Editorial: New Chancellor

Editorial: New Chancellor
October 03
00:00 2014

A self-described “country boy” has been given the reins of Winston-Salem State University.
Don’t mistake Dr. Elwood Robinson’s description as self-depreciating. He is proud of his simple roots and credits his upbringing with the many wonderful things he has accomplished.

Today, Ivanhoe – the Sampson County hamlet from which he hails – has a population of just over 300. That’s seams-bursting compared to Robinson’s boyhood Ivanhoe, when the population was about a third of that. His parents were not educated people in the traditional sense, but had Ph.Ds in hard work. Robinson’s father never made more than $7,000 a year; his son will make more than 37-times that as WSSU’s next chancellor.

By dint of dedication, Robinson left Ivanhoe after high school for Durham and N.C. Central, where he would graduate with a magna cum laude degree in psychology, a field where blacks are rare even today. He headed to another storied historically black college for his master’s degree – Fisk University. NCCU and Fisk – along with an internship at Duke Medical – set him up for success at Penn State, where he earned his Ph.D.

It’s ironic that Robinson will now lead an HBCU because his personal story illustrates the power and importance of these institutions. Look around your state, city or town! You can count the black leaders who were not educated at an HBCU on one hand. These schools have quite simply educated the plurality of our doctors, teachers, lawyers, preachers and elected officials. They gave ambitious students like Robinson a place to grow and shine, opening the door wide when white schools were hesitant to even turn the knob.

We think Robinson will indeed “thrive” at WSSU because he understands the value of HBCUs and knows that – despite rhetoric to the contrary – their mission is just as important today as it was when Simon Green Atkins founded WSSU 122 years ago.

But HBCUs will not simply succeed and survive on reputation alone. They need the kind of recalibration that Robinson is advocating. They must become famous for providing top-notch student services, not infamous for doing the exact opposite. They must re-engage students, alumni and recharge faculty.

WSSU chancellors who have dared to rock the boat have not all been well-received. (Some folks just like to wallow in mediocrity.) Robinson is gregarious and has enough Ivanhoe in him to win over even the most myopic. His pledge to change WSSU for the better should be cause for celebration, not cause for alarm.

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