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December 2008
Surrounded by Success
By Ellison Clary

Servant leadership, enterprise, quality, innovation and caring are the five core values of Johnson C. Smith’s new president.

Dr. Ronald L. Carter, a native of High Point, N.C., became the 13th president of Johnson C. Smith University on July 1, 2008, succeeding Dorothy Cowser Yancy, Ph.D. Carter brings an impressive record of community leadership, academic administration, and budget management to the position.

Making a commitment to take the university from good to great on the higher educational landscape, Carter is eager to lead the school on its path to become a nationally recognized premier independent urban university.

 

Shared Vision

     Prior to becoming president of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), one of the nation’s oldest historically black universities, Carter had spent more than 30 years serving students and universities.

     He graduated from Morehouse College in 1971, and began his distinguished career at Boston University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center, where in 1981 he became the school’s youngest dean of students.

      Some years later, Carter found himself significantly drawn to the plight of Nelson Mandela through interactions with his relatives, compelling him to put his abilities to work in South Africa. Prior to Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and the abolition of apartheid, Carter was named senior administrator of the Health Services Development Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and within five years became the dean of students.

     In 1997 Carter returned to the United States as the provost and dean of faculty at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C. His almost 11-year tenure at Coker College included key roles in the private liberal arts college’s strategic planning, academic and student development, financial management, and fundraising.

     With research and teaching interests in the areas of medical ethics, ethical theory, and philosophic-religious issues, Dr. Carter has held faculty positions at both Coker College and Boston University.

     Carter’s many community involvements include serving as ethicist for the Pee Dee Regional Center Ethics Committee, chairman of the Darlington County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, member of the Greater Timmonsville Friends United Board of Directors, and chair of the Darlington County Habitat for Humanity board.

     With such a distinguished resume it is no wonder he’s been recognized as a Sloan Scholar at Morehouse College, a Danforth Fellow at Boston University, and a Merrill Scholar at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey.

     When approached with the opportunity to return to Charlotte, Carter says he was “stunned by the city’s growth and excited about the possibilities.”

     On what was the deciding factor in his decision, Carter answers quickly: “the leadership statement offered by the board of trustees,” which he says identified a shared vision.

     The university was looking for an individual committed to education, engagement and carrying forward JCSU’s 142-year-old mission to provide an outstanding education for a diverse group of talented and highly motivated students from various ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographical backgrounds.

     The statement further outlined its goals to produce graduates who are able to communicate effectively, think critically, learn independently as well as collaboratively, and demonstrate competence in their chosen fields.

      “As I read through the leadership statement, I found myself checking off each of the outlined objectives,” Carter remembers. “It soon became apparent that this was a very good fit for me. I came to JCSU excited and ready to engage the university and community.”

     A self proclaimed communitarian, Carter lays out a plan to find social capital in the community.

     “There is no doubt in my mind that JCSU is poised to become a nationally recognized university,” says Carter.

     It would appear that Carter’s hopes are already being recognized. JCSU was ranked No. 10 among the nation’s top black colleges for 2008 and 2009 by U.S. News & World Report.

 

Prioritizing

     During his inaugural speech, Carter laid out six priorities which would be at the forefront of his thinking moving forward.

     Quality—which Carter explains as a shift in the weight between quantity and quality in the university’s policies and procedures in favor of quality.

     Second, Carter is committed to developing a focused university strategy that is based on a comprehensive management information system and measurable outcomes.

     Third, Carter desires to attract, hire and maintain a strong and differential faculty and fourth, attracting a critical mass of highly motivated, high achieving students across racial, ethnic and national boundaries.

     The fifth priority is a promise to accelerate the university’s scheduled maintenance plan, especially in the classrooms and dormitories.

     And Carter’s final priority is to lead sustained and actionable conversations with the city and coalitions of developers concerning revitalization of the Urban District that is Johnson C. Smith’s front door.

    For Carter, the list goes on. “We will continue to find new ways to create synergy with the city of Charlotte,” explains Carter. “We are working hand in hand with city leaders, as the city grows, we grow.”

    Carter goes on to explain progressive Charlotte’s role in attracting students. “Not only does Charlotte offer a variety of internship and job opportunities, but it is also an attractive location for potential students. They want to come here and live here.”

    And with its proximity to center city (a two-minute drive) students are offered an abundance of entertainment and cultural experiences.

    An important element to the synergy between the city and JCSU is the school’s desire to give back to the community. Each student is required to serve 120 hours of civic engagement.

    “JCSU embraces its responsibility to provide leadership, service and lifelong learning to the larger community,” Carter explains.

     The school’s 1,527 students are benefited from the 13:1 student/faculty ratio, which allows for a personal experience both inside and outside the classroom. Another benefit to the students is the laptop they are given upon enrollment, which comes from the school’s initiative to become an IBM Thinkpad University.

     JCSU’s commitment to technology is further demonstrated by its state-of-the-art Technology Center which allows all students to witness new technologies and experience technical interaction firsthand.

    “By infusing technology into all disciplines, JCSU places students and faculty on the leading edge of technological advancement,” explains Carter. “It means using technology as an instrument and as a new tool added to our courses and programs.”

     JCSU is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

     The university offers a liberal education in conjunction with concentrated study in specialized fields, in preparation for advanced study and specific careers.

     Students are offered opportunities for learning in 26 fields of study including business administration, computer engineering, social work, criminology, and liberal arts. Through three colleges—the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Professional Studies, and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and its academic units—the university confers three degrees: the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and the Bachelor of Social Work.

     When asked what makes a good JCSU student, Carter answers that they are searching for highly motivated individuals who aren’t looking to get lost at a large campus.

     Assisting in the transition from high school to college is the university’s Freshman Academy Learning Community which guarantees first-year students the right schedule to best meet their academic goals. Each student receives an adviser who acts as a mentor and personal case manager throughout their JCSU experience.

     “We offer our students a turning point experience,” says Carter. “Therefore, we need students who are ready to wrestle with big thoughts and great ideas, students ready to engage.”

     Encouraging this process of engagement for students are what Carter refers to as a “superb faculty.”

    “Our professors are not only passionate about their discipline but also able to transform that to engagement,” he says proudly. “They are involved in the life of the university; their job is not only to teach but to coach.”

 

Bright Future

    Almost six months into the job, President Carter is at home in his office and speaks with excitement about the future.

    The future at JCSU includes graduate degrees in business administration and computer science, as well as a new Metropolitan College geared to non-traditional and part-time students.

    Although the creation of graduate degrees is a long-term goal for JCSU, Carter proudly describes their newest program. A few weeks ago the school announced the formation of the Applied Research Center for Global Studies, which will host classes overseas and offer students the opportunity to study abroad.

    To make these classes an option for all students, the program dictates that upon enrollment students will secure a passport to ensure they are eligible to participate should an opportunity arise that fits within their discipline.

    “We are so excited about this program. Today, more than ever, it is important to teach and prepare students for a global economy,” says Carter. “Our hope is that this will help students not only see the bigger picture but also prepare for it.”

    Though Carter projects optimism, he is realistic about the obstacles the economic crisis is causing the university. Although JCSU’s endowment has been hurt by the economy and fundraising numbers are down, Carter’s largest concern is how this crisis is going to impact the eligibility for student loans.

    “This is a major concern for us as a university,” explains Carter. “These stricter policies for student loans are going to seriously limit opportunity for some students to pursue higher education.”

     Helping weather these turbulent times is the alumni association and board of trustees, who continue to help the school grow—even financially.

     Where does Carter see the university in five years? “We will be recognized for top-quality and highly motivated national and international students, outstanding teaching and learning, an excellent applied research focus, and a comprehensive, cohesive curriculum at both undergraduate and graduate levels.”

     He continues: “Our core institutional beliefs will pivot toward a value-based quality liberal education, career preparation, service orientation to the communities surrounding the university, and alliances with Charlotte’s communities, professional organizations, business and corporations.”

     “Watch us,” Carter says with enthusiasm. “We are going to go from a hidden gem to a crown jewel.”

 

 

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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