With several days of classes remaining in the 2011 spring semester, Chancellor Linda P. Brady spoke with UNCG Campus Weekly about academic program review, budget news and some of the brighter notes of the past months – and future ones.
Chancellor Brady, can you tell about some of the most special moments from the past academic year that come to mind?
Many of those special moments have to do with students and faculty and staff winning awards, which serve as terrific reminders about what makes UNCG thrive, our people. A great example is the announcement that Margaret Carpenter had won a Gates Cambridge scholarship, the first-ever [for UNCG]. She is a senior music major who will be attending the University of Cambridge next year to do a master’s in choral music. Another example is Zim Ugochukwu, a senior biology major who has won UNCG’s first-ever Henry Luce Scholarship. At the Student Support Services Awards dinner last night, two non-traditional and first-generation students received awards based on their academic performance, community service and campus service. These have the most meaning for me, particularly as we continue to deal with difficult budget circumstances. Not only have these students excelled in the classroom, through their public service they have made a lasting impact on the local community and are excellent examples of the university’s commitment to community engagement.
You attended the Staff Excellence Awards today, and you spoke about the importance of morale. How do you gauge morale these days, among staff, faculty and students?
I do spend a good bit of time out on the campus meeting with faculty, staff and students. Some of those meetings are regularly scheduled meetings with the Staff Senate and Faculty Senate or the Student Government Association, but I have also been meeting with small groups of faculty and students in fireside chats, which are designed as open-ended conversations – to try to take the pulse of the campus. Also, I’m always available via e-mail for those in the campus community who have questions or feedback to share and are not able to attend one of the fireside chats. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I ask you about the fireside chats with students? I know you regularly have those …
I had one last week, in Weil-Winfield.
What are students telling you these days?
What was very exciting in the fireside chat last week is that three of the students who attended will be living in the new Jefferson Suites beginning in the fall. That residence hall will house a new learning community focused on sustainable entrepreneurship. Students are looking forward over the next several years to better residence hall environments that integrate learning with the residential experience.
Despite the budget challenges we have already faced and those that are ahead, students remain very pleased about the quality of education that they receive. However, they do have concerns related to the extent to which they would be able to get the classes they need for graduation. We did spend a good bit of time last week talking with them about the approach that deans and department heads will take, as tuition revenue comes in, to restore classes that we would otherwise have to cut as a result of the budget cuts. The largest concern that students have relates to the impact of the magnitude of the cuts in 2011-2012 and their ability to make good progress toward their degrees. And, indeed, supporting the students’ ability to continue to make good progress toward their degrees is a top priority.
Can I ask you about UNCG’s Academic Program Review and what you foresee as the result of the program review?
We are engaged in the process of reviewing all of the academic programs on the campus, and that is approximately 200 programs. It includes both undergraduate and graduate programs. There are really a couple of purposes for the review.
The first is to assess the quality of our academic programs to get a feel for student demand for those programs, to assess the extent to which the programs that we currently offer are meeting the needs of the marketplace. We know for example that there are many areas of need in which we do not have a capacity to serve all of the qualified students; Nursing is a very good example of that. One purpose is to assess the state of our academic offerings.
The review is also designed to enable UNCG to identify our strongest programs and to identify those that may face challenges in advance of the work that the UNC General Administration will do in their own program review which is designed to identify unnecessary duplication. That process will not begin in a significant way until the fall. Our goal in beginning the program review this spring was to get ahead of the UNC General Administration review, so that when General Administration comes to campus we’re prepared to make the case for our strongest programs.
I understand that the timeline has changed very recently. Can you speak about that?
Yes. We are asking faculty to engage in a very difficult process that will have significant consequences to the university. We originally expected the UNC General Administration review to be much further along, and we had established a six-week window for academic departments to do their internal review and forward the results of that review to their school or the college in the case of departments in the College of Arts & Sciences. It became clear that there are unresolved issues concerning the reliability of some data and that many of our departments did not feel that they had had sufficient time to make the qualitative case for their programs. The qualitative data is a critical component of the program review, and we want to ensure faculty have adequate time to thoughtfully describe the impact their programs have in the classroom and in the community. We also learned that the General Administration review was going to be pushed back, and we believed that it was in the best interests of the university to give the campus more time.
Those academic departments that have already submitted their materials will have an opportunity to go back and review and update and expand on what they have submitted. They will be able to engage that process in the early fall. We would then expect the University Program Review Committee to look at the recommendations moving forward from the unit committees between early December and the 1st of March and then make recommendations to the provost.
So we would expect the review to extend throughout the next academic year with recommendations being presented to the Board of Trustees in May of 2012. I understand that this is a challenging process and want our faculty to have the necessary time and accurate data to make the difficult decisions that lie ahead.
Can I ask you about the constituencies that are involved? Who will have a voice in this? Specifically, how are faculty involved?
This is a faculty-driven process that we modeled on the promotion & tenure process, in which a candidate’s case begins with the review of the candidate within his or her academic department. The department then makes recommendations to the school or the college and then recommendations come forward to the provost. The program review process is analogous to that because we believe that those who are in the best position to evaluate academic programs are those who actually deliver those programs. The process begins with the faculty and then moves forward.
At the university level there will be faculty and administrators, staff and students involved on the University Program Review Committee because we want to make certain that we receive input from all our constituencies. Throughout this process, we will be posting updates on an Academic Program Review web site on the provost’s web page, and we will be sharing our progress with the Board of Trustees at every Trustees meeting between now and next May. I know that this process will not be easy and welcome feedback and suggestions from the university community along the way.
Can I ask you about UNCG’s engagement with the community? Of course UNCG engages with the community in a great variety of ways. Opportunity Greensboro has been in the news recently. Can you speak about Opportunity Greensboro?
UNCG has a long tradition of community engagement. Just last week, faculty, staff and students from UNCG and the nonprofit Sustainable Greensboro worked together on Earth Day [April 21], to help college students and the Greensboro community learn how Greensboro can move into a sustainable future.
Another example of the university’s engagement with the community is Opportunity Greensboro. This is a very exciting initiative. It represents a partnership between the seven colleges and universities with programs in Greensboro and the business leadership, and it is designed to drive economic development in Greensboro. The business community clearly understands that the future of Greensboro is inextricably linked to the future of the colleges and universities. We produce the graduates who often remain in this city, who move into jobs, who become active members of the community. And the business community understands that without that educated workforce we will not be able to enhance quality of life in this community.
They also understand that research universities in Greensboro – UNCG and North Carolina A&T – generate much of the intellectual capital. One example of that is the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, which is not only offers graduate programs but also supports faculty research that already has led to the creation of a spinoff company. That company based at Gateway South employs people in high paying jobs and we expect more of this to occur.
The Opportunity Greensboro effort is designed to bring together the chancellors and presidents of the seven colleges and universities with CEOs to identify initiatives that will enable the business community to better access the resources of the universities and that will more readily connect our students and faculty to the business community. Our tagline is “Opportunity Greensboro: Opportunity thrives here, so can you.” The message that we are trying to get across is that as businesses and as colleges and universities, we each thrive in Greensboro, and working together we can be more effective in recruiting other businesses to move to Greensboro and create jobs.
About the joint school: A focus of the UNCG Business Summit was UNCG and N.C. A&T as well as government leaders and the business community all working together to bring it to its current point. Can you tell us the latest about the Nano School and about how, in the current budget process in Raleigh, it is faring?
We’re making extremely good progress in implementing the Joint School. We enrolled our first class of graduate students in Nanoscience last fall. We will enroll the first class of graduate students in Nanoengineering in fall 2011. We have hired an outstanding dean, Jim Ryan, and a number of faculty. We have also made joint appointments between a number of our UNCG faculty and the A&T faculty in the Joint School. The education programs are off and running and faculty and students have already begun to engage local schools. In fact, earlier this year middle-schoolers worked alongside JSNN faculty members to develop and test science experiments related to space flight.
When the budget for the Joint School was approved we indicated that we needed $6.9 million dollars in continuing operating funds to enable us to hire the faculty and support the graduate students in those programs. We have received all but the last two million dollars that we need to complete the budget for JSNN. We have requested two million dollars for the 2011-2012 budget primarily to enable both universities to hire the additional faculty and support the entering class of Nanoengineering students. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education did not include funding for JSNN. The process obviously has not concluded, and we are hopeful that the Senate will include the two million dollars needed for us to continue to close the gap between what has been appropriated and what is required to fully fund the school.
About the budget: What are some things that the campus community maybe should keep an eye on as they look at the budget process unfold between now and sometime in June?
While we expect significant budget cuts next year, there are many, many numbers floating in the media – from the governor’s proposal for a 9.5 percent cut to the planning that we have done for up to a 15 percent cut to the proposal coming out of the House for a 17.4 percent cut. It will be several weeks before we actually know what the ultimate budget cut will be.
The other, good news, however, coming out of the budget process so far is the House has indeed supported the recommendations that came forward from the Board of Governors to allow the universities to increase tuition – and for that tuition revenue to remain on the campus. That is extremely important for us. We have been authorized to raise tuition by 6.5 percent. At that, we remain affordable, but the revenue generated – 4.5 million dollars – will enable us to make additional investments in need-based financial aid of about a million dollars and also to invest more than 3 million dollars to offset the reductions in courses that we would have to take as part of the budget cut.
The good news, thus far, is that it appears that the universities will be able to capture that revenue to offset at least a portion of the budget cut and to mitigate the impact of the cut on financial aid and access to classes.
Can I ask you about the state’s historical philosophy toward its public universities and toward access to higher education? As you speak with legislators and government officials, do you sense any change in that philosophy toward access to higher education? And what’s at stake in that debate?
I think that the philosophical questions surrounding how we support education in North Carolina are probably even more important than the issue of the budget.
North Carolina historically has been known for its support of higher education. We receive a large portion of our budget from the state. Over time many other states have dramatically reduced their support, states like California and Virginia and South Carolina. That has led public universities in those states to dramatically raise tuition to make up for that shortfall in state support. In many states now, if you are a resident of that state, it is very difficult for you to gain access to the public university in your state – because the universities are in many cases recruiting more out-of-state students at much higher tuition rates to try to fill the gap in funding.
What would that mean for in-state students trying to get into their state schools?
What it means in many states is that if you are an in-state student you may very well have to leave the state to attend university.
In North Carolina we have prided ourselves on access, and indeed access is a major element of our strategic plan. But we need to focus equally on student success, and as we move from an enrollment growth funding model for universities to a performance based model, it is even more important that we focus on students’ success and that we not only admit students but indeed provide them with the support they will need to graduate.
My biggest concern about where we may be heading in North Carolina is that we will move away from a commitment to higher education as a public good that benefits the state as a whole and not simply the individuals who receive an education, to a philosophy that assumes that education is a private good and those who can afford to pay for it will have access to it but those who can’t won’t. I think long-term that will result in a less educated workforce in North Carolina and that it will have a dramatic and very negative impact on the economic competitiveness of the state and our ability to attract businesses. And over time, as we see this trend happening across the country, it will make the United States a less competitive country.
As I look around the globe, I see so many countries making major investments in higher education. When I traveled to Russia earlier this spring as part of a State Department sponsored trip for seven college and university presidents, we visited a number of research universities in Russia. The Russian government is investing billions of dollars to build those universities and their research capacities. We see similar things happening in China and Singapore and India, and my concern long-term is not simply for the state of North Carolina but for our competitiveness as a nation.
We’ve talked about what may be seen as negatives; let’s turn to the positives. What are some things at UNCG that, as chancellor, you are excited about?
As commencement approaches, I am very proud of our graduates and also very excited about what the future holds. I am delighted that despite the budget challenges over the last few years, we have been able to attract some of the best and brightest to serve in leadership positions throughout the university. Dr. Karen Wixson officially began her tenure as dean of the School of Education on January 1st and Dr. McRae “Mac” Banks II will officially take the helm as dean of the Bryan School [of Business and Economics] on July 1st.
We also have several initiatives that I’m very excited to see unfold as we approach the beginning of a new academic year. One of the things that I am very, very excited about is the development of new learning communities on this campus. Some of those learning communities will be associated with new residence halls beginning with Jefferson Suites, which will open in the fall, with the learning community focused on sustainable entrepreneurship. But we will also embed new learning communities in the new residence halls that we will build over the next six years on Lee Street.
Learning communities are extremely important in terms of enhancing our ability to recruit and retain the very best students. We know that students who participate in learning communities are more successful academically. They also remain more closely tied to the university after they graduate. Since our goal is not only to provide access but to ensure success, I’m convinced that the work that we’re doing around learning communities will have a dramatic impact on this university as early as next year.
I am also very excited that we will this fall open our early-middle college focused on health careers. This is a partnership between the university and the Guilford Public Schools and underscores the university’s commitment to ensuring every child has access to a high quality education. It’s being led by faculty in the School of Health and Human Performance and will be a signature effort of the new School of Health and Human Sciences led by Dean Hooper. That will bring fifty high-school students to campus in the fall. These are students who are challenged to succeed in a traditional high-school setting but it has been demonstrated both locally and nationally that early-middle colleges work – that students who enroll, who have an opportunity to be mentored by UNCG faculty, to actually be on a college campus indeed have higher retention rates, are more likely to go to college. I’m very excited about strengthening our partnership with the Guilford schools.
Thank you so much, chancellor. Anything else you would like to cover?
It has been a very busy year. It has obviously been a very difficult year because of the uncertainty associated with the budget, and that uncertainty does have a tendency to erode morale. In the year ahead, once we understand the magnitude of the cuts, and we move through that process, we then need to move into a period of rebuilding morale and trust on this campus. I am fully committed to this process. It is in challenging times like these that I am most thankful for the resilient spirit of our students, faculty and staff who work every day to make UNCG and our community a better place. I am very thankful for their enduring commitment to this great university.
Interviewed by Mike Harris
Photograph by Chris English