The announcement that Dr. Philip Rogers would become East Carolina’s 12th chancellor on March 15 looks like a divine blessing.
It may indeed be something miraculous for an institution that has been wandering in a wilderness since turning away an alumnus and winning football coach in 2015.
The big news at ECU came on the anniversary of a landmark event in Eastern North Carolina, the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17, 1903, a conceptual triumph that reshaped the world.
Since Steve Ballard stepped down from the chancellor position in 2016, ECU’s leadership has been characterized for the most part by ineffectiveness and even embarrassment.
Interim appointee Ron Mitchelson has managed to keep his finger in the dike since October of 2019 but his role as skipper of the Pirate ship has been limited in vision because of its temporary status.
Enter Rogers, 37, seemingly young for the post perhaps, but at the same time, experienced. He is a former chief of staff for Ballard at ECU.
His familiarity with the university and community are much deeper than his previous stint in the administration from 2008-2013.
Rogers’ connections to ECU really predate his birth.
He is the great-grandson of a former student at East Carolina Teachers Training School, which has evolved into ECU.
His father is Dr. Greg Rogers, who has been pastor of Oakmont Baptist Church on Red Banks Road in Greenville since 1986.
Over the years, former ECU football coach Steve Logan and the late Keith LeClair, former baseball coach of the Pirates, have worshiped at Oakmont.
Greg Rogers first came to Oakmont as a summer youth minister in 1976 and 1977. During that time, he met his wife, Leslie, who was an ECU student. The elder Rogers graduated from Millbrook, the same high school that produced Pirate receiver Tyler Snead, another inspiring presence. Greg Rogers loves tennis.
Philip Rogers grew up in Greenville, graduated from Rose High and got his undergraduate degree in communication at Wake Forest. He received a masters from North Carolina in public administration and a doctorate in higher education management, with distinction, from Pennsylvania .
His wife, Dr. Rebekah P. Rogers, has two degrees from ECU. The couple has two boys, Grayson and Dean.
Former Pirate football player Vern Davenport, now chair of the ECU Board of Trustees, noted that Rogers has been serving as the Senior Vice President for Learning and Engagement at the American Council on Education, where he has developed experience in helping institutions navigate the complex challenges of higher education.
Rogers has developed some impressive relationships with colleagues in his most recent capacity.
“I’m pleased that Philip Rogers will be the next chancellor of ECU,” said Randy Woodson, N.C. State chancellor. “I have worked with him through the American Council on Education, where his leadership in higher education and public policy have made a positive difference across our country.”
Jim Clements, president of Clemson, also has known Rogers through ACE.
“He values and is ready to lead all aspects of the university experience — from academics to research and from student life to athletics,” Clements said. “I am excited for my dear friend and thrilled that ECU picked a truly wonderful leader to take the university into the next decade. Go Pirates!”
Mitchelson asserted that ECU has picked the right person from a field of 60 candidates. The hiring process spanned more than a year.
“Dr. Rogers brings a rare blend of knowledge and capacities to the position,” Mitchelson said. “With his mix of local assets, industry knowledge and personal attributes, I know that history will see this appointment as a key moment for Pirate Nation.”
Ruffin McNeill, the football coach who was deposed in 2015, said sometimes things are too coincidental to be a coincidence.
Rogers is ready to fulfill what might well be perceived as a destiny. Pandemics can present challenges in the present but good leadership has an enduring quality.
“Given my previous experience at ECU and the wide array of authentic relationships I’ve maintained with university stakeholders through the years, I am confident in my ability to be an asset to the university and region from day one,” Rogers said. “It will be important to partner with faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members, and other constituencies to build trust and unity among every component of the shared governance infrastructure.
“It is also vital to lead with a listening ear and servant’s heart when considering the top priorities to address together as a university.”
Thursday’s announcement comes during a season when the birth of a leader with a servant’s heart is celebrated. In an athletic sense, perhaps there is a new kingdom at hand for the Pirates.
Editor’s note: The article was updated to incorporate a reference (in the third paragraph) to the announcement of Rogers’ appointment occurring on the anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk.
(ECU News Services contributed to this column.)