As students arrive on campus for the fall semester, some returning and others for the first time, things at N.C. Central University feel pretty familiar.
This time every year, students are getting settled into dorms, buying text books, and experiencing a reality check as the lecture slide changes from “syllabus” to “chapter one.”
But as the 2016-2017 academic year kicks off, something’s different.
The university is under new leadership, at least for now. NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year, is taking time off for treatment.
Johnson Akinleye, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, will serve as acting chancellor in the meantime.
Akinleye earned a bachelor’s degree in Tele- communications and master’s degree in Media Technology from Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University. He then received his Ph.D. in Human Communications Studies from Howard University. Akinleye has more than 25 years serving in higher education.
“As the university moves forward, I am confident that Dr. Akinleye’s leadership will allow us to continue building on all that is Eagle Excellence,” Saunders-White wrote in an email earlier this month.
Eagle Excellence, also known as E-squared, has been a part of the chancellor’s platform since she came to NCCU in June of 2013.
The idea behind the phrase is to promote student success, increase graduation rates, raise scholarship funds, and provide innovative instruction, according to the university website.
Akinleye could not be reached for comment. He released a statement via email last week.
“We will continue to execute her vision of ‘Eagle Excellence’ and keep student success, the university’s number one priority, at the forefront of everything we do,” Akinleye wrote. “I urge all of us to keep Chancellor Debra Saunders-White in our thoughts and prayers as she continues her journey to heal and recover.”
Akinleye steps into the role of acting chancellor after an award-winning year for the university. This summer, NCCU was named “2016 HBCU of the Year” by HBCU Digest.
Additionally, NCCU’s Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) won “Best STEM Program,” while the Campus Echo was named “Best Student Newspaper.”
SGA President Alesha Holland, who spoke recently with the chancellor about her health, said she is hopeful that Saunders-White will recover quickly.
“She’s good,” Holland said. “She just needs time to heal.”
Holland said she feels confident in Akinleye’s ability to serve as acting chancellor until Saunders-White is ready to return.
“I don’t doubt this year will be just as successful,” she said.
Saunders-White said she is “grateful for your continued prayers and well wishes.”