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Q&A with Chancellor Reaves includes enrollment, campus construction, VSU report and more

By Chelsea Burwell
On February 14, 2014

Chancellor Donald J. Reaves addressed various campus-related issues during a recent interview with The News Argus earlier this month.


Reaves discussed Winston-Salem State's enrollment and retention, Rams new football head coach and recent department and program changes.  The chancellor also responded to allegations published in Virginia State report, regarding the Nov. 15 incident during the annual CIAA awards luncheon that left WSSU quarterback Rudy Johnson injured and the Rams unable to play in the championship game.


The News Argus:  Who is/was the most influential person in your life related to your knowledge experience as WSSU's chancellor?


Reaves:  It is hard to pick just one. There are several people that I have always considered great and those who I've looked up to for the things that they've done. Obviously, at the top of that list is Dr. [Martin Luther] King Jr. But there were others who played different kinds of roles and made tremendous contributions. Someone that I always considered very highly was Muhammad Ali because he had a different kind of message. While Dr. King's message was one of nonviolence, the message that resonated from Ali during the 1960s, especially to Black men, was "...stand up, speak out and be a man...' That was a message that was sorely needed during that time.


The News Argus:  In recent months, several programs, majors and departments have been proposing changes, including the addition of an Africana Studies major and changes within Interdisciplinary program. The mass communications department may be changing its curriculum and its name to communication and media studies department. What do you think this will mean for the future of WSSU?


Reaves: What we are trying to do and what we are still tinkering with is this new curriculum that we put in several years ago. That curriculum is designed to provide students with the opportunity to expose themselves to a wide variety of disciplines before they are forced to choose a major. What you are seeing now is just a tinkering that goes along with the implementation of this new curriculum. It is bringing things together that should be together and putting certain subject matter in the right department. It's not necessarily going to change the content of those courses but placing them in the correct department context.


The News Argus: In a previous interview, the Argus asked about the construction and renovation of campus buildings including the new Student Success Center. What is the demolition schedule for buildings that cannot be saved according to the University master plan?


Reaves: You mentioned that Student Success Center and that's done. We're waiting on the furniture to come and that building is going to open, and we'll dedicate that building in March. The furnishing will be done by May. In regard to where we go next, there are some obvious candidates for continued renovation and for demolition. One of the things that you'll see when you look out the back windows of the Student Success Center is the Fine Arts Building - that needs to go. On the other hand, the people that are moving into the Center are coming from Hauser. Hauser is a building that we want to save, so it will eventually be renovated. Someone asked me last week, 'The country's just come through a recession and the state budget has been cut ever single year. But you guys have put up three new buildings. How have you done that?' and I just smiled. We've done that with a lot of creativity, with the strategic use of debt in combination with fundraising and with the use of state funds. The master plan is part of the strategic plan and that's about the vision and the future of the institution.


The News Argus: Retention and enrollment rates have waivered over the past years at WSSU. What is the University doing to counter that?


Reaves: A couple years ago, in 2012, our retention rate was the seventh highest in the system and it exceeded 80 percent. That has fallen off. On the other hand, we're graduating more students today than we've ever in the history of this University, and you'll see the graduation rate moving up. In 2007 we graduated 824 students. In 2013 we graduated 1,556 students - that's an 89 percent increase in the number of students getting degrees from this institution and every year between 2007 and 2013, the numbers went up steadily. The retention rate, on the other hand, has suffered because funding has dried up and many students just cannot come back. There have been federal limits on Pell grants and Parent-Plus loans. In the fall of 2012, we lost about 750 students, and 150 of those were those who just normally flunk out -- 609 were academically eligible to return and of the 609 who did not return, 200 of them had more than 90 hours and simply ran out of money. Some transferred and we tried as best as we could to track these students, but what we found was the main issue is money. So, when students start here and they're unable to return the second year because of finances, it hurts the retention rate. Academically, we are stronger and better than we've ever been, but it's higher education finance that is hitting the retention rates here and at many other schools.      


The News Argus: How have budget cuts UNC system impacted WSSU's academic departments, majors and athletics?


Reaves: What we've done here is make cuts in such a way that the academic departments have not been hit. We have not laid off or terminated one permanent faculty member. We chose instead to ask the full-time faculty to teach more and that enabled us to get rid of the adjuncts [part-time teachers] we had. I think that improves the quality of instruction because it comes from full-time faculty as opposed to part-timers, and it saved a lot of money. In terms of athletics, in fall 2009, I made the decision to stop the University's transition from NCAA Division II to Division I status. As a result, there was a big uproar and everyone was mad, but it was the right thing to do because we could not afford to operate at the Division I level. For example, at the DI level, the number of scholarships on the football team was 63 versus 38 at the DII level. Also, there was a lot of more travel associated with being in DI, and we were spending about $6 million against a $4 million budget, so we saved a couple million dollars by staying in the CIAA.


The News Argus: Speaking of athletics, UNC's flagship institution, UNC-Chapel Hill, has been under fire because of reports that their student-athletes have substandard reading levels and have received grades for classes they did not attend. What is WSSU doing to ensure that student-athletes do not follow the same example?


Reaves: What we've done here is put in place an academic program for our athletes that makes sure they go to class and study hall. The coaches, in addition to being responsible for their teams, also have responsibility to make sure students show up to class. If you're not in class, you better have a doggone good excuse. If you don't go to class, you don't play, and we saw that with some football players last year. I can always tell who's missing on the field. So I know you won't find at WSSU the things that are being alleged at other schools.


The News Argus: This upcoming season, we will be welcoming a new head coach, but he's already a part of the Ram family. How do you feel about his transition [from defensive coordinator]?


Reaves: It makes the transition a smoother, easier one. Kienus Boulware has done an outstanding job as defensive coordinator. We've led the nation in defense at the DII level in football and we've been in the top three for the past few years as a result of Boulware as defensive coordinator. We think that he has the football skills and the knowledge to be a good coach. We'll need to help him on the offensive side. We may hire an offensive coordinator.  But it's up to Boulware. I think he'll be a good coach and we're stepping up the competition. The season opens this year against two really tough opponents. We're going to play UNC-Pembroke, which beat us last year, and we're going to play Valdosta State, who beat us in the national championship game two years ago. But if we're going to play at the national level, we have to play top-notch teams.


The News Argus: Recently President Obama announced an initiative to increase vigilance of sexual assaults on college campuses. What is WSSU doing to ensure that instances are not only prevented, but also reported?


Reaves: We have programs in place in Student Life, primarily that are centered on awareness - making sure that people understand the concept of consent, the role of alcohol, and most importantly, understanding that there is no such thing as consent from someone who has been drinking. We have in place a Title IXprogram, where the protections on college campuses regarding sexual assaults fall under. We have a Title IXcoordinator on campus who does a very good job of following up on allegations of sexual misconduct and making sure those are reported properly. Another school in the UNC system found itself in a very bad situation, having not reported a slew of sexual assault allegations. We have all the systems, processes and apparatuses in place, beginning with programs to make students aware of what their responsibilities, all the way through the reporting requirements.


Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, Public Law No. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235 (June 23, 1972), codified at 20 U.S.C. sections 1681 through 1688, authored and introduced by Senator Birch Bayhand named the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, after its House co-author and sponsor in 2002. It states (in part) that: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance...


The News Argus: The Nov. 15 incident during the annual CIAA awards luncheon that left our quarterback injured.  Since that time there have been numerous news reports. Recently the Winston-Salem Journal reported that Virginia State said that some of the comments you made during November's awards luncheon were "offensive." Have you seen Virginia State report?


Reaves: I've looked at the Virginia State report. I've looked back and read what I said at the event. There is nothing that I said - and I will make this speech available to you, if you'd like - that anyone in their right mind could consider to be offensive. I commended the Virginia State players for the hard work that it took to get there. I wished them well, but at the same time, I am the chancellor of Winston-Salem State University and I wished our players well. If their leadership was there, I'm sure they would have done the same for their players. The report also made mention that they were offended by the chant that the football team uses of "Let's eat!" They say it all the time; they've been doing that for four years. It's never offended anyone else. It's never incited anyone to violence and if they're using that as a justification for what happened, that is absolutely irresponsible. My written response will call into question the credibility of the report in that the only people they talked to were the Virginia State players who had the most to lose. They certainly weren't going to say, 'Yeah, we did it.' So if you're relying on that to say that one person, this Mr. Britt, with one punch inflicted the kind of damage on Rudy Johnson - bruises, a black eye, a sore back and ribs from being kicked. If one person threw one punch and did all of that he's better than Muhammad Ali. It's absurd. The report is absolutely unbelievable.


The News Argus: Do you have any special plans for Mrs. Reaves for Valentine's Day?


Reaves: I'll call her and wish her a happy Valentine's Day. This year, we will be married 41 years. That's not to say that after you're married a long time, these things are of lesser importance, but they are (laughter). Also, I don't know if you know this but my wife spends the winter in Florida. We have a home in Florida, and she's smart. It's cold outside, so she's been in Florida since Christmas and she'll come back for the CIAA tournament. I will certainly wish her a happy Valentine's Day and tell her that I love her and if I happen to be in the store, I might buy her a card. After 41 years of marriage, there's no love lost.

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