(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Twenty-some years ago, the letters Calamity Jane wrote to her daughter, whose father was Wild Bill Hickock, were set to music. When vocalists perform Songs From Letters, they typically stand in front of a piano as they sing the tough-but-tender lyrics.
Not Terry Rhodes ’78.
When she was invited to perform the work at East Carolina University, she created a set, planned costume changes and acted out the drama that was so evident in the letters. The audience came expecting a recital and instead were treated to a one-woman opera. And by the time she left the stage, each of the hundreds of people in the audience felt Terry was singing for him or her alone.
Terry has an ability to engage with people, whether one-on-one, with students or potential donors, or with an audience of hundreds. She cares about people — she cares about you — and it shows in every encounter.
At the end of this academic year, Terry will retire as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, after becoming the first person from the arts to fill the deanship. Born in Raleigh, she grew up in a family of Tar Heel fans who believed deeply in the importance of public education. Both of her parents taught in public schools. (Ultimately, she and her siblings chose careers in public education, as did many of their aunts and uncles.) Terry applied to two universities in the Triangle, one public and one private, was offered a scholarship at both and chose the right shade of blue.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Terry went to the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York for her master’s and doctorate in musical arts, then was a Fulbright Artist-in-Residence at the Conservatory of Music in Skopje, Macedonia. For nearly a decade, she performed and taught throughout Europe.
In 1987, UNC asked her to come back temporarily to teach for a year. It seemed the right time in her personal life, so she said yes. One year turned to two, and then into a tenured position. Over the next 35 years, Terry shaped the music program at UNC, diversified the faculty and curriculum and took on greater administrative responsibilities. She directed and grew UNC Opera and was department chair and faculty marshal.
As department chair, Terry hired the music department’s first Black tenured faculty member, who developed courses in hip-hop and African music, and attracted two PhD candidates of color.
In 2012, Terry was named senior associate dean for the fine arts and humanities. In 2019, she became interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and was appointed permanently a year later with the understanding she would retire in 2022.
As dean, Terry continued her quest to help UNC thrive. She made a cluster hire at the urging of Black faculty, designating six faculty lines for a Health and Wellness in Communities of Color initiative, and learned from criticism of her process. She added two faculty lines focusing on U.S. slavery and appointed the college’s first associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Terry engaged in challenging discussions. She oversaw the launch of The Program for Public Discourse to build students’ capacity for civil debate. She was at the helm for groundbreaking college initiatives such as Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University, which inspired Student Learning to Advance Truth and Equity; and for Countering Hate: Overcoming Fear of Differences, which explored antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of intolerance. She has been a strong advocate for the University’s Southern Futures program and for the Institute for Convergent Science.
Terry never stopped teaching and performing internationally. Her students consistently win competitions. Her daughter, Susannah Rhodes ’19, a talented vocalist, continued the family tradition by studying in the same department her mom once chaired.
Terry’s leadership style works across lines, reflecting her training in music, which involves playing the piano, singing and blending poetry, language and culture. She merged the departments of geological sciences and marine sciences and the Institute of Marine Sciences to form a new academic department: earth, marine and environmental sciences. She led the creation of a new general education curriculum to be launched this fall, IDEAs in Action.
All of this costs money, and Terry was an enthusiastic fundraiser. She played an integral role in the college receiving some $200 million in donations during her tenure, including some multimillion-dollar gifts.
She made time to preside as president of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, act as an enrichment lecturer on GAA tours and serve on the GAA Board of Directors. She remains dedicated to the ideals of public education, particularly that it is accessible to all.