Saying Goodbye, Maybe
Called out of retirement a third time, former chancellor Eakin
leaves after building an impressive Honors College program
By Steve Tuttle '09 '12 * Photography by Cliff Hollis
hancellor Emeritus Richard Eakin will retire for the fourth time on June 30, capping 26 years of service to East Carolina University. He retired as chancellor in 2001, but a year later he returned to the classroom. He came out of retirement a third time in 2011 when he accepted the challenge of transforming ECU’s budding Honors Program into a full-blown college.
Eakin (back row center) with members
of the Honors College faculty and staff.
stops brain drain
The growth of the Honors College has stopped the exodus of academically gifted students who come to East Carolina but later transfer to other universities with more challenging programs, retiring Chancellor Emeritus Richard Eakin told the ECU Board of Trustees in April.
“The brain drain that occurred in years past when bright students transferred to other institutions has been checked with record retention rates,” Eakin said.
Of the 103 freshmen accepted to the Honors College in 2010, 99 percent returned for their sophomore year.
Of the 106 freshmen in 2011, 95 percent returned, according to a report Eakin gave trustees. Those figures are about 10 points higher than the university-wide retention rate.
Also, the number of applicants to East Carolina who satisfy Honors College eligibility criteria has more than doubled, Eakin said, from 445 in 2010 to 908 this year.
The Honors College was designed to serve 440 students and has grown to 380 in three years, Eakin said.
Enrollment growth may slow next year as a result of limited scholarship funds, he told trustees. Those scholarships cover in-state tuition.
Honors College students attended 14 interdisciplinary seminars during spring semester. The seminars were given by top faculty across campus who were selected via a competitive proposal process.
To date, 41 faculty members representing nine colleges and schools have taught these seminars.
Eakin said a robust living-learning program is the core of the Honors College curriculum.
More than 200 students so far have participated in 21 such out-of-classroom experiences -- trips aboard the schooner Jeanie B, exploring the Crystal Coast, visits to the East Carolina Heart Institute, tours of the N.C. Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History.
The college also started a summer kickoff program series for incoming freshmen.
Eakin also reported that the EC Scholars curriculum is fully developed, including a research internship with ECU’s Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy, a leadership internship, and a required study-abroad experience.
He may be back again. “The truth of the matter is I am a horrible retiree," he said. “You only need ask my wife. I’m guessing that three weeks into this retirement she will say, ‘Can’t you find something to do to stop moping around the house?’”
Eakin, 74, said he and Jo Ann plan to continue living in Greenville. “This is a lovely community and a great place to live, so this is home.” He said he will devote much of his free time now to Greenville’s new GO-Science Center, where he chairs the board of directors.
His departure is timed to coincide with the arrival of a permanent dean of the Honors College. That will be Dr. Marianna Walker, a former Faculty Senate president who holds the Barbara W. Bremer Distinguished Scholar in Language Learning and Literacy Disorders.
Eakin’s name is permanently attached to the campus in the form of an endowed distinguished professorship created in 2008 in the College of Nursing. The professorship recognizes Eakin’s critical role in creation of ECU’s Ph.D. in nursing and creation of the nurse midwifery program.
Eakin says he most appreciates being called a teacher. “I always considered myself a teacher,” the former chancellor said. “Everything I do, including this job (running the Honors College), I try to be a teacher to my colleagues and students. I just think that’s a really important role for anybody to have.”
Mr. and Mrs. Eakin at the 2008 ceremony announcing the endowed professorship bearing his name.
He had been chancellor barely a year when his daughter, then a high school senior, announced that she wanted to attend ECU. At first he was against that. "We said it's a bad idea. Who wants to be the chancellor's kid? But she is one determined person, in the best sense of the word."
Maridy Eakin Knight '92 received a degree in social work and now lives in Durham. The Eakins' son, Matthew, a graduate of Bowling Green with a master's degree from N.C. State, lives in Ohio. The Eakins have two grandchildren.
Eakin had served as chancellor nearly 15 years when he stepped down in 2001. His said his proudest moment as chancellor was in 1996 when the Carnegie Foundation reclassified ECU as a doctoral degree-granting institution.
“Today we sort of take that for granted, but when we did that, the way the state of North Carolina funds its universities, it immediately resulted in a substantial increase in our financial resources. That allowed us to build on our doctoral programs and shore up other graduate programs.”
He led the planning for the campus building boom in the 1990s, efforts that resulted in the Sci-Tech Building, the Student Rec Center and a major expansion of Joyner Library.
On the night the bond referendum for Joyner Library passed, Eakin and a group of library supporters staged an impromptu groundbreaking at midnight (photo above). “All those people showing up in the middle of the night to break ground -- that was one of the most delightful experiences I had as chancellor,” he said.
A year after stepping down in 2001, he returned to campus to teach higher education administration in the College of Education. After five years in that position, he served for a year as interim chair of the Department of Mathematics. He took a year off but returned to campus in 2011 as interim dean of the then-new Honors College.
Raising the status of the Honors College also raised academic standards across campus, Eakin said. “We have all these honors students at ECU now, and you sprinkle those around the undergraduate classes and you have something special,” he said. “I am a proponent of the idea that if you’re teaching a class and you have one of these exceptional students in class, it raises the tenor of the whole conversation in that class. The whole level of performance by all students in that class increases by their presence.”
Eakin was just 49 when he came to ECU from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He had spent 23 years at Bowling Green, rising from math professor to vice president. He received his undergraduate degree from Geneva College in Pennsylvania and his graduate degrees from Washington State University..
Under Eakin’s leadership, ECU completed its first major capital campaign, Shared Visions, which brought in $55 million. Enrollment swelled from 15,900 to 19,400 during his tenure. In 1998 he shocked many people by predicting that enrollment would grow to 27,000 within a decade. His prediction was wrong by about 600 students – on the low side.
While he was chancellor, he and Mrs. Eakin often were seen walking their dog and strolling the campus in the evenings. He said it was then that they came up with many ideas for campus beautification projects. “She and I would go out on the evenings and walk the campus and she would continually point out to me things that she thought could be improved. I knew we had to do something to dress up our curb appeal, so I decided to appoint a committee to see what could be done. They came up with some terrific ideas.”
He also led the restoration of campus after hurricanes Floyd and Fran.
Eakin attributes his success to the people around him. “I think that one of the most important things any educational leader needs is an incredible cast of associates who are as fine as they can be in their particular jobs. I was blessed with that at Bowling Green and here at ECU. They all have been at the top of their game, and when you have that, then it becomes much easier to move forward and do things of consequence.”