09/08/08 — Byrd set for next role at college

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Byrd set for next role at college

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 8, 2008 1:39 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- As Mount Olive College seeks a successor to President Dr. J. William Byrd, who will move into the role of chancellor, his objective is to "never lose a step."

Until his replacement is named, he has no plans to take a "less active role" at MOC, which began 55 years ago as a junior college and has now expanded to four-year status with six locations around the state.

"I will be until the last day that I am in this office, president, and I will transition to another role," he said. "We have too much momentum going and the transition plan the board has put in place will not let a lame duck happen."

And while classes just recently officially began for the fall semester, Byrd is quick to explain there is little lag time.

"The way we do business, we're really a 12-month college," he said. "We have been busy all summer long pushing the work of the college along."

In the last couple years, the college has been addressing growth -- very rapid growth, he said.

"We just occupied new space in Wilmington, we're in the process of completing negotiations at Research Triangle Park, and we have an ambitious plan in New Bern to actually build a campus," he said.

On the Mount Olive campus, two residence halls are in the works, anticipated to be ready by the fall of 2009. Partial funding is also being obtained for a fine arts village, to be constructed on the same campus.

Reticent to be credited with any type of "legacy" as he moves toward a new chapter in his career, the college president shares credit with others who have gone before, and alongside, him.

"I'm pleased to be here to be a part of (the college), but there are lots of people that are contributing in fundamental ways," he said. "I think the thing that we have accomplished that I am most proud is that we have been able to look at the needs of the higher education community and look at new ways to get things done, so that instead of being followers, we are leaders in terms of what we do with non-traditional students."

It would be easy to measure the college's growth by all the "bells and whistles" of new construction and student enrollment, he said. But he quickly points out that its real merits are in terms of the learning environment.

In the midst of its expansions, somehow the college has managed to maintain its close-knit community feel.

That is because, Byrd said, even with six locations, "We have not lost the oneness."

Even with sites in Mount Olive, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, New Bern, Research Triangle Park in Durham, Washington and Wilmington, Byrd said the college is still one entity.

"You will find the same atmosphere and the same sense that this is Mount Olive College," he said. "We are not a 'main campus' with satellite locations. We're a single location that happens to be geographically spread out."

Through the state-of-the-art communication center, a local phone call allows for teleconferencing that keeps the spread-out locations cohesive.

Keeping the family atmosphere at the college was always a primary goal, Byrd said. And that did not change when the additional campuses were added.

"We didn't want a we/they mentality," he said. "Our goal is for all the communities to feel that they have a local college and that MOC belongs to that community."

Byrd is proud of the college's accomplishment, particularly in positioning itself as an "accessible" means to obtain an education, while in a warm and nurturing environment.

"We wanted to preserve some of the core values of the college," he explained. "We have expanded rather rapidly, which makes it stronger but in the process you can't abandon your core values. We never lose sight of who we are, that we are a church-related institution and will continue to be. Our core values are an integral part of the college."

And while change is inevitable, Byrd said the board of trustees has made it clear it is not looking for a new president to come in and shake things up.

"That is not to say in five years, 10 years, the college will be the same -- it won't," he said. "We need to be responsive to the responsibilities that we have but at the same time the college does not have to be reinvented."

With 500 full- and part-time employees, Byrd remains confident that the college's future is bright and grateful that he was able to play a part.

"I'm glad to have been here, I appreciate the opportunities," he said. "I believe that I have contributed to the work of the college but I'm always quick to say, nobody does it by themselves. It's a team of people and that's the reason that it's going to continue its momentum. Any leader who has led in such a way that when they're no longer there, it can't function, that leader has not done his job."