Fretwell Building recognizes towering educational leader

Categories: General News

The E.K. and Dorrie Fretwell Building honors the campus contributions of UNC Charlotte’s second chancellor and his wife.

At the time of its dedication on May 23, 1996, the 162,000-square-foot facility was the largest academic structure on campus. It contains approximately 250 faculty offices and classroom seating for about 2,100 students. Built for $18 million, the four-story facility was constructed with revenues from a bond issue approved by North Carolina voters in a November 1993 referendum.

The son of two teachers, E.K. Fretwell was born in New York City. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Wesleyan University, a master’s in teaching from Harvard University and a doctorate from Columbia University. An Associated Press correspondent, writer for the American Red Cross, vice consul for the American Embassy in Prague and middle and high school teacher, Fretwell entered education administration in 1956 as assistant commissioner for higher education for the New York State Board of Regents. He also served as dean for academic development at the City University of New York and president of the State University of New York College at Buffalo. In addition, he was president of the American Association for Higher Education and chair of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

A national leader in education, Fretwell became UNC Charlotte’s second chancellor in January 1979. At the time, the University’s enrollment was around 8,700 students. By his retirement in June 1989, UNC Charlotte’s enrollment topped 13,000.

During his tenure, Fretwell merged the colleges of Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences and Science and Mathematics into the College of Arts and Sciences (now the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences) and created the Graduate School. Besides enhancing UNC Charlotte’s national reputation for educational excellence, Fretwell increased the institution’s links to the community through the expansion of the Urban Institute and University Research Park, the development of University Place and establishment of the C.C. Cameron Applied Research Center.

Throughout his career, Fretwell relied upon his wife Dorrie; he was quoted often as saying they were a team. A native of Chicago, Dorrie Shearer Fretwell earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied music at Drake University. Before her marriage, Fretwell studied voice at the American School of Music in Fontainebleau, France, and began her career as a professional soprano, performing as a soloist with choral societies, musical clubs and opera productions on stage and television. During her husband’s tenure in Buffalo, Fretwell served as vice chair of the board of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and vice president of the Girl Scouts. In Charlotte, she was on the board of Opera Carolina and the Charlotte Symphony. Among the initial enrollees of UNC Charlotte’s graduate program in clinical psychology, she was its first graduate. She went into practice with Carolina Psychological Services and published a number of articles related to depression and headache management before retiring in 1996. She passed away Dec. 30, 2011.

At the University’s formal ceremony to dedicate the E.K. and Dorrie Fretwell Building, Allan Ostar, president emeritus of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, noted “as a magnificent center of learning, it is a fitting tribute to a towering educational leader.”

On Oct. 18, 2012, at the age of 88, E. K. Fretwell Jr. passed away at the Stewart Health Center, The Cypress. He was preceded in death by his wife, Dorrie, on Dec. 30, 2011.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.