E. K. Fretwell

Chancellor, 1979–1989
In 1989, the engineer formally hung up his cap at UNC Charlotte, but he still peered down the track, watched the signals, and occasionally sounded the whistle.

A train whistle's promise of exploration was always a siren's song for E. K. Fretwell.

UNC Charlotte's second chancellor loved everything about a rail journey: long-spoutted oil cans to keep the wheels turning smoothly; signals to tell the crew what was ahead; relationships with other railroads, since transportation is a cooperative venture; and a forward-looking engineer with a headlight to show the way.

From 1979 to 1989, Dr. Fretwell lit the way for UNC Charlotte journey to becoming a premier urban university.  

Dr. Fretwell was born in New York City, the son of two teachers. He earned a bachelor's degree at Wesleyan University, a master's at Harvard University, and a Ph.D. at Columbia University. 

He worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press; a writer for the Red Cross; vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in Prague; a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher in Brookline, Massachusetts; and a twelfth-grade and community college English teacher in Evanston, Illinois. 

Fretwell entered higher education administration at Columbia University, as associate professor and assistant to the dean of Teachers College and secretary for the John Hay Whitney Fellowships, a competitive year of study given to outstanding high school teachers. In 1956 he became assistant commissioner for higher education for the New York State Board of Regents. From 1964-1967 he was dean for academic development at City University of New York. 

From 1967 to 1978 he was president of the State University of New York College at Buffalo and saw it grow from an enrollment of 4,500 to 11,000. During that period he also served as president of the American Association for Higher Education, chairman of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, a board member of the Education Commission of the States, and chairman of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

Fretwell became chancellor at UNC Charlotte in 1979 when the University had an enrollment of 8,705. When he retired in 1989, enrollment was 13,222. While he was chancellor he also served as head of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as chairman of the American Council on Education and as a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

After retiring as chancellor, Fretwell served as interim president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts and the University of North Florida at Jacksonville. He has authored two books on university management and done consulting on higher education around the country and the world. 

Dr. Fretwell died  on October 18, 2012, at age 88. He was preceded in death by his wife, Dorrie, on December 30, 2011.



Chancellor Emeritus Fretwell

Dr. E. K. Fretwell was well known and respected in higher education. He was elected chairman of the American Council on Education, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, AASCU, and other major education organizations. Those leadership qualities are what initially brought him to the attention of the UNC Charlotte chancellor search committee.

In his installation address on April 6, 1979, he sketched his vision for UNC Charlotte as a modern metropolitan university that would embody "a spirit of service," expanding its commitment to serve more students and the future civic needs of the Charlotte region. He proposed an honors program and emphasized UNC Charlotte's responsibility to encourage qualified women and minorities who might not otherwise consider higher education to attend college.

In 1986, UNC Charlotte religion professor Herman Thomas developed the University Transition Opportunities Program (UTOP), which expanded African American enrollment by facilitating students' transition from high school to college. The program, which continues today, targets students who have limited access to academic suppport services in the public schools. During Fretwell's tenure, thanks in part to UTOP, minority enrollment rose to 9.1 percent of the student body. Fretwell diversified top administration by naming Barbara Goodnight associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and hiring Robert Albright as vice chancellor for student affairs, the first woman and African American to hold high administrative posts at the University. Diversifying the University also included internationalizing the campus. Under his leadership, lasting bilateral institution exchange agreements were forged with universities in England, France, Germany, and Taiwan. The international student population grew to 3 percent of undergraduates, the highest of the 16 sister UNC institutions. Fretwell added and expanded several international programs, including study abroad and the English Language Training Institute.

UNC Charlotte academics grew from 10 master's programs to 29 during Fretwell's tenure, and national accreditation was achieved for each of the professional schools of architecture, business, education, engineering, and nursing. Fretwell estblished the Graduate School, created the College of Arts and Sciences, added Army and Air Force ROTC Programs, recruited first-rate faculty, established interdisciplinary academies, and expanded the University's internships and co-op programs. The General Education Program also debuted during the Fretwell Administration.

During Dr. Fretwell's tenure, UNC Charlotte Athletics moved to Division I.

The major recognition program was what we today call the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence. Fretwell added the First Citizens Scholars Medal for Research and the Distinguished Service Award.

Dr. Fretwell brought UNC Charlotte the CROWN LOGO.

Reese Building, the Friday Building, Storrs, Cameron Hall, Burson, and others, as well as University Place, the Ben Craig Incubator Center, and a good part of University City (including University Hospital) came to be during the Fretwell Administration. Two of his most noteworthy achievements were the expansion of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and realization of University City--both visions of Dean Colvard.

In his 10 years leading the university, freshman SAT scores rose and honors housing began. Enrollment soared nearly 50% to almost 13,000 students--2,000 of them graduate students. The university became more diverse, faculty from across campus worked on more interdisciplinary projects and the University Place concept became a reality. The university expanded working relationships with community colleges, established more connections with businesses, updated continuing education and produced a state economic forecast. UNC Charlotte also addressed K-12 needs with enrichment and summer programs, and teacher workshops and seminars.

Congenial and gregarious, Fretwell took every opportunity to walk around campus to learn first-hand what was on people's minds.



A.B. - Wesleyan University
M.A.T. – Harvard University
Ph.D. – Columbia University



  • Junior high, high school, community college and university teacher, 1948-56
  • Asst. commissioner for higher education, N.Y. State Education Dept./State Board of Regents, 1056-64
  • University dean for academic development, City University of New York, 1964-67
  • President, State University of New York College at Buffalo, 1967-78
  • Chancellor, UNC Charlotte, 1979-89
  • Interim president, University of Massachusetts (five-campus system), 1991-92
  • Interim president, University of North Florida, 1998
  • Chancellor emeritus, UNC Charlotte, 1989-present



UNC Charlotte 1979-1989

  • Laid foundation for the Ben Craig Center business incubator and for the C.C. Cameron Applied Research Center
  • Integrated library catalog with the Internet in 1983
  • Merged colleges of Humanities, Social Behavior, and Science and Mathematics into new College of Arts and Sciences
  • Created the Graduate School
  • Introduced greater range of master’s degree programs and launched cooperative doctoral programs in engineering with N.C. State University and in school administration with UNC Chapel Hill
  • Guided the realization of University Place
  • Oversaw enrollment growth from 8,705 to 12,970
  • Achieved accreditation for programs in all five professional schools
  • Increased academic grants and contracts to more than $1.6 million


Selected Honors

  • Top 100 college and university CEOs in U.S. (presented by Exxon Education Foundation), 1986
  • Honorary degrees from Technical University of Wroclaw, Poland (1976), Wesleyan University (1981), and UNC Charlotte (1988)
  • Hugh McEniry Award for outstanding service to N.C. higher education (presented by N.C. Association of State Colleges and Universities), 1998
  • UNC Charlotte Alumnus by Choice Award, 2002