As the spring 2013 semester begins, Chancellor Linda P. Brady answers questions about the ongoing UNC Strategic Directions Initiative process and what it may mean for UNCG. She also reflects on her nearly five years as chancellor and looks to the semester ahead, in this interview with CW editor Mike Harris.
The UNC strategic directions initiative process has been a news item over the past weeks, chancellor. You have served since last fall on the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions. Your committee met Jan. 9 and discussed major recommendations. The Strategic Directions Committee met yesterday (Jan. 14). What can you share with the UNCG community about the status of this initiative?
I’ve been very pleased to be part of this process since last fall. It’s a very unusual planning process. The various groups meeting for discussion have included not only university administrators, faculty, staff and students, but also members of the business community, and representatives from the legislature. That’s highly unusual for an academic planning process. The rationale for this approach, I believe, was to ensure that the important constituents were represented as part of the process. It’s especially important that legislators and their staff are included because the plan will shape the University of North Carolina’s budget request going into the next biennium.
As for the recommendations, can you speak about one or two of them?
There are five major goals in the draft report, which is available on the UNC System web site. I really would encourage everyone to take a look at those recommendations and provide feedback. One of the goals reflects a movement that is going on around the country, and that is a desire to set a degree attainment goal for the state of North Carolina. That’s important for us in Greensboro and the Triad, because we know there are currently 67,000 adults living here who have earned some college credit but lack a degree. It will be important for us to focus on how we can contribute to the 32 percent degree attainment goal for our adult population that is recommended in the draft report.
Another goal is to strengthen academic quality. We must ensure that students continue to receive a quality education, despite the fact that we are in a constrained resource environment. The focus on academic quality is consistent with UNCG’s values and the direction of this university.
An additional goal, which again is consistent with where we’re going at UNCG, is to serve the needs of the people of North Carolina in the years ahead. For UNCG that involves producing teachers and nurses, graduating entrepreneurs who will start companies and employ people in the Triad, educating an informed citizenry, engaging in research that will impact the problems of our state and region, as well as service in our community.
Degree attainment, academic quality and serving the people of North Carolina – I’m pleased because I think that UNCG is well positioned to contribute to each of these goals.
(Editor’s Note: The final section of the draft Strategic Directions Report, which includes the final two goals, was released after this interview was conducted with Chancellor Brady and will be covered in next week’s CW.)
You’ve spoken to how we are already contributing in those areas. Can you talk about the short term or long term impact that the initiative may have on UNCG?
Because of much good work by Dean Steve Roberson and his colleagues in Undergraduate Studies, we have been engaged with the community and with the Lumina Foundation around an initiative called Degrees Matter. We are working with colleges and universities in Greensboro to identify those adults who have earned some college credit but lack a degree, and provide a one-stop shop to enable those adults to determine which programs might be appropriate for them. Whether they enroll at UNCG or decide to attend North Carolina A&T or Guilford College is at some level immaterial. We believe we will recruit more than our fair share of these students because we have a very good reputation in serving adult students, including veterans.
On the issue of academic quality, we’re very committed to providing high quality academic programs that provide students with the skills that they need to be successful. An example is our Global Opportunities initiative, which is part of our downtown university project. Bryan Toney in the Bryan School is leading that effort, which is designed in part to provide a portal for the business community to engage students as interns on team-based projects. It will provide students with the kind of hands-on experience that is so important to the quality of their education and also serve the needs of the business community.
When it comes to serving the people of North Carolina, we continue to offer exceptionally strong programs that articulate well with the needs of the state. Nursing is one of the best examples. As we introduce our Doctor of Nursing Practice (pending approval of the UNC Board of Governors) and serve more employees of Cone Health and others who want to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, we continue to respond to the needs of the state.
You mentioned the Downtown University District initiative. Can you tell about that?
This is an initiative that has emerged after about two years of work through Opportunity Greensboro, which brings together the seven presidents and chancellors of the colleges and universities with a physical presence in Greensboro – including Elon Law School – and a number of local business executives to explore ways in which the universities can better collaborate with each other and also with the business community. The downtown university district project is designed to provide a physical space that all campuses could use, located in downtown Greensboro. The group is also discussing an executive education center; partners now include Cone Health and The Center for Creative Leadership. We believe the downtown university district will be primarily focused on health-related programming. We know that’s a very significant need; we know that’s where the future jobs are.
What are UNCG’s priorities in this project?
First, we are exploring the possibility of locating our Doctor of Nursing Practice Program downtown. We have submitted a request to plan that program, which we hope will be approved by the UNC Board of Governors this spring. We also are responding to Cone Health’s need to deliver the BSN degree to approximately 500 RNs who are employed by Cone. We are also considering locating the Global Opportunities Center that I mentioned earlier downtown, as well as a portal for the Degrees Matter effort. All three of those projects are included in the expansion budget request that we have submitted to UNC General Administration.
You became chancellor of UNCG in the summer of 2008. Your five year mark as chancellor is approaching. Briefly, can you reflect on some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced over that time?
Perhaps the biggest challenge has been the downturn in the economy and the impact on our budget. We experienced four years of significant budget cuts and lost a number of faculty and staff positions as a result. Despite the challenge, we have continued to serve the needs of our students. I’m pleased, now in my fifth year, that we had no significant budget cut and were able to provide a small salary increase for faculty and staff. I think that has made a difference and has had a positive impact on morale. We’re not totally out of the woods – but I do think we’re in a different place this year.
Another major challenge relates to the very difficult decisions that we made around academic restructuring and program review. While in the case of academic restructuring we experienced some savings, the goals of the academic restructuring and program review were not to provide a rationale for the budget cuts, but rather a recognition that universities in this day and age must become more focused, with more clearly defined missions. We must focus on our strengths and our distinctive advantages in order to maintain the quality of the institution. Academic program review eliminated more than 40 programs but also identified an equal number as exceptionally strong and deserving of future investment.
The third challenge relates to the changing politics of the state. In 2013, we have a Republican governor and Republican-controlled General Assembly. More than half of the members of the General Assembly are either in their first or second terms. One of our challenges has been getting to know all the new faces and articulating our mission and the role that we play, particularly in this part of the state. It’s a challenge but of course it’s also an opportunity. I expect to spend a great deal of time in Raleigh when the General Assembly gets underway later this month.
You’ve spoken of a number of positives, even as you’ve talk of the challenges. Can you speak to one or two of the university’s successes you value the most during your time as chancellor?
We early on developed a Strategic Housing Plan as part of our effort to restore the residential character of the university. We thought that was important because we know that students who live in university-managed housing are more successful academically. Our plan around housing and our plan around “learning communities” within those new and renovated spaces are designed to provide an enhanced educational experience for our students and help us improve our retention and graduation rates. The decision to renovate the Quad was controversial. I think it was clearly the right decision. The development of physical spaces and learning communities within those spaces to address the needs and interests of our students will have a major impact on this university. We may not fully see that impact for five or ten years. But I think the decision to restore the residential character of our university is one of the significant successes of the last five years.
As you look to the remainder of 2012-13, what are some things the campus community may want to keep an eye on?
We continue to move forward with our Reaffirmation of Accreditation through SACS. This spring we will make a decision by a vote of the campus on a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is an extremely important part of what we need to accomplish in order to be successfully reaccredited. I am excited about the ambitious proposals that have come forward from faculty and staff, designed to enhance student learning. I want to express my appreciation to John Sopper and Vidya Gargeya, who have co-chaired the QEP, and to Jodi Pettazzoni, who is providing overall leadership and guidance for our SACS efforts.
Another area about which we will have more conversation in coming months is the potential around Online Education and an appropriate role for UNCG. I am pleased about the redefinition of the Faculty Teaching & Learning Commons and the work that Patrick Lucas and Jim Eddy are doing around faculty development and online education. There is much in the media around MOOCs – massive open online courses –in fact there was a piece in the New York Times today about a new partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity to develop online courses, particularly in math and statistics, that are often challenging for students in the Cal State system. Their effort is designed to integrate online learning opportunities with face to face instruction and quality student-faculty interaction. We need to engage in serious discussions on campus with our faculty, staff and our Board of Trustees around the potential for online learning.
This brings us full circle to the importance of degree attainment, academic quality and serving the needs of the people of North Carolina. 2013 is destined to be an exciting year.
Photograph by Chris English, Jan. 15, 2013.