According to a press release sent out Friday, Donald Julian Reaves will step down as Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) effective December 31, 2014, or thereafter when a successor is in place.
Accompanied by his wife Deborah, Reaves made the announcement to a gathering of university faculty, students and staff after having informed the WSSU Board of Trustees at its meeting earlier in the day. He has served as Chancellor since August 2007.
“At the end of December I will be in the middle of the eighth year of my five-year commitment,” Reaves said jokingly. “Seriously though, I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to serve the university and the community and I want to thank UNC Presidents Tom Ross and Erskine Bowles for giving me the opportunity to lead this institution. I also want to thank the members of the board of trustees with whom I have worked for their strong support, especially Board Chair Debby Miller. I also want to salute the wonderful faculty and committed staff who serve this institution. For me, it has been an exceptional experience.”
Reaves said that he struggled with the decision, but beginning in late 2012 has had conversations with UNC President Ross about his desire to step down as Chancellor and return to the classroom, where he began his career in higher education 37 years ago. He will join the WSSU political science faculty as a full professor with tenure.
“Deciding to leave a job that you love is not easy,” Reaves explained. “Deborah and I have given this decision considerable thought and I have consulted widely about it. I also went back and read the speech that I gave at my installation to determine whether I had fulfilled the promises I made then. Though there is always work to be done, I feel that we have accomplished everything that I said and much more. So, having built a much firmer foundation for WSSU, it seems that now is a good time to move on.”
Reaves said that his initial goals were incorporated into the university’s strategic plan and that he continues to be excited about the implementation of those efforts and the results. He is particularly proud of the improved outcomes for students, including significantly better retention and graduation results.
“Providing our undergraduate students with a quality education and preparing them for success in their careers and their communities is our primary mission,” Reaves said. “Graduating students is the business that we are in and I’m proud to say that business at WSSU is booming. Current statistics speak directly to what we have been able to accomplish.”
By raising admission standards three times beginning in 2007, the University has attracted better prepared students and that has impacted retention and graduation rates. The retention rate for first-year students climbed from 68 percent in 2006 to more than 80 percent in the 2011-2012 academic year. The graduation rate which stood at 36.5 at the end of the 2007-2008 year has improved to 45.5 percent for the most recent reporting period, and the number of students graduating has risen from 824 in the 2006-07 year to 1,556 for the most recent year, 2012-13, an increase of almost 89 percent.
“It is also important to note that progress was achieved despite major reductions in our state allocations,” Reaves added. “We did that by targeting our scarce resources on a single key objective and that was improved student outcomes.”
The fact that more has been done with less is reflected in data released from the UNC General Administration that shows that over the five-year period, from 2007 through 2012, per student spending at WSSU declined by almost 30 percent while degree production increased by more than 47 percent. Among the 16 UNC campuses, WSSU ranks number one on both of those percentage change measures.
Reaves stated his strong belief that the university has benefited tremendously from its strict adherence to the goals and objective set forth in the strategic plan, Achieving Academic Distinction: The Plan for Student Success – 2010-2015, which includes academic excellence and student success as the highest priorities. “Virtually every decision we make and every dollar we spend benefits from the guidance provided by the plan,” Reaves noted.
Reaves noted that while the list of accomplishments over the past seven and a half years is impressive, his greatest satisfaction derives from the more subtle, less-quantifiable changes that have taken place, with an emphasis on what has occurred with regard to expectations.
“When I arrived in 2007, I encountered a culture of low expectations that was characterized by a belief that WSSU students could not succeed,” Reaves explained. “That belief prevailed among the faculty, the staff, and the various communities and even among our students and their parents. WSSU was viewed as an institution of last resort. All of that has changed. Today, there is a new spirit on the campus among the students and the faculty, as well as throughout the community. There is once again a genuine belief that a WSSU education can prepare students to compete and be successful in the marketplace. The success that we have enjoyed since changing the culture of the institution is by far the most rewarding aspect of my work and will undoubtedly have the greatest impact on the future of the students and of the institution.”
WSSU Board of Trustees Chair Debra Miller also spoke of Reaves’ leadership and said that because of the work he and his team had completed, the board accepted his decision with great regret.
“As a member of the Board of Trustees and as an alumna of WSSU, I am extremely proud to have had the opportunity to work with Chancellor Reaves,” said Miller. “Through his vision, his leadership, his commitment to academic excellence, his willingness to make difficult decisions such as establishing priorities among competing interests, his commitment to improve student outcomes, his hard work and that of the team that he assembled, this university has been transformed in virtually every respect. It is exciting to see the impact that the past seven years have had on our students and on the campus.”