UNC Asheville prepares to search for new leader following Chancellor Anne Ponder’s planned retirement

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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anne_ponder_2014This news broke last week, but I wanted to post anyway to record the moment and take a minute to note that, the press release aside, Chancellor Anne Ponder’s tenure wasn’t entirely about wine and roses. Ponder was intensely disliked by a segment of the university community. Critics detested her leadership style, and they took every opportunity to speak out, including in 2010 when the university laid off some employees and last year, when the university parted ways with its popular men’s basketball coach.

What I hope for at times like this is a discussion about the direction and vision for UNC Asheville under the next chancellor.

Press release:

UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder announced today, Jan. 16, 2014, that she plans to retire from university service on July 31, 2014. By that time, she will have served in this role for nine years, longer than any UNC Asheville chancellor since the university’s first chancellor, William Highsmith. Chancellor Ponder’s career in higher education spans 37 years, 19 of those as chancellor or president.

“UNC Asheville has made enormous progress in recent years, and is poised for additional exciting steps,” Chancellor Ponder said, “I’m so proud of what we have built together here, and I have confidence that this successful trajectory will continue, but it is time to make room for the next generation in higher education leadership. As I said at my installation in 2006, ‘What we need is here.’ It was true then, and it is even more true now.”

Chancellor Ponder made the announcement at the Chancellor’s Briefing, a regular gathering of faculty and staff, after informing UNC President Tom Ross and the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees of her decision earlier in the week.

During the campus meeting Chancellor Ponder said, “National issues in higher education and board service call to me at this time in my life. I’d like the flexibility to be able to respond in a meaningful way. I will always be a Bulldog, and I can leave knowing that students for generations to come will continue to benefit from the good work of everyone here.”

Chancellor Ponder became the sixth Chancellor of UNC Asheville in October 2005, and despite a particularly challenging budget climate, encouraged the university to become stronger and more focused on its unique mission, to improve its visibility throughout the state and nation, and to significantly increase its contributions to and collaborations with greater Asheville and across the state.

“Anne Ponder has been a phenomenal leader for UNC Asheville,” said UNC President Ross. “She knows and loves the region; she has always fully embraced UNC Asheville’s unique role as North Carolina’s public liberal arts university; and she understands its vast potential for even greater service to the state.”

During a difficult time for higher education, UNC Asheville benefitted from a comprehensive strategic planning process implemented by Chancellor Ponder shortly after her installation. A nationally known expert in strategic planning, Chancellor Ponder led a campus-wide collaborative project to create multi-year plan that included measurable goals with an emphasis on quality and sustainability. With this focus, UNC Asheville made major strides as a national leader in the liberal arts, and has become one of the top choices for students seeking a rigorous and multi-faceted educational experience.

During Chancellor Ponder’s tenure, the academic profile and diversity of the student body, as well as the proportion of students living on campus, increased to their highest levels ever. The university received its 10-year re-affirmation of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2012 with high praise from the assessment committee. In 2009 the university was chosen as the first national headquarters for the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.

A hallmark of Chancellor Ponder’s time at UNC Asheville is her commitment to strengthening the university’s outreach and partnerships with Western North Carolina communities and businesses, as well as with sister UNC institutions. She encouraged innovative collaborations that resulted in a UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy satellite program in Asheville. New partnerships with local governments, scientific agencies and nonprofit organizations have resulted in joint projects with Mission Health System, the City of Asheville, the Renaissance Computing Institute and others for enhanced learning and research opportunities for students and faculty. This emphasis on collaboration also led to the cultivation, with other campus and community leaders, of some of the largest multi-million dollar donations in the university’s history. An Economic Impact Study completed for 2012 revealed that UNC Asheville’s economic impact on the region was $268 million annually.

Academic improvements were made during the past nine years, including several new majors from anthropology to religious studies, art history to jazz and contemporary music. A record number of applications for admission were received during the past several years, and the university’s well-known undergraduate research program significantly expanded. The quality of UNC Asheville’s educational experience became much better known both across North Carolina and the nation.

The university expanded its campus boundaries under Chancellor Ponder’s leadership. With assistance from the UNC Asheville Foundation, the university purchased several nearby properties including the 10-acre Rhoades property in 2008, 118 W.T. Weaver Boulevard which now houses Student Health and Counseling Services, and a nine-acre parcel adjacent to campus on Broadway Avenue; purchase of an adjoining six-acre parcel is expected to be finalized later this month.

Chancellor Ponder also oversaw the largest building program in UNC Asheville’s history – including the $41 million Wilma M. Sherrill Center, which opened in 2011. The Sherrill Center is a multi-purpose facility that houses academic and outreach programs focused on disease prevention and healthy living, as well as the 3,800-seat Kimmel Arena. The project was funded through a $35 million state appropriation in 2004 and an additional $6 million in private gifts and grants. It is the largest construction project ever undertaken at UNC Asheville, and since its opening more than a quarter of a million people have attended events, conferences, lectures and performances at the facility.

The $16.7 million Overlook Hall, home to more than 300 students, opened in Fall 2012. Overlook Hall boosts the number of students living on campus from 35 percent to more than 40 percent.

In 2010, the university opened the Janice W. Brumit Pisgah House, which serves as a location for university-sponsored events, meetings receptions and dinners, and also is the Chancellor’s residence. The building, required of all UNC campuses, was funded by private donations.

Chancellor Ponder is a national leader in higher education garnering accolades for administrative and academic leadership and for her commitment to successful athletic administration. In 2013, she received the inaugural Van Ummersen Presidential Leadership Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, in recognition of her demonstrated leadership and promotion of women’s opportunities in athletics administration and coaching.

In 2012, Chancellor Ponder was named a fellow by the National Collegiate Honors Council, a national professional association of colleges and universities with honors programs. She is a past president of the organization, and she founded and directed Elon University’s Honors Program during her first faculty appointment. She is a former faculty member of Harvard Institutes for Higher Education, is past president of the Southern University Conference, and wrote the chapter on strategic planning in the American Council on Education’s book Leading America’s Branch Campuses.

Prior to her service at UNC Asheville, Chancellor Ponder was president of Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in English from UNC Chapel Hill. She was the first woman and first pre-tenure professor at Elon University to receive the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In addition to serving UNC Asheville, Chancellor Ponder is a member of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Mission Health System Board of Directors. She also is a member of the Asheville Children’s Welfare League.

A native of Asheville, Chancellor Ponder is the daughter of the late Eleanor and Herschel Ponder, both of whom traced their Asheville family roots to the 1780s. She is married to award-winning writer and publisher Christopher Brookhouse.

UNC President Ross and UNC Asheville Board of Trustees Chair King Prather will determine the next steps in the search for the university’s next chancellor.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. DR MARYANN WIMSATT August 22, 2014

    I find I must add additional details to my initial comment above. During my decades of university teaching, I frequently had to explain to students why certain administrators acted as they did and what their decisions entailed. The point I am trying to make is that students–with whom I am usually sympathetic–often do not have the opportunities that are necessary to understand administrative or faculty actions. The students who complained about Chancellor Ponder of course had the right to do so. But I must reiterate that the majority of students see only what affects them while they are enrolled. They may not understand the larger picture that involves administrators and faculty members as well as students.

    Whatever the case, I wish Chancellor Ponder well. She is a diligent, talented person whom I trust has a bright future ahead of her.

  2. DR MARYANN WIMSATT August 12, 2014

    Anne Ponder and I were colleagues at Elon College, now Elon University. She was a splendid teacher and a gifted administrator. After several decades as a university professor, I can assure you that one never knows what actually goes on at the levels of university administration, Boards of Trustees, and the like. I am certain that Chancellor Ponder was excellent in her work. Please remember that anyone can be criticized, fairly or unfairly, and that the criticisms I have read of Chancellor Ponder reveal, in the main, a sophomoric sensibility.

  3. Bulldog Fan January 21, 2014

    Thanks for some honest reporting.


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