North Carolina Central Chancellor Announces Leave of Absence to Kick Cancer’s Ass

Debra Saunders-White will be right back, but heads out with the backing of the national HBCU community.

Debra Saunders-White will be right back, but heads out with the backing of the national HBCU community.

NCCU chancellor taking medical leave of absence
Officials announced Monday that North Carolina Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, who has been…

Maybe you heard about it in spots over the last year or so, long after North Carolina Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White revealed publicly last fall her ongoing battle against kidney cancer. Maybe it got your attention when the Eagles’ men’s basketball team wore those warm-up shirts with her name on the back.

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Maybe you didn’t even know she was in the fight for her life over the last year, because of her continued public appearances on and off-campus, as the university was building its profile as one of the nation’s most ambitious black colleges in areas of S.T.E.M. entrepreneurship development, fundraising and community outreach.

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But that’s just the style of NCCU’s first female chancellor — transparent, and private all at the same time.

It showed at the recent HBCU Awards held at the University of the District of Columbia, when Dr. Saunders-White, in advance of receiving the HBCU of the Year award, was praised by this year’s female and male presidents of the year, Central State University’s Cynthia Jackson-Hammond and Paul Quinn College’s Michael Sorrell.

But she would only mention the work of her team, the value of the HBCU mission, and the power of opportunity that black colleges present to communities nationwide.

So after three years of good works, and more than a year of fighting a ravaging disease and the socially comparable politics of North Carolina higher education, Dr. Saunders-White is choosing the harder, far-greater of the two battles. NCCU Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs Johnson O. Akinleye will serve as acting chancellor during her leave of absence.

She’s never talked much about it, but others celebrate her resolve, in large part, because of her results. And there’s more to come as soon as she gets back — a projected record of just under 1,500 first-time and transfer students that will arrive to campus this week, an athletic program slated to compete for conference titles in major sports, and a growing profile as a premier higher education resource for the south.

But most of all, an Eagle family of supporters eagerly awaiting her return.