Steven Ballard Oral History, July 30, 2018.


Dr. Steven Ballard

Zachary P. Dale
East Carolina University

July 30, 2018
Mamie E. Jenkins Building
East Carolina University

ZD: It is Monday, July 30, at 10:59 am. Zachary Dale is conducting this interview and we're at East Carolina University in the Mamie Jenkins building. And we'll turn it over to my interviewee to introduce himself.

SB: Hi, I'm Steve Ballard. I'm the Chancellor Emeritus now, I served as Chancellor of East Carolina from 2004 until 2016. And now I'm on the faculty and running our leadership programs for the BB&T Leadership Center. So I'm very happy to partake in this history.

ZD: Wonderful. And do I have verbal consent to conduct this interview?

SB: Sure do, yes.

ZD: Wonderful. Thank you so much for agreeing. Let's get started. Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you are from, your family? (0:45)

SB: Okay, I'm from all over. I grew up in Illinois, and lived in Central Illinois, until I went to college. And then from then on, I've moved everywhere. I was at University of Arizona for four years as an undergrad graduate, ended up at Ohio State University as a graduate student from 1971 till 1976. And then I started my career journey at various universities. My first job was a temporary job at the University of Oklahoma in 1976, but that turned into a good job and a 13 year sojourn in Norman, Oklahoma of all places. And after that, I went, my wife and I and we had a young family at that time, a boy and a girl, and we move them from the windy plains of Oklahoma to the freezing temperatures of Orono, Maine. And we stayed there for nine years. And toward the end of the nine years, I got. Was convinced by some of my mentors that I should try moving up the administrative ladder. So I decided to try that and that worked out pretty well. I went to Bowling Green State University where I worked for Chuck Middleton, one of the best mentors I've ever had. And from there, I went to the University of Missouri Kansas City for three years as chief academic officer, and then in 2004, I decided to see if the bigger world might be interested in my leadership services and East Carolina was, and I landed a perfect place for me, the university, which is a good fit for what I wanted to try to accomplish. So I came here in the spring of 04' with my family served as chancellor for 12 years. And then according to the rules of the system, I had a year off, it's kind of a sabbatical, but really a year's preparation of getting ready to go back to the classroom, which I wanted to do. And so this past year, and now this coming year, and back as a faculty member here in Mamie Jenkins. (2:47)

ZD: So what inspired the creation of the Chancellor's Diversity Council?

SB: Boy, you're asking a guy with a bad memory. I think although I would, I would be pleased to be stand- to stand corrected, that we had leaders in both Student Affairs and then in our newly created Diversity Office, or we had a chief diversity officer that I didn't have when I came here in 2004, but we had a couple people that served in that role. But then Taffye Clayton, who was in that role for quite a long time, she's now at the University of Auburn. And then following her now LaKesha Alston were both very supportive and encouraging that we needed an office that would serve the whole community, more so than just one person like a chief diversity officer. So they were instrumental in that, I think Marilyn Sheerer was very supportive of it. And then two people in the Student Affairs Office thought it would be excellent for the services that we provide to students. And that was Gary Moore, who was my first vice chancellor, and then I- then Marilyn served in that role for about a year, something like that. And then I know that Virginia Hardy - Dr. Hardy, whos still in student affairs, was very supportive. So my recollection is that some really strong people like Virginia and Taffye, and Marilyn, were pushing for the need for the council to bring different parts of the university together. And so we considered that, as we almost always did, at our leadership council, we called it the Executive Council at that time, which is comprised of the Vice Chancellors and the athletic director and the chief diversity officer and the Chief Financial Officer and all those kind of people - about 13 or 14 people. And we considered it and believed it was something that would improve the university. So I think it was one of those things that some people were strong advocates for it, but upon the hearing and the rationale for it, I think a lot of people believed it was a- it was a very appropriate thing, especially for a big university like ours and the diversity of our student body. We needed a better system for thinking about all the different kinds of students we had and how we can make them successful. (5:12)

ZD: So what was the purpose of the diversity center?

SB: Not the LGBTQ Center?

ZD: The diversity center that came before it.

SB: That came before it? To serve, I think as that function to bring people together. And I think, probably even more important than that, to hear what the students were facing and needing and requesting. We had Ledonia Wright and we had some really good people involved in that. But I don't think we were a campus... I don't think we- we reached as much of the campus as we could, until we got the diversity center. So we've done quite a few things: we hired a chief diversity officer, created the diversity center, I think we tried to upgrade some things in Ledonia Wright and all those things helped us to, I think, start to serve a really growing student population. When I came, we were only about 20,000 students and now today, we're pretty close to 29,000. (6:12)

ZD: So what was your involvement in the creation of the LGBT resource office?

SB: Well, I was - I was a cheerleader, but I wasn't the genius behind it; I recognize the need for it. As I recall, Marilyn came to me and asked me if I would be amenable just to listening, I was actually listening to a master's student named Summer Wisdom, who had written a master's thesis, really on the need for the office.

[Interview Interrupted by Phone @ 6:42]

SB: And it certainly was, because we had had people in the chief diversity office that had been saying that we weren't doing enough, which was correct. So if memory serves Marilyn and I went over to the- to the defense, the Summer Wisdom's defense, that she was recommending it. And on the way back, I think we both said we have to do this. So as usually happens with Marilyn with the Energizer Bunny, she put- I think she put together the plan, probably with Summers help. And it was, as I recall, not good economic times for ECU. We had some real challenges, because we were at that point facing the biggest cut backs, some of the biggest cutbacks that we had, because of the recession that began in 08' and 09'. So we didn't- we didn't have a lot of resources to do it. But as you probably know, Summer agreed to be the - [I] think, part-time director of it for a couple years, who did a great job, there's probably horrible wages. She- she took that job over and I think she created a, you know, clients help for the Resource Center, and Marilyn kind of oversaw it, and then eventually Student Affairs got involved. So it was, it was one piece at a time, kind of one brick at a time. But if I go back and say why did it happen? I have to say that Summer was huge and then Marilyn listening to Summer was equally as important to getting it done. (8:12)

ZD: So what kinds of resources do you think were available to students before the resource office was- was opened?

SB: Not much, I think there was some space, I think students could get together in Ledonia or maybe some other places, maybe off campus, but not very many resources until that office came into being. And we realize we were looking, I know, we looked at the time, I didn't do it personally. But Student Affairs and others looked at the offices that existed in other universities in the system. And we realized that we were only just beginning to provide some of the services that were needed. And- and all of the chief diversity officers that think recognize that we had to get better in that. I know Taffye Clayton when she was here, I don't remember - she left at about the time we created this - was an important advocate for putting more resources in. (9:03)

ZD: So why do you think a space like that is needed?

SB: Well, it's needed because we're a very diverse campus, we have very different kinds of students and different students have different needs. And I think they need to feel at home, I think they need to feel that there's a support system; I think when they faced- face things that maybe are not as encouraging as they might want, they need somebody to talk to. I think they in some cases, they need just the very basics, almost like the counseling services of, you know, how do I- how do I deal with these classes? How do I navigate the whole question of getting a major? How do I just- how do I just find my way through, you know, pretty big city almost that we have here. And that's when- when students come from rural areas, as many of ours do, and come from other experiences, sometimes they need just a little bit of encouragement, of guidance, the right roadmap, and then things will work out well for them. (10:03)

ZD: What kinds of pushback offending did LGBT resource office get? You know, in the beginning,

SB: I doubt that the- any pushback came to me because Marilyn and Virginia and others were handling it, LaKesha is well. I don't remember that we got any significant pushback. Probably over the years since 2011, we had some people in the government system, wondering why we needed to spend money on that, especially in the budget downfall. But I tell you what, they didn't get far once Marilyn got ahold of them. (10:44)

ZD: So what do you think is contributed to the sustainment of the LGBT resource office?

SB: Well, it provides the right services, I think- I think it's good people, supportive people over there that made a difference. I think the legacy of Summer's work for those first two years was that, if I understand it correctly, the students felt that they were served when they- when they walked in there. And they felt, just like we do for hundreds of other students, they felt that there was a community there. You know. we've got a great student veterans office and when veterans go into that office, they feel like they're going to see other veterans are going to see other people like themselves, and they're going to get the right kind of understanding that they need. The same is true for LGBTQ and up in, you know, hundreds of other offices on campus. But we, I think over my administration, we really tried to reach out and create more of those kinds of services. And other examples unrelated to the question directly, but in the early years, 2005 to 2010, we had a pretty minimal Student Advising Center - Academic Advising Center, its now called Pirate. Pirate. Its not the Math Cave, but it's right over there in the- in the old dining hall. I can see it, but I'm not remembering it. Anyway, we, you know, we said that we weren't providing enough academic support to especially freshmen and sophomores. That's, that's those students needed about 90% of the time - or not 90% of the time, 90% of the clientele are the students in the first two years and if they don't get that academic support, they're the ones that often leave the university, which is the last thing we want. So the point is that, in our administration, we just tried to identify the needs that the community had and then provide the services, even though we knew we had to build it up over time. (12:40)

ZD: Is there anything I haven't asked you that you would like to share?

SB: Well, I think I've said it, but I just want to give a shout-out to Summer, who- who stuck her neck out to do something important, and she wrote intelligently about it and then she led. So to me, that's the epitome of leadership: is not just saying we need to do something, but to stand up and say I'll do it, I'll give it a try. I don't know if that was in her long term goals after her masters but I think she made believers out of us all that really could make a difference in the students attested to that.

ZD: Well, thank you so much for this interview. I really appreciate it.

SB: My pleasure. Look forward to reading the history. (13:30)

Steven Ballard Oral History, July 30, 2018.
In this oral history interview Steven Ballard discusses his career in academic leadership, culminating in his time as Chancellor of East Carolina University. He describes the creation of the Chancellor's Diversity Council and campus diversity center, and the LGBT resource office, why they were needed, services that were provided, and the people who advocated and worked for the establishment of these groups. Ballard also described early challenges faced by these services and their reasons for success. Persons mentioned are Taffye Clayton, LaKesha Alston, Marilyn Sheerer, Gary Moore, and Summer Wisdom. Interviewer: Zachary Dale.
July 30, 2018
Original Format
oral histories
Local Identifier
Location of Original
University Archives
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