OKelly Library

Dr. Cleon F. Thompson Jr.

Dr. Cleon F. Thompson Jr.


Cleon Thompson was born in New York City but raised in Bennettsville, South Carolina. He attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., where he earned the Bachelor of Science and the Master of Science degrees in biology. Following graduation, Thompson held numerous positions at several institutions. From 1956 to 1960, he worked as a senior research assistant at the Medical School at the University of North Carolina; from 1960-1961 he was an assistant professor of biology at North Carolina A&T State University; and from 1961-1965 he was assistant professor and acting chairman of the Biology Department at Tuskegee University. For the following eight years, Thompson served Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., as a professor of biology, chairman of the Division of Natural Science, vice president for academic affairs, provost, and finally as acting president.

During his tenure at Shaw University, Thompson befriended former North Carolina Governor and Duke University president Terry Sanford. Sanford encouraged Thompson to enroll in a doctoral program at Duke University, which had been developed to train potential college presidents. As a part of a class assignment, Thompson interviewed former University of North Carolina General Administration President William Friday. Friday was so impressed with Thompson that he offered him a part-time job in the department. In 1975, Thompson was appointed Vice President for Student Services at UNC, and began the difficult process of resolving the university's desegregation dispute with the federal government.

In 1980, Thompson once again had the opportunity to assume leadership of a college, this time as interim chancellor at North Carolina A&T State University. In 1985, Winston-Salem State University selected him as the school's next chancellor, partially upon the recommendation of Dr. Friday. During Thompson's tenure, the goals of the university included recruitment of quality faculty, better selection and recruitment of students, reducing the admission rates of poor achievers in high school, enhancing the general studies program, and meeting and surpassing accreditation standards. After serving Winston-Salem State University for ten years as chancellor, Cleon F. Thompson left the university in 1995 to continue work within the University of North Carolina.

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