Vice chancellor to continue service after retiring from 40-year career dedicated to student success
Charles W. Donaldson, vice chancellor for educational and student services, flipped through a binder of pictures of his extensive glass collection. He and his wife have collected American Brilliant Cut Glass, produced between 1875 and 1915, for 38 years. “It is an expensive hobby,” he admitted, but one borne of research and dedication, as well as opulence.
Donaldson was dressed immaculately in a white shirt with “CWD” monogrammed on the cuffs, paired with a light blue tie. His speech was calm and measured, spoken in the pattern of a minister at the volume of a church mouse. His gaze was stern, but kind and his posture relaxed with sharp eyes.
Like most educators, his office was lined with bookshelves. A table between two comfortable chairs displayed books about spirituality, travel and education. The walls were conspicuously bare, however, and half of the office looked like it had been packed away. This summer, Donaldson will retire.
“He has been 100 percent dedicated to UALR students and their success,” Chancellor Joel Anderson said. He described Donaldson as sensitive, intelligent and hardworking. “He is well-rounded and very balanced and reasonable in the view that he takes of people and issues,” he said.
Logan C. Hampton, associate vice chancellor for educational and student services, said he was in graduate school when first met Donaldson. “He is one of the sharpest persons I’ve had the occasion to work with,” he said. “His ability to hold numbers in his head – and facts – is unique among human beings.” He added that Donaldson was a compassionate, generous and focused visionary. Both he and Anderson said that Donaldson had high expectations of himself and others.
A self-described overachiever, Donaldson squeezed in an interview between meetings, events and his various projects. When asked how he keeps up the pace, he said he begins each day with reading and meditation. He opened a small, brown book called “Today is Mine” and flipped to today’s page – bigger than self. He meticulously read the page aloud, about living beyond one’s own interests. It is a lesson Donaldson seems to have taken to heart, and was taught at an early age.
Donaldson was born March 8, 1947 and grew up in Newport, Ark. It was a nurturing community, he said, that instilled in him a great self-concept and the belief that he could accomplish anything with hard work. “Everyone looked out for everyone,” he said. Education was also highly prized, and it was understood that the children would go to college.
He grew up Methodist and recalled childhood trips to Philander Smith College to watch performances of “The Messiah.” He later returned to the institution to earn his bachelor’s in psychology. He then received his master’s and doctorate in counseling from the State College of Arkansas at Conway (now the University of Central Arkansas) and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
When he began college, he decided to pursue education instead of theology. “I questioned if I were to go to seminary, sit next to a non-minority student and earn the same degree, to then be relegated to serving at a minority church,” he said. “Education seemed more flexible at that time.”
Donaldson said he viewed his educational career as a form of ministry. “It has allowed me to help so many people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” he said. “I think it is important for minority students and individuals to have a positive role model, and it is also important for non-minority individuals to see a minority who could be a positive role model to them as well.”
Although teaching was his passion, Donaldson said he moved into administration for a better salary. He was an administrator at a public school before he came to UALR in 1973, after deciding that he could make better use of his skills at the university level.
“I could not have designed a better job or career than what I have had,” he said.
He began as a counselor for the student special services program, and then became director of career planning and placement. Then, he became associate vice chancellor for educational and student services and dean of university college before he was appointed to his current position. He also serves on various boards and teaches higher education classes.
Hampton said that Donaldson’s expansive, varied portfolio made him “a different kind of student services professional.”
“I don’t have to worry about what’s going on in all the areas for which he’s responsible,” Anderson said.
Donaldson said his most gratifying accomplishment at UALR was constructing the student services center, which he dreamed of for 25 years before it came to fruition. “He masterminded the planning and hovered over the process from the time it was being planned by the architect to the time the contractors were finishing it,” Anderson said.
“I see the glee on the faces of students being served and the faculty doing the serving,” Donaldson said. He added that the one-stop building was part of a larger plan to create a “heart” of campus, as well as to minimize students’ legwork.
In addition, Donaldson led the on-campus housing expansion to “provide students desiring a more traditional experience the option to do so.” Anderson said that the construction process sailed smoothly under Donaldson’s command.
He led the Rwandan Presidential Scholars Consortium. Anderson said that the international students who came to the university made an excellent addition to the class and had overall academic success. “Through them, UALR will make an important contribution to the development of the country of Rwanda,” he said.
Donaldson also implemented the African-American Male Initiative, African-American Female Initiative and Hispanic Initiative. The programs, which mentor at-risk students, have had real success, Anderson said.
“The pedagogy is working. The intrusive intervention strategies are working. My belief is that if these strategies can work success with these populations it can be good for the entire university. However, we must be more intrusive with intervention,” Donaldson said. “That means getting up into the student’s business while creating a nurturing environment where students know we care and our goals are not incongruent with their goals.”
In his time at UALR, Donaldson said he has encountered many challenges, including having funding and resources. He said that although education is a great investment, he is concerned about students and the amount of debt they are allocating while earning a degree. He is also concerned about how long it takes students to earn a degree. Managing personnel is the greatest challenge, he said, describing himself as an introvert. Overall, he is positive about the university.
“I see the university as being a first-class, world-class institution that cares for students, faculty and staff and one that will keep pace with the changing world we live in, one open to and that embraces diversity and one that will continue to be engaged in the community.”
“I’ll miss it all,” he said, adding that the breadth of his work keeps him engaged and energized. “No two days are the same.”
“I will miss him greatly,” Anderson said. “On the one hand I regret the loss to the institution. On the other, if it’s what he wants to do, I’ll support it enthusiastically. That’s the dilemma that I feel.”
“I am sad for me and for us and for our institution. He is an institution in and of himself,” Hampton said. “I trust he will continue to be a servant in some way.”
“My fear is probably I will be busier in retirement than working fulltime,” Donaldson said. He said he plans to continue serving on boards, his involvement with the Rwandan program and his volunteerism. He will also travel; he and his wife are planning a trip to Malaysia and Singapore, he said. In addition, he said he considers himself a budding chef, and cooks dinner for his family on Saturdays. “That’s the way we keep community going for the family,” he said.
His parting advice to students was to focus and set goals. Work hard and do not let anything stop you from reaching your goals, he said. “Understand and celebrate who you are,” he added.
“My advice to new professors and other administrators is to have a good understanding of who they are and what turns them on and what turns them off,” he said. Be willing to go beyond the call of duty, he added. “Above all, treat people the way you want to be treated.”