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Chancellor outlines top priorities

For the past 12 years, North Carolina Central University has had at its helm prominent civil rights leader Julius Chambers.

Now, the school across town is looking forward to new leadership. James Ammons, provost and vice president for academic affairs at historically black Florida A&M University, was officially named chancellor-elect Friday.

Ammons said his top priorities will be increasing enrollment and overseeing the campus's renovation and construction.

"We are going to build and strengthen our academic programs and we are going to turn it around," Ammons said. "I'm excited about this opportunity."

Ammons, who will begin his tenure June 10, arrives at a critical juncture in the life of the university.

On one hand, NCCU has witnessed a trend of weakening enrollment and SAT scores over the past few years-a trend felt by all five of the University of North Carolina school system's historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

On the other hand, last year the school was granted over $121 million in bond money to improve classrooms, dorms and research facilities.

Ammons said he wants to spur the development he saw at Florida A&M, which worked to diversify its academic programs and increase the number of high-achieving students on campus. The result, Ammons said, was the largest HBCU in the nation and a tie with Harvard for the number of enrolled National Achievement scholars.

"Some of the things we did at Florida A&M I think can be applied to NCCU," he said.

Ammons, 48, is a graduate of Florida A&M, where he began his career as an associate professor of political science in 1983. He eventually became assistant vice president for academic affairs, associate vice president for academic affairs and in 1995, was named the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs.

To build enrollment, Ammons said, NCCU must reach out to students of other races and recruit more heavily. "I am hopeful that people of all colors and backgrounds will find NCCU conducive to their educational goals," he said.

The nearby Research Triangle Park should also play a role in NCCU's growth, he added.

Ammons would like to foster dialogue between faculty and Research Triangle Park corporate representatives in developing some of the university's scientific programs.

He would also like to strengthen collaboration with Duke. "What we have done here at Florida A&M is to create a graduate feeder program where graduate schools across the country reserve spots for A&M graduates," he said. "I would like to talk to the president about doing that at Duke."

Chambers, who had little involvement in the search process, hailed Ammons' selection. The two worked together in 1999 when Ammons led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools team that oversaw NCCU's accreditation process.

"I think he has a lot of the ingredients to do a fantastic job," Chambers said.

George Conklin, chair of NCCU's Faculty Senate and member of the search committee that created a list of finalists, agreed. "I don't think he will just be a good chancellor, I think he will be a bionic chancellor," Conklin said. "Everybody has high hopes for him."

NCCU began its search for a new chancellor in July, following Chambers' announcement that he would step down June 30. Chambers said that he is looking forward to returning to his private law practice in Charlotte.

James Herriott contributed to this story.

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