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Elon University CBO Gerald Whittington Charted His Course through Political Turmoil into Higher Ed Leadership

Gerald Whittington can thank Richard Nixon for his career. It was 1968, and Whittington was a freshman. Amidst campus protests to the Vietnam War, he received a letter that, perhaps for the first time, connected national politics, fiscal policy, and education, directly to his personal trajectory. This is how our conversation begins today, but his journey to senior vice president for business, finance and technology at Elon University gets even more interesting from there.

Whittington builds a case for a broad liberal arts education for aspiring CBOs that includes the financial skills classes — of course — but literature, music, and theater by equal measure, all to develop skills he observed as lacking in his CBO models of the day. Learn to perform, to develop and defend your positions, and to adapt to different situations, he says.

Finally, and critically, we have to approach our role as mentors with purpose and intention. “We, in higher education, don’t hoard our knowledge like some sort of trade secret,” says Whittington. “We share our information for the betterment of the entire educational enterprise, and we as chief business officers shouldn’t be immune from that impulse.”

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