Charles Becton was appointed interim chancellor on July 26 by UNC President Tom Ross. A little more than a month on the job, here is what Becton had to say about his role as interim chancellor of NCCU.
What have the first five weeks as interim chancellor of NCCU taught you?
“I came to NCCU and wanted to be a sponge — to soak in everything I could. I immediately found myself drinking water from a firehose,” said Chancellor Becton. “There have been challenges and surprises.” Five days after Becton took office, nearly 1,200 new students arrived for move-in day, 113 more than the university could accommodate.
“There were a few brush fires and wildfires, but things have calmed down,” said Becton. We worked with Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and housing was identified for the impacted students. “Now things are moving smoothly.” Becton spent the first three weeks getting to know the faculty, students and the university. “For the last two weeks, I have thought about the three main priorities for the university, and all three involve fundraising. We need to increase private donations, research grants and alumni participation.”
“We have a wealth of talent and people who have done extremely well among NCCU alumni. If you have alumni who are giving, it is easier for private and charitable agencies to give. It makes getting grant money easier. I will be asking the NCCU Foundation Board, Board of Trustees and the faculty and staff to contribute to NCCU.”
Leading by example, Becton has already given financial support to student scholarships, the NCCU Athletics Department and the NCCU Art Museum.
“Student retention and graduation is important, but we need to make sure that we graduate students who are competitive in the global market.”
How do you lead?
“I believe we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. A great part of leadership is being able to listen,” Becton said. “No one person can come in and have instant solutions already fixed and packaged; brainstorming with people who have been to the rodeo helps as you formulate a plan for the university.”
What about your background prepared you for the position of chancellor?
“I listen, I’m patient. I’m evenly tempered. When there are insurmountable hurdles, I’m able to sit back and work through it. I try to see a challenge as an opportunity to do good.”
A Durham resident who grew up in the Eastern North Carolina town of Ayden, Becton is an attorney and former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He is an internationally recognized expert in trial procedures. He earned his undergraduate degree at Howard University and holds law degrees from Duke University (J.D.) and the University of Virginia School of Law (LL.M.).
What is your life motto or personal mantra?
“Growing up in Ayden I had a teacher who would say, ‘Every kick is a boost and every obstacle is a stepping stone to success.’ I believe that you should never do less than your best. In the places I’ve been, many people were smarter than I, but I don’t think anyone worked harder than I. I have never competed with any other person. I compete with myself to do the best job I can; if 150 percent is required, I give 175 percent.”
In more than 30 years in court, Becton said, he can only recall two or three times when the other side out-prepared him. “That lets me go home and sleep comfortably. Knowing that I did the best I could.”
What sets NCCU apart from other HBCUs?
The direction former Chancellor Charlie Nelms set: the academic restructuring, the focus on retention and graduation and the emphasis on learning are all unique to NCCU, Becton said. “This university is preparing students not just to earn a degree. It is also giving them the ability to compete and make a difference in the world. People here are eager to make a difference. I see that in the students that I talk to.”
Chancellor Becton says his goal is to continue on the path that has already been laid. “I want students to think critically and speak well.”
“In addition to the academics, this is a beautiful campus. And the pride that students have in this institution will hold the school in good stead. Students will look back favorably and contribute as alumni.”
Where would we find you outside of your role of Chancellor?
Despite playing basketball in college, Becton says he no longer plays outdoor sports. “I’ve never golfed and I don’t run or jog. I find most pleasure in work and cooking.” Married for 42 years, Becton says he does 90 percent of the cooking at home. “I came from Eastern North Carolina, so I know how to make Southern dishes – collards, chicken and dumplings, biscuits, cornbread.” He also enjoys watching college basketball, writing poetry and public speaking.
Becton is an art collector with eclectic tastes. He and his wife Brenda have acquired an impressive collection of African and African-American art.
“I believe in art. It is critically important that we showcase the artwork that is created here and art that we can bring here,” said Chancellor Becton. “We need to raise the profile of the NCCU Art Museum. I hope that one day NCCU will have a larger museum. I suspect that there are great student pieces that should be displayed.”
When your tenure as chancellor ends, what would you want to be said?
“I don’t need anything said about me. This chancellorship is not about me. It is about what we can all do together to make the university better,” Becton said. “Leadership is a trust, not a title, to help others do some good. I want people to say that NCCU continued to progress, that it thrived while I was here.”
New initiatives are not in Becton’s plan. “Once I saw how smoothly things were operating here, my job was to make sure that we maintained stability and moved forward. I love people, teaching and the entire educational process. That is the main reason why I came to the university.”