Former Faculty Chair shares memories of ECU from mid-60s
By Rachel Castro
ECU News Services
Former history professor and the oldest living Faculty Chair at East Carolina University John Ellen spoke with ECU News Services about his memories.
When were you chair of the faculty senate?
I began in September of 1966 and held the position for one year. Of the first nine chairs, I am the only one who is still alive, and I am the oldest living faculty chairman.
How did you get involved in the faculty senate?
I was nominated to take over after James Poindexter served only nine months as chair. I was senator at the time, and before that I was a history professor at East Carolina University.
How is ECU different today than it was when you were chairman?
It’s much larger and there are more students. When I was chairman, there were only about 8,000 to 9,000 students. Now there are about 27,000. The Brody School of Medicine had not yet been created on the other side of town either. It wasn’t created for another 30 years.
What is the most memorable event that happened at ECU while you were serving as faculty chairman?
That year, ECU attained university status. All year, we wined and dined legislature to promote ECU from having a college status to finally becoming a university in July of ‘67. It was a huge accomplishment.
What were the major struggles that year?
I’m sure the university has to deal with many of the same struggles now that I had to in ‘66. Many of the university departments were trying to have more power or say so. Trying to keep everyone happy was a big priority, and at times, a struggle.
Which ones were the larger departments?
English was one of the biggest departments; my wife was an English professor. History, music and education were large as well. ECU was most known for being a teacher school.
You are from Dillon, S.C. How did you make your way to Greenville?
I first came to North Carolina to try to earn my masters in history at Duke University in ‘41. That is where I was during the Pearl Harbor attack. Five of my friends and I drove to Washington D.C. that night and slept in our car to watch Roosevelt declare war. After some work in the air force and trying my hand at journalism, I decided I wanted to go back to history. I finished my masters and earned my doctorate at the University of South Carolina and came to Greenville to teach in 1959. At the time, ECU only had about 5,000 students.
How do you spend your time now that you’re not wining and dining legislature and helping ECU become a university?
My wife Dot and I celebrated our 50-year anniversary last month. We have two daughters and one of them has three young boys who we see as often as we can.