Steve Ballard Oral History Interview


Dr. Steve Ballard
Narrator

Donald Leggett
Interviewer

East Carolina University
June 25, 2020
Greenville, North Carolina

Donald Leggett:
[unclear] You get younger every day and I just, it's just good to be together again. But.`

Steve Ballard:
I agree.

Donald Leggett:
I'll start this off and I have some introductory remarks to put on the record and then we go from there. This is Thursday afternoon on June 25 2020, at approximately 3:35 in the pm. My name is Donald Y. Leggett and I am a 50 year employee of East Carolina University, currently working out of the Chancellor's division on a part time basis and doing special assignments from there. I retired in 1997 from full time service as Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations. Today I'm here in my home in Greenville, North Carolina conducted an oral history interview with Dr. Steve Ballard, former Chancellor of East Carolina University, under whom I work during the entire time he served as the ECU Chancellor. We are doing this interview by way of the WebEx system as a part of a project entitled, The rise of Alpha Dog. Dr. Ballard, so as to put all this in perspective, why don't we begin by asking you to give us a brief biographical outline, such as where you were born, some places you've lived, jobs you've held and actually what you're doing now. (01:36)

Steve Ballard:
Ok.

Donald Leggett:
Take it away.

Steve Ballard:
Well, I could never keep a job very long, so I've lived all over the country. My family's, most of my family's from the Salt Lake City, Utah area. When I was two years old, my dad took a job at a small college in Illinois, so I ended up growing up in a little town called Galesburg, Illinois, from 1950 until I went to college in 1970, and that was actually a really good thing for me. I, I think I've benefited from the values and the small town atmosphere and the cohesiveness of the place. So, I, my, my true love, first love in life was baseball, and I wanted to play baseball. So I went to the University of Arizona for four years and played some pretty good ball and we went to the College World Series in 1970. And I played a little pro ball after that, not much but about a year and a half. And at the end of that I decided to go to graduate school in political science, which I did. I went to University of Illinois for a semester, then I went to spring training that year, and the next year I went to Ohio State. The only reason I did that was because they offered me a teaching assistantship, very important at the time. So I got my PhD ultimately in political science from Ohio State, that was in 1976. And after that, I became a little bit of a nomad. My first job was lasted the longest until ECU, I was 13 years at University of Oklahoma. And then from there, I went to the University of Maine for nine years, Bowling Green State University for three years, University of Missouri-Kansas City for three years, and then in 2004, I took a job that I ended up loving and that was at East Carolina University, and stayed there for 12 years. So be happy to answer any questions you have about that. [unclear] (03:41)

Donald Leggett:
We're glad that you did that, let's just say the least then. Obviously, you're not originally from around this part of the country and East Carolina University has sort of a local flavor to it, I suppose. So where were you first aware of of East Carolina? Having moved around as much as you did and where did you first hear about it, become aware of it, or think about it? (04:08)

Steve Ballard:
Well, kind of two parts of that question. I believe, if my memory is any good that I only knew about East Carolina because of their football program. I remember seeing ECU in bowl games and seeing David Gerard, Garrard, play and others and was always impressed by ECU's spirit, they seem to be able to come back under a daunting circumstances and always play well. But I had never thought much about what kind of university East Carolina was until about January of 2004. I was talking to one of my mentors, a guy named Frank Horton, who had been president of Oklahoma and also president at Toledo and he and I developed a scheme for me to apply to several universities. My, I was not tremendously happy at University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Frank knew that and he, he said he would help me all he could. And so he really designed an interview, an application schedule, and he strongly encouraged me to apply first to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because he'd been president there, are maybe on their board, I can't remember anymore, I think probably president and he said, I'll get you I can get you that job if you want it. But just to be sure you should apply to Southern Illinois University, and I grew up in Illinois, so that made some sense. And also East Carolina University. Well over the three, ECU is the only one that I knew virtually nothing about. And Frank had told me so much about Milwaukee Wisconsin that I was just putting up most of all, almost all of my eggs in that basket. Well, I heard first from Southern Illinois and they declined to interview me, so that one was out. And I was told I was in the top five at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but I went ahead and applied to East Carolina. And then I heard a few weeks after that, I really don't remember the timeframe, but I'm gonna say maybe February of 2004, that Wisconsin-Milwaukee decided not to interview anybody. And what what that usually means is that they'd already decided who they want to be president, an internal person, and they just decided to go ahead and do it, which happens a lot. I don't, I don't have any grudges against that kind of thing, that's that's a pretty common thing. But anyway, when I heard that I was down to one application, and Frank knew I really wanted to leave UMKC. So I applied and really spent a lot of time at East Carolina University and about mid to late February of that year, I got a call and they said they wanted to do a, an airport interview at Raleigh-Durham airport, and that was the start of it. And I guess I came to a campus interview probably in early March and I remember I think was March 19 of 2004. Molly Broad selected me and the Board of Governors voted positively for me to be the 10th Chancellor of East Carolina University and I couldn't have been happier at that, and I'll tell you a couple of reasons for that in a second, but that was a that was a godsend for me, I thought I, East Carolina University, and I would be a good fit. And it was, it was a place that always put the students first at least that was my impression. I didn't know that much about it at that point, but it's it's student orientation was something I was looking for. And so things just happened to turn out pretty well for me in 2004. (07:58)

Donald Leggett:
Well you have pretty much answered I think my next three questions I had coming down the pipe, and that's good, but I was gonna tell you that at least the three you chose the best weather I think.

Steve Ballard:
By far, by far.

Donald Leggett:
And what you thought what you thought you did, but we have our own we have the challenges too. So but day in and day out we don't have a bad climate down this way. But I was going to ask you your first impression of East Carolina when you first knew about it and and of course you answered that by saying it was the spirit and I think this is something we will get into a little later on about the spirit and the underdog attitude maybe that seems to kind of permeate some areas of the of the Pirate Nation and But anyway, let me ask you this. (08:58)

Steve Ballard:
Okay, can I add one thing to the to that spirit question.?

Donald Leggett:
Do what now?

Steve Ballard:
Could I add one element?

Donald Leggett:
Oh, go right ahead sure.

Steve Ballard:
Yeah, what the first person I met when I came to an airport interview was the chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees, a man named Jim Talton, passed away in about 2007 if memory serves me correctly. But I just immediately loved Jim Talton. I just thought he was the kind of person that I could work with and would love to work with. And that night when I called home and talked to Nancy about it, I said, if they're all like, Jim Talton around here, I'm going to really enjoy this interview. So part of my learning about ECU was in depth talks with Jim Talton, and whatever question I asked him, he not only answered it, but I I thought that he was answering it authentically and honestly. When I asked him how well the football team was doing, He didn't pull any punches. That was after the first year of John [unclear] (10:04)

Donald Leggett:
I was trying to think when that was.

Steve Ballard:
John Thompson. I think they were two and nine that year. So anyway, that that that connection with Jim Talton meant an awful lot to me.

Donald Leggett:
And so having been through all of that, and, and had conversations back and forth and visits with the university and all of that, what do you think might have been, if there was a one thing, but what was it the thing or things that stood out that really attracted you to say, this is where I want to be? [unclear] it's going to be like this, this is what I want to be a part of. Is there something that stands out in your mind that caused you to make that decision? (10:47)

Steve Ballard:
The decision to come or do?

Donald Leggett:
Yes.

Steve Ballard:
Well, I guess there were two things on the negative side. It was by far the best job offer I had.

Donald Leggett:
But the weather was good.

Steve Ballard:
I did not want to go back to, to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, not because there weren't some good challenges there, but because of the situation I was in, in terms of supervisors and so on, just not was not what I was looking for. So I knew I needed to leave. So that's on the negative side. On the positive side, every aspect of my interview, with with one exception maybe, but with almost every aspect of my interview, both my airport interview and also my on campus interview, I just loved it. It was one of those interviews where I think it was a two day long interview, I didn't want it to end, I was just enjoying learning about it. And I think again, it goes back to the authenticity of East Carolina University. They convinced me that they put students first and that this was a different kind of university than many. They didn't, this just gets to some of your later points, they didn't necessarily want to be like Chapel Hill or like University of Virginia. they wanted to serve the mission of East Carolina University. And that just came through in every way. I think it was during the interview that I met a man who at the time, I believe I'm correct on this Don, at that time was the chair of the Faculty Senate. Rick, Rick Nicewander. (12:26)

Donald Leggett:
I think you're right about that, yeah..

Steve Ballard:
Rick later, of course, became my Vice Chancellor for Finance and in between, he was the Dean of Business. But I, I could always talk with Rick and I said, Rick, you've been here quite a while, what do you like about East Carolina University? And he said something to me that I have never forgotten. He said, Steve, ECU is a special place. When you get to know the people here, you'll see that we're not like any other university. You know, we have a commitment to our region, we have a commitment to our students, and we're the we're the real deal. But he said it's a special place in terms of how we treat each other. And I thought that was true for since 2004 until today. (13:10)

Donald Leggett:
You know, I think Dr. Ballard, that's something that that i believe so many of us feel and and I'm not sure that anybody else has really defined what that specialty is that. But there's something special about it that once you become a part of it, it sort of becomes ingrained in your in your system. And it's just hard to put your finger on what it is. But there's a certain pride and spirit as you mentioned a while ago that goes along with that, that. I don't know that we aught try to define it, just enjoy it. (13:42)

Steve Ballard:
I don't I don't think you can define it, but you can feel it when you come here.

Donald Leggett:
You do indeed feel it. Dr. Ballard, I have kind of divided my questions into three categories and one is as we get through the initial things about where you've been and how you it led up to your coming here. And then I wanted to move on into the sort of the next bracket of talking about getting to well our theme, which is the rise of alpha dog, which suggests that there was an underdog before the [unclear] an alpha dog. When you became a part of East Carolina, and began to know it better, did you get the feeling that we were somewhat looked down upon, or that maybe we some people thought we were an underdog? Maybe even some of our own people, that we were an underdog university. (14:48)

Steve Ballard:
Yes, I heard that from lots of different constituencies Don. There's, there's almost no question that it was kind of in that in the air or it was a little bit of the self perception. I think I heard it the most from community members who, who rejected it, who reacted against it, against it and often wanted to wanted to know how I was going to fix it. But I certainly heard it from them. You know, I didn't, I seldom heard it from people on our own campus, the students or the faculty or the staff I, that's not where I heard it most. I did hear it at the Board of Governors. I think there were in the system level and from other universities, I would just, frankly say, certainly from Chapel Hill, I heard it a lot over my 12 years of Chancellor is that we're, we're kind of out in the boondocks and we're, you know, we're we're not up to the, to the speed or up to par with some of the other universities. Now when I came here, there was another element of that underdog aspect and that was that ECU had gone through some rough times. And Chancellor Muse before me was asked to leave the system. And I talked to Bill Muse a couple of times about that whole situation. You might recall that ECU had some some embezzlement from a guy inhousing and our football team couldn't beat anybody seems like. So there was there was a there was a lack of morale, but that did not mean that the people on campus felt that we were not worthy of being a great university. So I felt there was a lot to to build on at ECU. In my first three months, Austin Bunch convinced a reporter from the News and Observer, and I'm gonna forget his name, which happens to me a lot these days, but. (16:47)

Donald Leggett:
I know the feeling.

Steve Ballard:
He convinced the reporter, who I later became pretty close friends with, to to join Austin and I in a series of town meetings, and we we must had 20 of those around campus, and he then he wrote a nice article. But getting back to the question of spirit and the underdogs, and so on. At the end of that time period, in spite of what the system was saying, and in spite of what a couple of other campuses were saying, I felt our campus knew that there was something special about ECU. And those town halls were just vital to me to really understand the spirit of ECU. I also learned during those town hall meetings that leadership was already being taught all across the curriculum and all it needed was some people to kind of organize it a little bit better to put a face on it. And and that they we're taking great pride in many of their academic programs. I had no clue, I had a nursing program report to me in Kansas City, I had no clue that our nursing program at East Carolina was so good. But by the time I left, I had I find it equal to any nursing program in the country and I don't I don't think there's much questions about that. So it was a campus that convinced me that there was a lot to build on here. (18:06)

Donald Leggett:
You know, and I hear also Dr. Ballard that that this impression as an underdog or whatever, you hear it more locally than you do the further away you get from the campus. That nationally, and as you travel further, away that people have a very good impression of what East Carolina University is all about. Not to say that we don't here, but I think that that underdog thing is more local than it is as you get further away. (18:39)

Steve Ballard:
I think it is. And there were some very influential people in the community who who contribute a lot to ECU that seemed to be the most bothered by our reputation. We I'd like to pause for a minute and just say a word about reputations because university reputations are a two edged sword. Once you get a really strong reputation, like maybe the University of Virginia or others around the country, it almost no matter what you do you keep that reputation. But but the opposites true also, and there been thousands of studies of rep called reputational analysis. And here's something about them, they're not very valid. They don't reflect what's really happening at the university. So people can read a U.S. News [unclear] report or say they heard something bad about ECU, and that doesn't mean anything about what our nursing programs like or what our business schools like or whatever, you know, the U.S. [unclear] reputational analysis. (19:40)

Donald Leggett:
Hello. Hello, Alston.

Steve Ballard:
The top 10 [unclear]

Alston Cobourn
Yes, hello.

Donald Leggett:
Sound seems to be cutting in and out Alston.

Alston Cobourn
It seems okay on this end, I think I think we're still good with the recording.

Donald Leggett:
Okay, go ahead, Dr. Ballard and let's see if I can hear you. Hello,

Alston Cobourn
I'll I gotta go. Thank you. Bye. All right yes, it would seem you're correct. We have lost. Dr. Ballad. It says he has low bandwidth or something like that. Um, well,

Steve Ballard:
I can hear Alston now.

Alston Cobourn
Oh, perfect. Okay, good.

Donald Leggett:
Well, okay, can you hear me now?

I heard Don just now, yes.

Well, i reckon we have all the partie then, we can put them back together again.

Alston Cobourn
Lets just pick up from there.

Steve Ballard:
Back in business?

Donald Leggett:
Okay.

Steve Ballard:
I lost your voice your image.

Alston Cobourn
The image part is the computer bandwidth, so that probably is gonna come and go is my guess because I have a little symbol thing, it looks like you might have low bandwidth. But your voice part should still keep going. (21:08)

Donald Leggett:
Ok.

Steve Ballard:
Ok.

Well, let me.

Donald Leggett:
Go ahead Dr. Ballard if you can remember where it was we were at that time.

Steve Ballard:
I was talking a little bit about reputations and reputational analysis and I was telling a quick story that the US News asked about 300 universities to rank various kinds of schools. And every year the University of Pennsylvania law school gets ranked in the top 10. Well guess what, University of Pennsylvania does not have a law school. It's not even there. Though, these reputations, they seem to have a life all their own that aren't related to what happens on the campus. So, while I always when you're Chancellor, you have to pay attention to those things in part because your Trustees do, and your Board of Governors does, and your constituents do. You also have to try to educate people that just because somebody thinks you're maybe a underdog or, or whatever, that doesn't really reflect on what's happening on the campus. So I always like to caution people about that. (22:11)

Donald Leggett:
And, you know, the we've, of course, the before all of this and when I first came to the campus, and we were dealing with another misconception in that, I suppose it was a misconception of sort, but still people were talking about the party school, that East Carolina University was the party school and all this kind of stuff. And sure we party, everybody parties is if you're on a university campus. That part of going to college and [unclear] you don't take anything to the extreme, but I'd hate to go to a university for four years and not not have a chance to party a little bit. And so I think that's just part of what happens. But our people were still talking about ECU being a party school and I would go around and when I was sitting in a store while my wife was looking for the shoes, I'd asked the people, what do you think of East Carolina and whatever, and oftentimes I got that, that comeback, well, we kind of think it's a party school. But anyway, I just got my people together and told them, I said look, if you want to know what to do about the party school thing, just don't ever say the word again and sooner or later, it will disappear. And I think that's, not what I said had nothing to do with it, but I think genuinely that's what has happened. We just got tired of talking about it and quit talking about it, and all of a sudden, we're not all of sudden, but eventually it, it disappears. I'm thinking that maybe this is what will happen with this this underdog thing. But what I was going to get to in my next question I suppose, was that has, i mean is it all bad that we have this image and what difference does it make if we're the underdog and has it benefited us in particular in athletics in in creating a certain spirit or motivation of whatever? Do you think there's some positives Dr. Ballard of being an underdog? (24:27)

Steve Ballard:
Yes, I do. I'm going to continue talking even though there's a pop up blocker on my screen that doesn't allow me to see your whole face, I'm trying to get rid of it but

Donald Leggett:
You might try really hard to get rid of it but it might be more comfortable for you. But mine, I see mine right down in the far corner, just just a tiny little one.

Steve Ballard:
Yeah, this is a big one. I'm not adept enough to know exactly what, how to get rid of it, but I'm gonna gonna try to put my, click on my, maybe that'll get rid of it in minute. Your question again Don and I'll go ahead and talk for a minute. (25:11)

Donald Leggett:
I was saying that maybe there's something good or positive to come out of being an underdog and

Steve Ballard:
Yeah.

Donald Leggett:
A lot of our athletic fans particularly, I think, kind of enjoy that that image and being having a chip on the shoulder or will show you that we can that we can what we can do to you and and enjoy the upsets that we have and and that type thing. And maybe this happens beyond the athletic field, maybe in other areas of the university that there's some motivating factor there that has some advantage to it. Do you think? (25:55)

Steve Ballard:
Yeah, I do and I think especially in athletics it helps. It provides a little bit of pride when we continue to do better than maybe people predicted. I mean, who would have thought in a two year time period that we would beat score 70 points against University of North Carolina and 55 against North Carolina State. That goes back six years, and we haven't been quite as good since that time. But, you know, we don't we don't back off from anybody and there's that, there's that element of the Pirate Nation that I think is reacting to the party school image, the underdog image, and those kind of things. So I think it's good, but I think it also means that the people that do all the heavy lifting around here, the people in health psychology, Sam Sears, and the doctors that make the Brody School so good, and all those kind of people that I think they work a little harder, maybe then you see in some places just because they want to show people that there's a lot more going on here than might meet the eye or might be in the reputational analysis. (27:09)

Donald Leggett:
Well I'll tell you, let's uh, we've been through the first two parts of, as I pointed out a while ago, my three part program here. Now let's go into the alpha dog aspect of it and talk about that just a little bit. Do you think it's now time to shift his focus the focus to the alpha dog, and if it is, well, you mentioned a while ago they ask you what you're gonna do about it. I'm interested to hear what do you think we will do about the the underdog thing too? How are we going to get rid of it if if in fact, we need to do it as a [unclear] rid of it, it will just wear itself out. But then if it's, if you think it's time that we started talking about the alpha dog image and, and tried to shift everything in that direction. Oh, what do you think? Hello? (28:18)

Alston Cobourn
I noticed he has two icons again.

Donald Leggett:
Yeah we got two.

Alston Cobourn
And I'm wondering why. Well.

Donald Leggett:
Hello?

Alston Cobourn
I guess I can email him.

Donald Leggett:
What I am seeing Alston is two SB two and then me. Uh, Dr. Ballard, I think as we were cut off we were talking about the heading into the alpha dog aspect of it and whether we think maybe there is a reluctance to abandon the the underdog role that sort of like maybe have an old pair of shoes and you know that you need a new pair, but the old ones are so comfortable while you just rather hang on to it. And so I wonder if that sort of the way it is with the the underdog thing, it's such a motivating thing, if maybe there's a reluctance to, to give it up? (29:58)

Steve Ballard:
I think there's there's some of that Don, I don't think it's a, I don't think it dominates [unclear] control [unclear]who who. But it's it's a little bit part of that [unclear]

Alston Cobourn
We are having some trouble hearing you again.

Steve Ballard:
We really [unclear].

Alston Cobourn
I guess one thing I could say is if, I don't know, because presumably right you're using the Wi-Fi in your house, correct?

Steve Ballard:
Yeah.

Alston Cobourn
Yeah.

Steve Ballard:
I am right next to the Wi-Fi.

Alston Cobourn
You are? Ok, then that's the best we are going to be able to do about that. Okay.

Donald Leggett:
Okay, I can hear it well now, think we should see what we got?

Alston Cobourn
Try that, do you mind Dr. Ballard trying your answer over.

Steve Ballard:
Say that again, try what?

Alston Cobourn
Just say your answer over because we heard the first part and then it sort of cut out on us.

Steve Ballard:
Okay, well, if I, if I'm repetitive, tell me to stop, but I think it's always gonna be a part. We always have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. I don't think that's bad, but I want to make sure you heard me say that, it doesn't bother me if it's there. It doesn't change what Sam Sears does in the health psychology program or what the doctors do all over the all over the state or what the eight dental clinics do. I mean, it it, what we do is we follow our mission and that's a that's a critical part of becoming the alpha dog is to be good at what we say we want to be good at. So it'll always be a little bit of that underdog, always a little bit of the chip on the shoulder, but it's in my almost, what, 18 years around here, 16 years, it doesn't seem to affect how we do our work. (32:40)

Donald Leggett:
Yeah, it's something that I think that almost feel like I need to stop here and, and kind of pull it all together because there's a thread here that runs through all of it that I think is awfully Important and we've both hit on it a number of times as we go through. But the thing that ties all this together, I think through the alpha dog, underdog, or whatever it is, is the service aspect of East Carolina. (33:13)

Steve Ballard:
Yeah, exactly.

Donald Leggett:
Started back with Dr. Wright and is still going on today. And it just kind of brings everything together and is the glue that that keeps us all of us together and as and helps us make those transitions from one one era to another. But, you know, we constantly hear conversation I think about what our role really is and what our obligations and responsibilities are as it pertains to the east, and to the economic welfare of the, and cultural welfare, of the eastern part of the state. And then, at the same time, be aspiring to be national academic university at the top level, and I think most people want to see us do both. And is that is there a conflict there? (34:10)

Steve Ballard:
No, I don't think there's a conflict at all and I want to say a word about that. But I, I do want to thank you for mentioning President Wright, who really, over 100 years ago, 113 years ago defined this university in terms of service, and so we're a and nothing's ever changed, really from his initial definition. And that's extraordinarily unusual for university to keep that self definition and that that allows us to define ourselves and not worry too much if others are mystifying us. So, I just I just have all kinds of respect for Robert Wright and what he meant to the formation and the foundation and the spirit of East Carolina University. So I think that's very important. I don't think those things are our incompatible at all. If you look at our mission, we say we want to be a national model of public service, of students success, and regional transformation and that really helps to set our priorities, but it doesn't mean that we won't, that we're, we're not trying to be the best we can. We know that if you really want to make a difference in our region, or in terms of economic development, you better be really good at what you say you're going to do. And so we train more business undergraduates than any business school in the state. We have the highest number of undergraduate [unclear]. We have a new school of entrepreneurial,l entrepreneurialism, or the Miller School of Entrepreneurialism, and that that directly translates into what we do in our region. So we want to be really good academically so our students get trained well, but we also want to make sure it translates into the region. You know, our New Life Sciences Building, many universities would just put a couple departments in there and are done with it and say that's, that's, that's how they're going to use our new building. But our new building is only going to be populated with leaders and with faculty who have a commitment to regional development. So I think it's really amazing that we, you know, there's this old thing and the literature goes back probably 100 years, but it's called stick to your knitting. You know, do what you say you're gonna do and make sure you're good at it and I think that's ECU. (36:28)

Donald Leggett:
I think your absolutely right in that you know, you take it step by step but you just make sure that whatever you do to get to the next step, that you've been successful with it and proud of it and then move on to the, to the next level. Lets mention athletics just for a moment here. I know that we've spent a lot of time on that, but in being a measure of being an alpha dog and, and maybe also an indicator that we've "arrived." What part does athletics play in all of that? Is that really what people measure us by whether we win football games or not? And then that makes them take a look at what else go, known as the old front porch of athletics and that's athletics of the front porch of the university and then everything else you see after that. (37:37)

Steve Ballard:
Well, Terry Holland always said that I think Terry did an A plus job of making sure athletics was a good front porch. I have no problems with that. I think if athletics attracts people to learn more about East Carolina University, I think that's a great thing. What you can never do and in my knowledge of the place and going back to Dick Aikens and Leo Jenkins and many others, that's not enough. You want to be as good as you possibly can in athletics, but if you have an opportunity, you want to develop an engineering school, which we have a really good one right now. You have developed a new dental school, which has been talked about all over the country. It's that academic side that adds to the front porch and is really all the rooms inside, or most of the room. Because that's when the students go out into the world, those students are going to determine whether what our real reputation is but you know, by where they get employed and what their employers say about them. [unclear], a long time ago, and I were on a were on a an advancement trip down to Atlanta and we had a talk with a business major down there who was who was making all kinds of money and he hired about had about 30 young people working for him. And so we asked him if he if he always looked for, you know, the prestigious Big 10 Universities and the Ivy League's. And he looked at us and he was just incredulous. and he said, are you crazy? I'll take an ECU graduate any day of the week over those places. And we asked why. And he said because they work hard. They want to do well. It means all the difference in the world to to what ECU is thought of. (39:23)

Donald Leggett:
And that's part of that underdog attitude, you know. They work a little hard on a might not be that much smarter but I will just work harder.

Steve Ballard:
Yeah. Exactly, right.

Donald Leggett:
But the the thing also Dr. Ballard that I have observed through the, through the years when we attempt to do one thing and then another like when we were trying to get the nursing school, the medical school, getting into a higher athletic conference and all this type of stuff, that we readly proclaimed that whatever we do, we're going to be as best as we possibly can with it. We not getting into it to be be a failure, but we're going to be successful with whatever we do and then we want to be the best. Now whether we get to the actual best in the world or not, but we will be one of the best in whatever we do. We, athletic conferences, same thing. If you take us in, we're gonna beat you. (40:24)

Steve Ballard:
Right exactly.

Donald Leggett:
I think that attitude is, is really one that has carried us along way too. But, you know, ever since I have been here, I suppose I've been working toward and watching [unclear] to at someday having arrived. Will we ever arrive or do we want to ever arrive? Is that a place you don't ever want to be? How will we know when we've really done what we set out do [unclear] we've arrived as a university? (41:04)

Steve Ballard:
I always, I always think about it in, first in terms of what what happens to our students. And in that regard, there's only two kinds of universities really, one is the ones that want want to be ranked number one among all 600 public universities in the, in the, in the universe in the United States. And there's those universities that are mission driven. We've always been the latter. We've always said that more important than anything else is is what our mission says, which includes service and student success. If you look at the data on what we do and students success, we're one of the best in the country and we have been for the last 10 years. Washington Monthly, the National Survey of Student Engagement, the educate to careers which measures how much value we add to our students between freshman and senior years. We're always a top ranked school, that's almost never varied. But you know, we're a country that's obsessed with rankings. If you're ranked number three in football, that's not good enough, you have to be number one. So, you know, it gets to the difficulty of knowing when you've arrived. I think I think we've arrived when we can point to how much our students do and where they end up and what our Honors College students do every day that they're here. What happens across the state, you know, we provide more dental care, medical, primary medical care, and nursing care than all the other universities combined. So you know, some of that some of that negative image people are people always it's a very competitive business. So they're gonna beat you up with some of those images. They're, they don't want people to know sometimes how good this is, but it's the students that that will, will make the difference and I'm not really worried about whether somebody else defines us as having been arrived, because I think that people at ECU know we've arrived. (43:04)

Donald Leggett:
Dr. Ballard, uh, this surely is a note too, that we could close on because I think you're exactly right, that after all said and done, we're here for the students. And so they become the measure of our success as to what however successful they are. But let me ask you, I know going through something like this that probably are areas along the way where you say, well, I'd like to come back to that and talk a little more about it or think of something that you'd like to talk about that we didn't hit on. Anything else you want to add to all of this that we [unclear]? (43:43)

Steve Ballard:
I would just repeat a little bit and tell you one quick story that I think missions, whether you achieve your mission, and whether you're authentic and your mission is just two or three or ten times more important than what some national ranking says about you, which usually use bad variables to begin with to measure you. You know, the last time we got our mission approved, which is about 2013 or 14, the Board of Governors went out of their way to say that every every school in the system ought to be more like ECU, which is to have an authentic mission and then measure ourselves against that mission. And I don't think anybody was reviewed as well as we were, and our mission is on our homepage, and I'm very proud of it. It's not that, you know, we couldn't add to it, but our mission includes being a leadership university. We're A+ on that. We do so much on that, that it's really incredible. And we do the right thing. I think all that amounts to doing the right thing. You know, right after he came here, we were about ready to play Virginia Tech in football and they just had that horrible shooting up there, I forget how many of there students were killed in that shooting, but Terry Holland gave, Terry Holland and ECU nation the Pirate Nation gave the biggest single gift they got from any external university. Came from ECU. And we presented them a check up in Blacksburg for $100,000 and they never forgot that and I thought I thought that was a great example of doing the right thing. (45:21)

Donald Leggett:
Absolutely. Well Dr. Ballard, you sure do make it easier, for easy On the interviewer because all I have to do is ask the first question and just let it go at that because you're so knowledgeable about so many things and have so many good opinions about things. It's just a joy to sit here and just listen to you go on with it. And I hope that somewhere all of this will be put where everybody has access to it and and can learn from it and to learn what East Carolina University is really all about. (45:57)

Steve Ballard:
I agree with you. I agree with you.

Donald Leggett:
And you bring it to a good light and I appreciate you doing this today. And thank you for all the things you've done to bring it to where we are today.

Steve Ballard
Well, it's my pleasure I've been, Nancy and I have been fortunate to be able to make a contribution. So we wouldn't trade it for anything. I'll just say that

Donald Leggett:
And we'll be talking to you later then Dr. Ballard. I'll turn it back over to Alston at this point and let her close it down.

Steve Ballard:
I thank you both and I apologize for the connection problems.

Alston Cobourn
No, that's okay. You're not the, we had we had some issues with Dr. Hardy yesterday too. That was the other one we've had that but um

Steve Ballard:
That's because she is so [unclear]


Title
Steve Ballard Oral History Interview
Description
Sound recording of Steve Ballard's interview for the "The Rise of Alpha Dog" oral history project conducted by Don Leggett. The project explores perceptions of East Carolina as an "underdog" or "alpha dog".
Date
June 25, 2020
Extent
Local Identifier
UA95.18.07
Location of Original
University Archives

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