An Ambitious Start

An Ambitious Start
January 15
00:00 2015

New WSSU chancellor hits the ground running

(Dr. Elwood Robinson’s first official day on the job was Jan. 1.)

WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson 2015Dr. Elwood Robinson had begun his duties as chancellor of Winston-Salem State University even before his official Jan. 1 start date.

“I’ve probably been working for a while,” Robinson said last week from his campus office. “Once I accepted the position, I think the transition started taking place immediately by just learning more about the institution and thinking about the institution strategically. Now, it’s about doing the work. I’m kind of in an assessment or evaluation mode at this point.”

The 58-year-old said his first week was as hectic as he anticipated it would be. He had scheduled many meetings in advance.

“I’ve been trying to meet with my executive staff and set up a bunch of meetings,” he said. “For me, this has been a personal orientation to the university and meeting with as many people as I can, as quickly as I can.”

Chancellor Robinson (second from left) poses with WSSU staff and faculty members (from left) Dr. Azeez Aileru, Clarence McKee,  Dr. David Peay, Dr. Michael Magruder and Rudy Anderson at a campus meet and greet last week.

Chancellor Robinson (second from left) poses with WSSU staff and faculty members (from left) Dr. Azeez Aileru, Clarence McKee, Dr. David Peay, Dr. Michael Magruder and Rudy Anderson at a campus meet and greet last week.

There has been great buzz about Robinson, who left his position as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Cambridge College in Massachusetts to lead WSSU, since his hiring was announced late last year. He is a product of historically black universities, having earned a undergraduate from N.C. Central and a master’s degree from Fisk, both in psychology. (He also has a doctorate in the field from Penn State.) Robinson spent more than 20 years at NCCU, first as a professor and then an administrator. He founded the school’s College of Behavioral and Social Services.

Staff and faculty who have met with him since his arrival call him a breath of fresh air.



“Chancellor Robinson’s excitement and energy excites me,” said Director of Athletics Tonia G. Walker, who took in a Lady Rams Basketball game with the chancellor last week. “I’m anticipating an awesome run and look forward to continued progress and positive change at WSSU.”

Trae T. Cotton, vice chancellor for student affairs, said he is expecting positive changes under Robinson’s leadership.



“He brings with him a passion for students’ education, growth and development as well as community engagement. Great things are on the horizon, and I am honored to be a part of it,” he said.

The WSSU Board of Trustees that advanced its recommendation of Robinson to the UNC Board of Governors came under scrutiny after Robinson was hired when Trustee Victor Johnson was accused of leaking information about the secret chancellor selection process. Johnson was subsequently booted from the Board of Trustees. Robinson said he doesn’t believe that episode put a damper on his hiring.

“There are always debates and challenges that happen at board meetings. It’s not unusual for there to be disagreements,” he said. “What I always want to do is to make sure that we follow the correct practice and make sure that we are doing everything that we can do. I just wanted to make sure that, across the board, it was investigated and everything was above board. I was satisfied that it was.”

At Cambridge College, a respected school sandwiched between Harvard and MIT, Robinson was the chief academic officer, often advising the college’s president on policy and programs.

In September, when he was unveiled to the WSSU campus community as the successor to Dr. Donald Reaves, he said he enjoyed his work at Cambridge but longed to be back at a historically black school.

“I got a real clear understanding what it means to be in a leadership position. Here, the complexities of the public higher education system is huge, and you have to pay attention to that,” he said. “All the decisions you make you have to make within the context of all of those parts of the system, including administration, the Board of Governors and state legislature, who all are looking at what you are doing.”

A native of the small town of Ivanhoe in Sampson County, Robinson says he wants to raise WSSU’s stature, putting the school at the forefront of everyone’s mind in a very positive way.

WSSU Chancellor Robinson announcement“I don’t want the people waking up and not knowing about Winston-Salem State. I don’t want legislatures going into any kind of sessions without having Winston-Salem State on their mind. So when President (Tom) Ross wakes up in the morning, not in a bad way, I want him to be thinking of us,” he said.

He is also devising ways to help the school thrive with less. WSSU has lost more than $35 million in state funds over the last five years because of budget cuts. Robinson said that it is important to finds ways to compensate for the loss of the funds, including by encouraging alumni giving.

Robinson says he is a hands-on, easily accessible leader who will be a regular presence on campus and throughout the city. He said that he didn’t realize having a high public profile would be such a big deal until his recent visit to the campus cafeteria made the rounds on Facebook, after a student noted his shock at seeing the chancellor in such a public space.

“I am always out and wandering about at sporting events, theaters, plays and I try to support students as much as I can,” he said. “I think it’s important for the chancellor to be visible because he is the face of the institution. The only way to stay on somebody’s mind is to be present.”

The public is invited to come out and welcome Chancellor Robinson on Saturday, Jan. 17 at the Milton Rhodes Center of the Arts, 251 N. Spruce St., from noon until 3:30 p.m.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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