Ron Carter, who over eight years in Charlotte transformed Johnson C. Smith University and the neighborhood around it, announced Monday that he’ll step down as president in 2017.
Carter, who came to the private historically black school in 2008, emerged as a major voice in civic affairs, though some critics faulted his financial stewardship during years of financial turmoil at the school.
Carter plans to step down after the next academic year. The university announced his retirement Monday along with a national search for a successor.
“Those who know me appreciate that I have never been content to rest on the University’s undeniable progress or on my laurels,” Carter said in a statement. “If anything, they are signs – still, small calls – for me to move into my next service.”
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Admirers praised Carter on Monday.
“Ron Carter has been a champion for both HBCU students and Charlotte’s Historic West End,” U.S. Rep. Alma Adams said in a statement. “I’ve admired him over the years as an extraordinary leader and academician, and I appreciate his commitment to higher education. His successor is going to have big shoes to fill.”
Carter has been one of Charlotte’s most ambitious public figures.
Since taking over JCSU, he’s raised the 149-year-old school’s academic profile while trying to rescue the community surrounding the university from decades of economic and social decay. He helped lead the creation of Mosaic Village, the colorful 124,000-square-foot housing and retail complex near the campus. During Carter’s tenure JCSU landed big-name commencement speakers including Winnie Mandela and Oprah Winfrey.
Carter also became one of the city’s de facto brokers for race relations. Michael Marsicano, president and CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, once called him “a master bridge-builder” who “knows how to move between different parts of the community.”
But Carter has had his critics.
Last fall a former trustee petitioned to have Carter removed as president. Talmadge Fair, a 1961 JCSU graduate and head of the Urban League of Greater Miami, raised questions about money, morale and federal scrutiny.
This year Carter confirmed that JCSU is under federal order to pay back $1.8 million in student aid that auditors said the university received in violation of government regulations. A report filed last year by the U.S. Department of Education detailed “significant areas of noncompliance.”
The school’s unrestricted cash reserve amounted to $9.5 million in 2008-2009, Carter’s first year as president. By 2013-2014, it had dwindled to $35,181.
Carter said the financial aid department made mistakes during a period of transition several years ago and changes have been made to ensure they don’t recur.
“Johnson C. Smith University is financially sound, and we have robust systems in place to ensure we are properly and strategically managing our resources,” Carter told the Observer earlier this year.