225 years of Tar Heels: Elson Floyd

After earning three degrees from Carolina and serving as executive vice chancellor at the University for three years, Elson Floyd went on to lead Western Michigan University, the University of Missouri System and Washington State University.

Elson S. Floyd sitting in a chair.
Photo by Washington State University

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

Affectionately referred to as “E Flo,” Carolina alumnus and former administrator Elson Floyd is remembered for his approachable style with students and as a nationally respected voice for affordable, accessible higher education.

Floyd earned three degrees from Carolina: a bachelor’s degree in 1978, a master’s degree in 1982 and a Ph.D. in 1984. As an undergraduate, he served as student attorney general and won the John Johnston Parker Jr. Medal for Unique Leadership in Student Government.

Floyd also worked at Carolina, starting as an assistant dean for student life and judicial programs officer. He served as executive vice chancellor at Carolina from 1995 to 1998.

After turning down several other offers, Floyd left Carolina to become president of Western Michigan University in 1998. In 2002, he was chosen president of the University of Missouri System, and in 2007 he became president of Washington State University.

While he was there, Floyd left a lasting impact. Under his leadership, student enrollment at WSU grew to record highs, WSU transformed into a top-tier research university and the University completed a $1 billion fundraising campaign.

Floyd died of complications from colon cancer in June 2015, at the age of 59. WSU’s college of medicine is named after Floyd.

At Carolina, Floyd received the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004 and the School of Education’s Distinguished Leadership Award in 2002.

“I learned that the School of Education is a remarkable place,” Floyd said when he received the latter award. “The faculty demonstrates daily the best practices of what higher education is supposed to be.”