CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - With fifteen years as chancellor at UNC Charlotte and the eight years as President at the University of Wyoming, Philip Dubois is one of the most experienced CEOs in higher education across the country.
Last week he announced he will retire at the end of next school year, on June 30, 2020. He sat down to talk with WBTV exclusively about his expectations for the future, and some of the highlights and horrific acts he has handled throughout his long career.
Mainly, he says, the active shooter on UNC Charlotte’s campus last April that killed two students and hurt four others.
“I don’t think the average citizen or even the average person who says, ‘Oh, I’d like that job’ has any conception of what it’s like to try to manage a large institution with so many people and their lives can be changed in an instant,” Dubois said. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to top April 30 on the hit parade of tragedy. It really was awful. And it will be a difficult year as we move forward."
Dubois spoke with emotion when he started recalling the events of April 30, 2019. “I have three children of my own,” he said. “And I would’ve hated to be in the position of a parent wondering what had happened to their son or daughter on that day. There were two victims who lost their lives, so two families drastically affected there. Four students who were injured. Forty-five students who ran for their lives from the classroom. Hundreds on campus locked down. I don’t know how you can’t be emotional about that.”
Dubois says he remains in weekly contact with some of those families.
He says together, they’re already in talks to plan a large remembrance on April 30, 2020. “We’ve been in conversations with the Charlotte Symphony about a memorial concert,” he said. “We’re not totally clear on plans yet, but our departments of art, music, theater and dance will be a part of that with student performers alongside the Symphony. Christopher Warren Green will conduct. It’ll be an opportunity to look back and move forward.”
Dubois also says though the University is a public institution and can’t take a political stance, he supports students using their right to free speech to take on advocacy roles. Most recently, Drew Pescaro. Just this week, the UNC Charlotte student showed his bullet wounds to North Carolina’s General Assembly.
As for security Dubois is adding this year:
- Metal detectors at major public events like football games, basketball games and commencement.
- Stepping up active assailant training.
- Working more with faculty and staff on counseling.
"We can't hide it,” he said. “Right now I’m forming my initial remarks to incoming freshman and transfers and I’m going to say that we can't sweep it under the rug. We can't forget that it happened. It did. It will be part of our history forever. We have to deal with that."
But when this school year is over, he and wife Lisa will move to Georgia, closer to two 4-month-old grandbabies, twin boys named Brooks and Leo. They were born ten weeks prematurely but are doing well now.
Who does he think will replace him?
“I don’t know,” Dubois said. “But I can tell you this. This will be one of the most sought-after jobs in higher education. This is an amazing institution and people know it. You’re going to have people lining up to talk with the search consultant and search committee, because this institution has such a bright future. People want to build. They don’t want to tear down. And this has been a building institution.”
Under Dubois’s leadership, UNC Charlotte has seen lots of growth. When he started in 2005, there were 20,700 students enrolled. Last year there were 29,700. That’s a 43% increase in enrollment. He also helped build a football team – despite his original reservations – and has spent $1.2 billion dollars in construction on new buildings.
“There was a time here in 2008 and 2009 that the only building cranes in the entire town were over this University,” he said. “So we take great pride in the fact that we are able to grow the University during the worst of the recession and to what it is today.” But most importantly, he says, he hopes his legacy will be the efforts at establishing UNC Charlotte as part of the city of Charlotte.
“I was so warmed after the shooting when Johnny Harris went on CBS Sports and said the golf tournament at Wells Fargo -- Johnny Harris! A Carolina guy! -- said ‘This is our University.’ That meant a lot.”
Is it going to be hard for him to leave?
“Well,” Dubois said, “you can tell I’m a little emotional. Come maybe next May 9 with commencement I’ll maybe be more emotional. But come May 10 when I’m on the golf course, I’ll be okay. Twenty-three years leading institutions is a long time. Change will be good for me. A little bit of private life sounds good to me.”