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Taking No Chances - The New Chancellor at Fayetteville State University Says It’s Not Enough for Students to Receive a College Degree

It looked easy enough. At least that’s what James Anderson thought when he saw a fellow graduate school student practicing tai chi.

The deliberate, fluid movements of the exercise look more like modern dance than the Chinese martial art that it is. Even more, it didn’t look at all difficult, certainly not to the physically active and fit Washington D.C., native.

“I said, ‘Anybody can do that,’” Anderson recalled. “He said, ‘Well, why don’t you come out and try?’”

Turns out it was tougher than it seemed.

That was 30 years ago, and Anderson, now the chancellor at Fayetteville State University, has a much better understanding of tai chi, having practiced it for the last three decades. And he’s used it to grow personally and in his career.

“I tried, and I got deeper into it, and found as the months progressed that tai chi began to influence my thinking, behavior, my diet,” Anderson said. “I felt more at peace. My relationships with students changed. I became much more accepting of their diversity, especially if they were trying (students). I found I was more even-keeled.

“The overall line in tai chi is that you become one with the universe. In a way, I found that to be true.”

The patience and insight the 59-year-old gained from his practice of tai chi will come in handy in his new job. It may equip him for the task of moving the university forward and resolving some of the problems that have persistently dogged Fayetteville State.

Anderson replaces former chancellor T.J. Bryan, who resigned last year amid problems with the university’s finances and its nursing program. Much of what Anderson will do in his first year will center on fixing these issues.

But it’s not the whole picture. And in many ways, those issues are mere footnotes to what Anderson is trying to accomplish.

“Since I was first identified as chancellor, I’ve been pushing the notion that FSU has to become a 21st-century university in all that that means,” he said. “That means understanding globalism. That means understanding diversity. That means that we’re preparing students to compete, not in a job, but we’re preparing them to compete in the global workforce.

“If your thinking is so limited that you think all students are getting a college degree to go out and get a job then you’re missing the bigger picture. It’s no more about a college degree. It’s about getting a competitive degree.”

So how does Fayetteville State University get to that successful point? It helps, Anderson said, that University of North Carolina system has the same progressive goals for the entire system. UNC’s “University of North Carolina Tomorrow” program articulates many of the same priorities Anderson holds for Fayetteville State. The new chancellor also believes that the committed staff at Fayetteville State, which includes new additions and longtime members of the university community, is key in executing those goals for the future.

“I think we have the right staff in place to make sure that we can move forward in a positive direction,” he said. “Everyone is on the same page.”

Of course, Anderson wouldn’t have it any other way. Wanting what’s best for Fayetteville State is ultimately borne out of his desire to make sure his students get the best.

For most of his career, which has seen him work as a psychology instructor and university administrator at North Carolina State University, Texas A&M and the University at Albany, Anderson has viewed his students as part of his family.

“I have identified very closely with every university community I have been a part of,” said Anderson, whose actual family includes his wife, Nancy, and adult daughters Arie, Amina and Jennifer. “University communities become my extended family.”

Anderson also has a desire to make his university community a bigger part of Fayetteville.

One of the recurring themes he’s heard since arriving in town is that Fayetteville State hasn’t made a big enough impression on the culture of the city. Part of that is owed to the fact that Fayetteville isn’t the typical “college town,” Anderson said. The presence of Fort Bragg and the military tends to color most everything that happens around town. But Anderson believes that Fayetteville State can have a bigger footprint in the community. And he says that can be achieved by working closely with city leaders and the military.

“This university has to be a significant part of the Fayetteville community,” Anderson said. “To me, there are three big partners here. There's the military. There's the city of Fayetteville itself. Then there are the educational institutions within the city of Fayetteville. “If we’re not interacting in a significant way the city is not functioning as well as it could."