North Carolina Central University mourns the loss of the 11th Chancellor, Dr. Debra Saunders-White, who passed away today, November 26, 2016, after a heroic battle with cancer.

Saunders-White’s tenure was filled with a number of achievements and firsts for NCCU over the past three-and-a-half years since she assumed the post as chancellor on June 1, 2013. She made institutional history for NCCU with her appointment as the university’s first permanent female chancellor on February 8, 2013. She quickly established and carried out her vision of “Eagle Excellence” that made delivering excellence in our classrooms, excellence throughout our campus and excellence in our service to the community a focus during her administration.

Saunders-White, 59 years old, took a medical leave of absence on August 8, 2016. She was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015. Saunders-White came to NCCU from the U.S. Department of Education after working in higher education administration at Hampton University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, as well as in corporate marketing for IBM.

UNC President Margaret Spellings offered the following statement:

“The UNC system lost a great leader today. With the death of Deb Saunders-White, we also lost a valued colleague and friend. Deb loved NCCU with all her being and treated each of its students as her very own. She called them her light and her inspiration as she waged her battle with cancer. As a first-generation college graduate, she understood the rare opportunities that higher education can provide, as well as the challenges so many young people face in accessing and affording college. Deb will be remembered for her positive outlook on life, her unwavering faith and determination, and her commitment to Eagle Excellence. Our hearts go out to her family and the entire NCCU community.”

George R. Hamilton, chairman of the NCCU Board of Trustees, stated:

“The passing of Chancellor Debra Saunders-White is a deep loss for me personally and for North Carolina Central University. She led NCCU through transformational years where the university recorded significant increases in critical performance indicator areas, including retention and graduation rates, and the positioning of our two research institutes became more prominent. Her numerous contributions to the academy were significant in distinguishing the institution nationally in the higher education marketplace, one that helped recognize NCCU as the 2016 HBCU of the Year by HBCU Digest. On behalf of the NCCU Board of Trustees, I extend condolences to her children, mother, brothers and other members of her family.”

In a statement sent to the university community from Dr. Johnson O. Akinleye, acting chancellor, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, it was noted the following:

“Her loss is nearly immeasurable to our community, but her influence on higher education and her genuine love and dedication for NCCU, most especially the students, are clearly evident by her impact in Durham, across North Carolina and throughout our nation. Chancellor Saunders-White was a powerhouse of energy and wit; she spent her life passionately executing on her visionary and transformative strategy of using education to create opportunity.”

Saunders-White is survived by two children, Elizabeth Paige and Cecil III, her mother, Irene Saunders, and her brothers, Roger, Ralph and Kyle Saunders, and their families, a number of other family members and a host of friends.

A full obituary and details on a vigil, memorial service and celebration of life are forthcoming.

This story originally appeared at