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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

NCCU urged to aim higher

N.C. Central University's new chancellor asked a lot of his constituents.

He wants students to amp up their academic expectations considerably. He wants faculty and staff to call people back when they leave a message.

And everyone should pick up litter, lest they become too accustomed to living and working on a sloppy campus.

These were among the demands Charlie Nelms laid out for the NCCU community during his first universitywide address; they come from his initial observations after two months as the institution's new leader.

In a 25-minute address, Nelms said he wants NCCU to become the top liberal arts college in the Southeast -- a lofty goal for an institution struggling to retain students. Nelms' arrival has coincided with a new push by the UNC system to improve retention and graduation rates at the state's public universities. Nelms told students Friday that he expects all students who enroll to graduate.

"Unless you have graduation as your destination, you shouldn't be here," Nelms said. "We're deceiving ourselves if we settle for less than that."

UNC system campuses measure graduation rates over six-year spans. At NCCU, just 49.3 percent of students who enrolled in 2000 graduated within six years; the system average was 59.3 percent.

U.S. News & World Report released its first ranking of the nation's top historically black colleges this week. NCCU placed 16th out of 70, in a three-way tie with Bennett College and Elizabeth City State University.

Nelms spent a good deal of time Friday talking about customer service -- the very basic answering of phones and returning of messages that students expect but don't always get. Everyone on campus, he said, needs a "new attitude" in terms of service and courtesy.

"If you get a call from a student, return the call to the student," he said, eliciting one of the largest rounds of applause all morning.

To that end, all NCCU employees -- starting with administrators -- will undergo service training provided by the university's human resources department, Nelms announced.

Nelms also has apparently been frustrated by litter on campus. He challenged everyone who lives or works on campus to adopt the block around their dorm or place of work, a commitment to help clean things up.

"We won't leave newspapers on the floors of our classroom just because you didn't put it there," he said. "Appearance does matter."

That particular lesson may take time to sink in. As the McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium emptied after Nelms' address, attendees left plenty of convocation programs -- and a few soda bottles and the like -- scattered on chairs or on the ground.


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