Find Your Way Here

Chancellor Linda P. Brady sat down with Campus Weekly’s editor before Thanksgiving to discuss and answer questions about a variety of important campus topics.

Chancellor Brady, you have spoken a number of times this semester about where we are going as a university. You made the metaphor of being “at a crossroads.” Can you tell about that?

This is a very challenging time in public higher education. As we have addressed budget cuts over the last several years, we have also made a commitment to moving forward. Much of that commitment is defined in our Strategic Plan, but the plan was written in late 2008 and early 2009, before any of us truly realized the severity of the economic crisis.

Our goal is to identify what makes UNCG distinctive. To define areas of strength and potential for excellence, and use what we learn to help us make decisions about the allocation of resources in a future in which we will have fewer resources to allocate.

As we look at academic program review specifically, how does this relate to the ongoing academic program review?

The academic program review will help us chart a course for the future of this university. While I hope we have taken the largest budget cut that we will have to take, I do expect there to be challenges ahead. The purpose of academic program review is to define areas of strength, to identify needs of the marketplace and the extent to which our academic programs are addressing those needs, to identify programs that have the potential for real distinction nationally and internationally, and to provide guidance to deans, department heads, the provost and myself that will enable us to invest resources in the future in ways that support those strengths. The academic program review is critically important to helping us define the future of the university.

Going back to the crossroads analogy, is that part of that metaphor?

I think it is. I believe we are at a crossroads in the sense that we expect the percentage of our budget that we receive from state-appropriated funds to continue to decline. At the same time, we maintain our commitment to providing access to students and supporting their success.

We also know that there are great areas of need, in fields for example like nursing, that we simply can’t meet because we don’t have the capacity. So we, and I believe most of the universities in the UNC system, are trying to identify areas of strength and areas of prominence because we know that we cannot continue to do everything that we do and maintain the quality of the institution. Over time, I believe that we will offer fewer academic programs, and that we will probably expand capacity in existing programs in which there is great need and great demand. Our focus must be on improving the quality of the university. The academic program review is a critical element in this process.

You spoke about access. As you talk with students through Chancellor Chats, through forums and in informal ways, what are you finding is on students’ minds now?

As you might expect given the current economic situation, students are very concerned about their ability to continue to afford a university education. While, over time, UNCG has kept tuition low, certainly in comparison with our national peers and with many of other campuses in the UNC system, the budget cuts we have experienced have had a direct impact on the number of classes that are available for students to take. As a result of that, some students are finding it challenging to get the courses they need to continue to make good progress toward their degree. At the same time, we are raising tuition and reinvesting most of those tuition dollars in adding back sections of classes that are in greatest demand and providing essential support services for students. I think the most critical issues on the minds of students relate to the cost of education and the quality of the education they are receiving.

Can I ask you specifically about tuition and fees for the coming year?

Every year, as you know, the BOG (Board of Governors) asks the universities to present recommendations for increases in tuition and fees. We have had two committees – both with significant student representation – working on a proposal since early September. (In mid-November) I received a recommendation from the committee that would result in a 10 percent increase for the 2012-13 academic year. That recommendation is designed to address some of the challenges that we face as a result of the budget cuts. But it is also designed to enable us to invest more funding into need based financial aid, waivers for graduate students, and faculty salaries. The faculty salaries piece is designed to help the university continue to make progress toward the goal of raising faculty salaries to the 80th percentile of our peers.

The Board of Governors has asked the universities to come forward with an additional quality enhancement supplement that would be phased in over a period of 3 to 4 years. This is designed to ensure that our tuition is more in line with the tuition of our national peers while remaining in the bottom quartile of those peers.

[The chancellor later updated CW on this: “I met with the UNCG Tuition Committee on November 18 to discuss a quality enhancement addition to the 10 percent increase that will result in an up to 3.5 percent increase over three years beginning in 2013-14. The committee has supported this plan, which I will take to the Board of Trustees on December 1-2.”]

We’re in the midst of the holiday season. The semester will soon wind down. When you look back on this semester, what are some of the highlights?

It has been an incredible semester on the campus. Let me indicate just a few highlights that I think convey the progress the university is making.

We have been involved for about two years now in planning our campus expansion to Lee Street. In September the Greensboro City Council unanimously approved our rezoning proposal as well as amendments to the Glenwood neighborhood plan that will enable us to proceed with Phase 1 (of the UNCG Mixed-Use Village).

What is exciting to me about that project is that it reinforces our goals related to student success – because we will not simply be building residence halls. We will be embedding learning communities within the Village. We know from our own experience – Ashby Residential College is the best example – that students who participate in learning communities are more successful academically. Their freshmen are more likely to return for the sophomore year and students graduate at a higher rate than the general student population.

The support we have received from the City of Greensboro and from members of the Glenwood neighborhood who spoke in favor of the plan at the City Council meeting sets us on a very positive course for the university. At the City Council meeting we made a commitment to continue to work with the neighborhood as we move beyond Phase 1 to Phases 2 and 3 of the project. To continue the dialogue that I believe worked extremely well for us and for the neighborhood in the discussion of Phase 1.

A second relates to the dedication of our new School of Education Building, which we also dedicated in September. The funding for that project was approved long before the economic downturn. Funding for capital projects is appropriated separately by the State. So, those capital projects have not been impacted by the economic crisis and the budget cuts. In fact, because of the market – the construction market – we have actually been able to do extremely well in terms of completing projects on which we have embarked in a very efficient way, simply because contractors are looking for work in this economic environment. One of the results of this School of Education project and many of the other projects – Jefferson Suites, the dining hall renovation and the Quad renovation – is that the university is actually providing a large number of jobs in this community as we move those projects forward.

The School of Education Building is a signature building. It is our first LEED certified building on this campus and have made a commitment in our Strategic Plan that every future building or major renovation project will aim for LEED certification.

That brings me to a third item that I think is extremely significant for this university. Last month we signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Of course, sustainability is a core value in our Strategic Plan. But by signing that climate commitment we have as a university made a commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2050. We’re already engaged across the campus in a number of activities designed to reduce our carbon footprint. We’ve been doing this for a number of years. But signing the Presidents’ Climate Commitment commits us in a very official way to making real progress and we will be held accountable for it. What excited me about the signing ceremony is the fact that four UNCG students also signed, because our students – current and future – will be a big part of helping us make this happen.

There are obviously many other things that have gone on in the course of the semester. We earned the designation of Military Friendly School. We – through our Task Force on Military Veterans and Families – have launched some major initiatives to welcome veterans and to support their success at UNCG.

The climate commitment signing ceremony – that was a very special moment, for those who were gathered there. Can you speak about other special moments in the semester that come to mind?

Another special moment happened just yesterday (Nov. 17) when our State Employee Combined Campaign solicitors gathered to learn the results of our campaign at UNCG. We had set an ambitious goal this year of $235,000. John Locke, who did an incredible job of chairing the campaign, and Peggy Woods in University Advancement, who has supported this campaign longer than anyone can remember, did an incredible job in an environment in which we have 50 fewer employees on this campus. We actually increased participation by 10 percent and we exceeded our goal. I think that says something about the nature of the people who work here – our faculty and staff. While we have fewer employees, those of us who are here are giving more because we understand, in the current environment, that the needs are great. I think that speaks so highly of the culture of this university and the values of our faculty and staff.

Other special moments you would like to speak about?

The events we held on Veterans Day were very, very special. We have done some recognition in the past on Veterans Day. But this year in particular – beginning with the calling of names of men and woman who have lost their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan, to very personal statements by some of our veterans and family members – I think it was a very moving event for all of us. The display of flags on Kaplan Commons, the playing of taps. I do believe that our veterans feel welcomed. We will continue to work with them to ensure that they find the support that they need to be successful at UNCG.

Another special moment for us occurred in early October when we co-hosted a reception at the JSNN for UNC President Tom Ross in conjunction with this inauguration. We worked very closely with our colleagues at North Carolina A&T State University on a three day series of events beginning with the reception, the inauguration the next day on the A&T campus, and then a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors on our campus. It was an incredible opportunity to host people from all over the state, to showcase the very strong collaborations between UNCG and North Carolina A&T, and to host new members of the Board of Governors. Many of them had not been on this campus or had not been on this campus in years. I think they were all incredibly impressed with the beauty of the campus, with the diversity of the campus and with the quality of the programs we offer.

Looking toward the next several months – are there some things the campus should anticipate?

Good question. The first thing the campus should anticipate – although hopefully it will not happen more than once – is with inclement weather coming, there will undoubtedly be at least one moment where we will have to make a decision about whether or not to close campus. I would encourage all members of the community – faculty, staff and students – to check the university web site, take a look at our inclement weather policy and be prepared. It’s always a difficult call. Our goal is to be open whenever we can be open. But it is also important for faculty, staff and students to know that we do not want anyone to attempt to come to campus if they do not believe it is safe to do so. (See related post.)

A very exciting event coming up in the beginning of December will be the dedication of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. We had a preview of JSNN earlier in the fall when we had the privilege of hosting a reception for UNC President Tom Ross in conjunction with his inauguration. But in December, JSNN will officially open with tours available. We encourage everyone to come out to the facility and look at the incredible work that faculty, staff and students will be doing there. (See related story.)

As we move into the spring, we will be bringing the academic program review process to closure. Here as well, I do encourage all members of the community – faculty, staff and students as well as alumni who have interest in our programs – to check the web site. The reports of all of the committees will be posted there. There will be vehicles for individuals to submit responses and reactions to those recommendations. We expect the recommendations to come forward from the University Program Review committee in March. I encourage everyone to keep up with that process. We have a link on the home page. If you click on that link, you will be taken to a page that provides up-to-the-minute descriptions of our progress.

Thank you, chancellor. Is there anything you would like to add?

I understand that we have moved through a very difficult year. This year has seen the most significant impact of budget cuts to date, certainly in the last four years, on the lives of our faculty staff and students. We know faculty are teaching more students. We know that many staff have taken on additional responsibilities as a result of the cuts. And we know that students face challenges as well. But I do want everyone in this community to understand how much I value what they are doing. We will continue to move forward together as a university.

Interviewed by Mike Harris
Photograph from earlier this year by Chris English

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