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Presidents' Papers

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ECSU Presidents' Papers 1891-1983

Elizabeth City State University has had nine chief executives since its founding in 1891. The papers of the first six CEOs are housed in University Archives. Papers of  the more recent leaders will be available in the future. Click the links to connect to each collection's descriptive finding aid.

Between 1891 and 1928, nine different academic programs--ranging from grade school to a "post-graduate" curriculum--marked Principal Peter Wedderick Moore's tenure. The Normal curriculum had primary and grammar tracks. Enrollment increased from 23 in 1892 to 355 in 1928, and the faculty from two to 15 members by the time Dr. Moore retired on July 1, 1928, when he was designated President-Emeritus.

Under the leadership of the second president, John Henry Bias, the institution was elevated from a two-year normal to a four-year teachers' college in 1937. President Bias served from July 1, 1928, until his death on July 15, 1939. During his tenure the name was officially changed, by an act of the legislature, to Elizabeth City State Teachers College, effective March 30, 1939. A second purpose was given to the school: the training of elementary school principals for rural and city schools.

Serving from November 18, 1939, until he resigned on December 31, 1945, the third president, Harold Leonard Trigg, laid plans for physical expansion and concentrated his efforts on aiding students through the National Youth Administration at the College.  While Dr. Bias had the onerous task of maintaining the institution during the Depression, Dr. Trigg faced the rigors of World War II which buffeted the fledgling teachers' college.

Sidney David Williams, who became the fourth president, served from January 1, 1946, until he retired on August 31, 1958. 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 physical plant. Dr. Williams was designated the second President-Emeritus of the institution by the Board of Trustees on September 16, 1969. President Emeritus Williams (born 1892) died January 21, 1974.

The college experienced significant growth and development during the administration of Walter Nathaniel Ridley, the fifth president, September 1, 1958-June 1968. Curricular offerings were expanded, providing 17 degree-granting tracks.  The College granted full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in December 1961. The school's name was changed from "State Teachers College" to Elizabeth City State College by a 1963 legislative act. In honor of his contributions to the institution, Dr. Ridley became the school's third President-Emeritus on March 3, 1988. President- Emeritus Ridley died September 26, 1996.

Effective July 1, 1968, the Trustees elected the youngest chief executive since 1891-in fact, then one of the youngest in the nation.  Marion Dennis Thorpe 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. Special programs for freshmen and increased emphasis on inter-institutional cooperation also marked his administration. Major fund-raising programs also highlighted Dr. Thorpe's tenure, including incorporation of the ECSU Foundation (1971).

"We must be determined to continue", Chancellor Thorpe wrote in 1978, "to find the correct way in a world of conflicting ideologies, economic strife, and , and social controversy.  This is the river that flows from Hugh Cale, bringing with it past thoughts and deeds of other great people on whose shoulders we stand, gaining the fortitude to weather these times and to enter a new era".

Following extensive service to the institution, successively as Assistant Academic Dean/ Administration, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, and, from May 1, 1983, Acting Chancellor, Jimmy Raymond Jenkins, '65, became the first alumnus to be named chief executive officer of Elizabeth City State University on October 14, 1983. Prior to his elevation as second Chancellor, Dr. Jenkins was instrumental in establishing several institutional improvements. These include a Health Careers center, a Division of General Studies (1977), the institution's designation as a Bicentennial Campus (1976), inaugurating a faculty extravaganza for student scholarships named "Scholarcade," and beginning the Extended Day Program (evening classes).

Chancellor Jenkins' administration fostered numerous other institutional improvements including seven new academic majors and eight degree-granting variants 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 effective August 31, 1995. A grateful Board of Trustees named him ECSU's first Chancellor-Emeritus, December 19, 1995.

On September 1, 1995, Mickey Lynn Burnim was appointed to serve as Interim Chancellor and on July 1, 1996, he became the eighth chief executive officer of the institution 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, initiating new business, civic and educational partnerships, establishing n 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 fall 2005, under his leadership, the university implemented a joint pharmacy program in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Burnim also led the development of a campus computer network, and established strong fiscal integrity.

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. In 2004, the university opened its first privatized student housing facility.

On September 1, 2006, following Dr. Burnim's resignation, Willie James Gilchrist was appointed to serve as Interim Chancellor. Immediately upon his appointment, Dr. Gilchrist focused on priority initiatives such as enhancement of master's degree programs and online distance learning; increasing grant and research options for faculty; as well as expanding opportunities within the university's aviation science, music industries, teacher education and pharmacy (UNC-Chapel Hill/ECSU Pharmacy Partnership) programs. On March 15, 2007, Dr. Gilchrist, Class of '73, became the second alumnus to be named the ninth chief executive officer of Elizabeth City State University.

Under the leadership of Dr. Gilchrist, the university has shown several signs of growth. Since his interim appointment as chancellor in 2006, student enrollment increased from 2,681 to 3,025 currently. The UNC-Chapel Hill/ECSU Pharmacy Partnership Program has generated so many applicants; we now have a waiting list of prospective students. Alumni contributions have increased within the last year from 746 donors to more than 1,200 donors. The university has also benefited from major donations, such as the recent $400,000 planned gift and a cash gift for $375,000. ECSU faculty has successfully brought a host of promising scholarships and grants to the university. Recent awards 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.

The selection of outstanding academic programs at ECSU continues to lure the spotlight to ECSU. Recently, the School of Arts and Humanities celebrated the accreditation of two of its programs, social work and music. The social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and the music department is now accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. The Technology Department is now an authorized Cisco Networking Academy -- a first-rate, comprehensive e-learning program that provides students with essential information technology skills. The School of Education and Psychology was named a NC Teaching Fellows Program institute, a program established by the NC General Assembly to attract high caliber students to the teaching profession.

Dr. Gilchrist's administration has also been active in the development an Aviation Research & Development Commerce Park Partnership with the Elizabeth City Airport Authority. Numerous jobs will likely surface as the aviation industry evolves in this state and others. ECSU, the only university in the UNC system to offer an aviation science degree, is strategically preparing its students to enter that industry and to excel.