Reaves confident in his legacy

Reaves confident in his legacy
December 25
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  Donald Reaves stands in the heart of WSSU’s campus.)

It was a long time coming, but Donald Julian Reaves, 68, achieved his desire to lead a historically black college when he was appointed chancellor of Winston-Salem State University in 2007.

“I always said that I would like to lead an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities),” said Reaves, whose decades-long academic career included serving as CFO at both Brown University and the University of Chicago. “This job was kind of the capstone in higher education.”
As he prepares to retire Dec. 31, Reaves says he is leaving a solid legacy at WSSU.15651696942_1155aa8d75_o

“This institution wasn’t held in the highest esteem. We think that we made a lot of progress in that regard. We’ve improved the quality of everything,” he said, including the students admitted and and who graduate, the faculty and his administrative staff. “And all of that has worked, I believe, to change the perceptions that people hold about this institution. That’s critically important because it speaks to the value that people place on your degree.”

During Reaves’ tenure, student retention rates jumped from 65 percent to more than 80 percent; the six-year graduation rate increased by more than 10 percent; and the number of students graduating annually jumped from 824 (in May 2007) to 1,600 in May of this year.

The campus has grown to facilitate the burgeoning student body with the construction of several new dorms and buildings, including the student center that bears Reaves’ name. Reaves is also credited with bring back dominance to WSSU Athletics.

After a short stint in the Division I MEAC, WSSU returned to the CIAA to rack up 15 conference titles.
“As I look at all the statistics that indicate the accuracy of that direction, I am amazed that so much has been accomplished in what is a relatively short time in academic environments,” said WSSU Board of Trustees Chair Debra Miller. “Donald has certainly moved the university forward, and we have benefited from his expertise and his commitment.”

Despite his success, Reaves has had his critics, who have come against him about his decision to pull WSSU from the MEAC and objected to his in-your-face personality and Ivy League credentials. Reaves, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, concedes that he, too, had to adjust.

“I’m a Northeast guy,” he said, having spent 22 years in Boston as college professor and Massachusetts government official. “This job and this environment was so different from what I had experienced … it could have been on Mars.”

He said he had to become acclimated to Southern ways, doing business differently and thinking about the world differently. He said he also learned quickly that black colleges are steeped in tradition and reticent to change.



Miller called Reaves “a courageous leader who has never been afraid to make right and hard decisions.”
“No one could ever doubt where he stood no matter the challenge he faced or the controversy that might ensue,” said Miller, who cited the opposition Reaves faced when he raised WSSU’s admission standards to attract the best and the brightest students.

Reaves said he always had the interest of students in mind when he fought to implement changes.
“I want to improve outcomes for students,” he said. “I want them to be better prepared when they leave here to successfully compete in the 21st century global economy.”

Student Government Association President Olivia Sedwick said Reaves leaves a legacy of improved academics and two greatly appreciated new buildings for students: the $25 million Donald Julian Reaves Student Activities Center, which opened in September 2013 and includes a fitness facility, eateries and a game room; and the $13.5 million Student Success Center at Hill Hall, which opened in March and houses the offices of Support Services, Mentoring and Advising and features the latest technology.

Dr. Reaves chats with SGA President Olivia Sedwick at Homecoming in October.

Dr. Reaves chats with SGA President Olivia Sedwick at Homecoming in October.

“I was able to reap the benefits of those projects,” said Sedwick, who added that it was Reaves’ leadership and vision that executed those projects.

Brenda Allen, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, applauds Reaves for his investment in the school’s faculty. She said the higher the quality of the faculty, the better the education, and the better the education, the more likely students will remain in school to graduate.

“It all kind of came together to dramatically affect the graduation rate in a short period of time,” she said.

Michelle M. Cook, vice chancellor for university advancement, said the success the university has seen under Reaves is all the more amazing considering that state budget cuts resulted in WSSU losing more than more than $35 million during Reaves’ tenure.



“You can never fill that kind of gap when you’re losing that kind of state appropriation. But with direction from the chancellor, we were raising money for this university’s most strategic priorities, and we saw pretty significant increases year over year.”

Randon Pender, president of the WSSU Brown Alumni Chapter, credits Reaves’ experience with helping to keep the university afloat during financially lean times.

“I feel the university has benefitted greatly from his expertise and background in business,” she said.
Elwood L. Robinson, provost and vice-president for academic affairs at Cambridge College in Massachusetts, will succeed Reaves. UNC System President Tom Ross said Reaves is leaving Robinson with a solid campus.

“By any measure, Donald Reaves has been an outstanding chancellor for WSSU and positioned the campus for future success,” Ross said. “He has also streamlined operations to more effectively target scarce resources, overseen the development of a campus master plan and strengthened partnerships within the surrounding community.”

Reaves’ retirement is more of a transition. He may return to the classroom as a professor after taking a year off and spending time at his home in Vero Beach, Fla. Though he has 16 years of higher education teaching experience, he hasn’t taught since 1993.

“The whole world has changed,” he said, pointing out things like the use of technology in the classroom.
Reaves says he will more than likely teach a course on financial management starting in January 2016.
“I’m seeing some value in ending my career as it started,” said Reaves.
Reaves said he is open to offering Robinson advice if he is asked.

“I took this job head-on and tried to simply make sure this place was significantly better off when I leave than it was when I found it,” Reaves said. “And if that happened, I’m satisfied. I have no regrets.”

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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