Wielding Power in Academia: David G. Carter Sr. reigns in Connecticut

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David CarterConnecticut’s most powerful African-American in academia, David G. Carter Sr., Ph.D., does not hesitate to recount stories of his struggles. Carter is chancellor of the Connecticut State University System (CSUS) and the first African-American to head a four-year institution of higher learning in all of New England. With a slight smile, eyes welling with tears, he recalls his younger days. “I think I should be the best I possibly can for others and not lose track of where I came from,” Carter says.

When he was 5 years old, fire destroyed his family’s grocery store in Dayton, Ohio. It was uninsured. He, his parents and three brothers suffered burns but managed to escape. Shortly afterward, his father died while struggling to rebuild, leaving his mother to rally the family to survive. Her constant reminder that “your situation need not be your destination” still echoes in Carter’s ears.

Through his vision to maximize Connecticut’s potential for economic growth through education, his destination has become one of tremendous influence. “The fact that 86 percent of the [CSUS] system’s more than 6,000 graduates per year remain in the state is an important source of intellectual capital for the Connecticut economy,” says Ronald Williams, CEO of Aetna, the state’s health care icon.

Ample Preparation
Carter is a product of Ohio schools. He has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Central State University, a master’s in curriculum and supervision from Miami (Ohio) University and a Ph.D. in educational administration and educational development from Ohio State University. He had ample practical preparation for his current post, to which he was appointed in 2006. He was an elementary school teacher, a school superintendent, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University, a professor and vice president in the Department of Educational Administration and Academic Affairs at the University of Connecticut, and in 1988 became president of Eastern Connecticut State University, the first African-American to become president of a state university.

“He’s way ahead of the curve,” says Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell. “He is a chancellor who energetically represents the students and faculty at all our state universities.” Of the 52 public higher education systems nationwide, Carter is one of five African-Americans to head a state university system. Other African-Americans head systems in Georgia, Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana.

Obligation to Youth
During his 18-year tenure at Eastern, with its 4,300 students, 460-member faculty and $80 million annual budget, Carter catapulted the university to the forefront of the energy debate by installing on campus the state’s largest geothermal unit for independent energy consumption. He also made the school the first institution to use B20 bio-fuel to heat its facilities. He navigated the corridors of the university system and the halls of the state’s legislature to champion students’ needs. The system he now heads has four universities, totaling 36,000 students, a faculty of 5,500 and a $600 million annual budget. “I don’t want to see young people suffer like I did. I could retire now and make more money, but I have an obligation to see this through and it doesn’t stop,” Carter says.

He reiterates this obligation in an article titled, “The African-American Press: A Voice for Freedom.” “We must convey to our young people that mediocrity is not an option in this high-tech society; that hard work and discipline is the order of the day. We must convey to them that there are no shortcuts …” he writes.

Verve and Innovation
Carter’s goal is to bring to CSUS the same verve and innovation he showed at Eastern. His 10-year plan includes provisions for students from any Connecticut community college to enter any of the CSUS universities without losing credits, a Center for International Education and a prekindergarten through 16 initiative.