L. Becton served as interim chancellor of Elizabeth City State University July 2013-August 2014.
On September 4, 2014, the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina elected Dr. Stacey Franklin Jones as the fifth Chancellor of Elizabeth City State University. Her prominent career path began when she started college at 16 and earned four degrees in mathematics, numerical science, technical management and computer science. She went on to careers in software engineering and higher education and in the process oversaw, reviewed, and conducted research on federal grants totaling more than $100 million. Dr. Jones resigned from her position on December 31, 2015.
On January 26, 2016, Dr. Thomas Conway became the eleventh chief executive officer of Elizabeth City State University upon election by the UNC Board of Governors.