UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois will retire in June 2020 after leading the university for 14 years, a time in which it became the third-largest and fastest-growing campus in the University of North Carolina system.
Dubois first came to UNCC in 1991 as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. He left in 1997 to serve as president of the University of Wyoming, returning in 2005 to become UNCC’s fourth chancellor.
“Let me say that it has been my honor and privilege to serve as your Chancellor. So, today, I bring a bittersweet message,” Dubois said in an email to his campus. “It is now time for (wife) Lisa and me to move on to our next adventure! This was not an easy decision for us. UNC Charlotte is a special place, with wonderful faculty and staff colleagues, and talented students.”
Dubois led the university through a time of enormous growth and, in April, a stunning campus shooting that killed two students and injured four more.
UNCC has seen a 43 percent increase in enrollment, to about 30,000 students, since he took office in 2005. The campus has also dramatically expanded, with more than $1.2 billion invested in construction and renovation.
“He has literally transformed UNC Charlotte,” said former UNC System President Tom Ross. “He was an incredibly stabilizing influence for the rest of his team and the campus as a whole.”
As provost and vice chancellor, Dubois had worked to expand programs serving nontraditional adult students and launched the university’s first doctoral programs.
As chancellor, Dubois succeeded in bringing football to the university after a long-simmering debate. He challenged fans to raise $5 million in six months to measure support, putting the money toward the $45.3 million needed to build a stadium complex. The plan worked, and trustees voted to approve the program in 2008.
Dubois’ tenure is more than twice that of the average college head, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported this month. He said that announcing his retirement a year ahead of his departure will give trustees and the UNC Board of Governors time to conduct a national search for his successor.
Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith praised Dubois’ tireless work ethic and how much he cared for students. Smith said the board was lucky to have a transition period with Dubois to aid with the search for a new chancellor.
“My hope is that Phil is front and center in helping us find that next candidate,” Smith said. “We get to take advantage of that, and we will. That’s a blessing for us.”
Two national tragedies
At both Wyoming and UNCC, Dubois led campuses through national tragedies.
This April, on the last day of spring classes, two students were killed and four others wounded when a former UNCC student opened fire on their classroom during end-of-semester presentations.
The shooting prompted the school to expand security at large events this upcoming semester. Students, faculty and staff were also offered counseling and training on how to respond to an “active assailant,” Dubois wrote in a letter to campus.
Cade Lee, former director of the school’s March for Our Lives chapter, which works against gun violence, said he appreciated Dubois’ formation of a Niner Nation Remembers memorial after the shooting. But Lee criticized Dubois’ decision to appear on former Republican governor Pat McCrory’s radio talk show, and said he was frustrated with the chancellor’s unwillingness to connect the shooting to the broader issue of gun violence.
“You can still be apolitical and talk about gun violence,” Lee said. “It should be apolitical to begin with.”
Dubois was president of the University of Wyoming when it too drew national attention for the 1988 murder of a 21-year-old gay student, Matthew Shepard. The killing, which was widely denounced as a hate crime, later spawned the “Laramie Project,” a documentary-style play about it.
His predecessor at UNCC, former Chancellor Jim Woodward, said Dubois was greatly affected by the killing and became a national champion of school safety.
“There’s no way that anyone as responsible as Phil could not take it personally, (asking) ‘What could I have done? Did I do enough?’ ” Woodward said.
He encouraged Dubois, his former provost at UNCC, to return to Charlotte when Woodward retired.
“His success as chancellor demonstrated that it was a good decision for them, but a very good decision for this community and this state,” Woodward said.
Former UNC System President Erskine Bowles called Dubois “an extraordinary leader.”
“Phil’s great heart, strength of character and good judgment have also been clearly evidenced in the way he faced up to and managed the significant human tragedies he faced as the leader of public universities in both Wyoming and Charlotte,” Bowles said in a statement.
‘Stability and calm’
In March, Dubois faced criticism for a column in The Charlotte Observer in which he argued that the time was not right to bring a four-year medical school to Charlotte, citing “overwhelming financial, political and practical obstacles.”
The roadblocks, Dubois said, included “insurmountable” public and private funding challenges identified by a task force, which estimated that even a small pilot program would require $20 million in operating costs to launch in five years.
Just weeks later, Wake Forest University and Atrium Health announced a joint deal to bring a four-year medical school to the city.
But Ross, the former UNC System president, said Dubois was a leader among other chancellors. “He brought a sense of knowledge and experience but (also) stability and calm to the chancellors.”
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a 1996 UNCC graduate whose district runs from Concord to Fayetteville, praised Dubois’ leadership and commitment to the school.
“I’ve seen the respect and admiration faculty, staff and students have for him,” Hudson said in a statement. “As both an alumnus and the first member of Congress to graduate from UNC Charlotte, it has truly been a privilege working with Phil, and I look forward to continuing this partnership through his retirement next year.”