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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chancellor Search Committee gathers public input

If the public forums are an indication, the search for Carolina’s 11th chancellor will lead to someone much like its 10th chancellor.

In four separate forums last week, faculty, staff, students and community members had an opportunity to give the Chancellor Search Committee input about the traits they wanted to see in the successor to Chancellor Holden Thorp, who plans to step down next summer. (Above, faculty member Andrew Perrin addresses one of the chancellor search forum meetings held Nov. 7-8.)

Speaker after speaker praised Thorp’s vision for Carolina, his deep connection to the University and his passion for fostering innovation across campus. They want to see the next chancellor build on what Thorp has accomplished in the last four years.

During the staff forum, several speakers underscored the University’s importance to the state of North Carolina.

Jeff Hill, director of external relations at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, said the next chancellor must understand the University’s heritage of public service.

“There are leaders in the academic community who come from different types of backgrounds and may not understand the importance of a flagship university,” he said. “When they set foot in South Building, they need to realize that they’re inheriting a 200-plus-year legacy.”

Joseph Jordan, director of the Stone Center, said it was important to appreciate and nurture the intellectual climate that exists outside the classroom and the role campus centers and institutes play in enriching that climate.

Meg Pomerantz, project director for the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, told committee members that the next chancellor has to understand that Carolina has always been and should remain “the university of the people.”

She said, “As a citizen and a taxpayer, it is something that I love about this university.”

Debra Edge, an alumna who works in the School of Law, said she hoped the next chancellor will stand up for all that Carolina represents, and its athletic programs in particular. “We are a fantastic university with wonderful employees and we need to celebrate that,” she said.

She also questioned having only five women on the 21-member search committee, adding that she hoped female candidates would “be given a fair shot.”

In response, Jackie Overton, chair of the Employee Forum, laid that concern to rest when she responded, “Quite frankly, with five women and 16 men, I think we are evenly matched, and I will do everything in my power to ensure women candidates get a fair shake.”

Faculty Chair Jan Boxill, who also serves on the committee, said, “I second that.”

Associate Athletic Director Martina Ballen, also an alumna, advocated for someone who is fair and decisive and who appreciates the value that all employees, both staff and faculty, bring to the University.

The faculty perspective

About 20 people attended the faculty forum. They said they wanted a range of qualifications, from an understanding of and appreciation for the liberal arts to skill in dealing with a changing political landscape.

Several faculty members underscored the importance of experience in the academy and an understanding of what it means to be a faculty member at a top research university.

“Faculty represent the heart of this university,” said Bill Race, professor of classics.

James Rives, also from the Department of Classics, emphasized the ability to appreciate disciplines that people outside of academia might think were irrelevant or did not contribute to society.

Race reminded the search committee of the late UNC President Bill Friday’s ideals for a public institution like Carolina.

“Tuition should be affordable, and opportunities should be given to all economic parts of the community,” he said. “We serve the state with the public in mind.”

Others spoke about the importance of diversity.

“Diversity is something that is going to be very important to this country moving forward,” said Victor J. Schoenbach, associate professor of epidemiology, “and the University should be an example of that commitment.”

Students speak out

Like the faculty and staff, students spoke about the importance of understanding Carolina’s relationship with the state of North Carolina. But they expressed a variety of views about whether the next chancellor should be an external candidate or someone from within the University community.

“Chancellor Thorp really loves UNC,” a graduate student said. “We need someone with that much love for the place they come from so that maybe they could turn that kind of dedication into love for UNC.”

Another student said it was important that the next chancellor have been a student at Carolina so he or she could understand the culture here.

One student, speaking on behalf of an LGBT group on campus, shared a list of his group’s concerns. “We need someone who can prioritize the needs of the LGBT students, faculty and staff and make an affirming environment for the LGBT community,” he said.

“Diversity is one of the things the University prides itself in,” said a member of a student environmental group. “Someone from within this University would understand how important that is to us.”

Another student who had met with members of campus Greek organizations brought those ideas to the committee. “We’d like to see someone with a strong corporate background, not necessarily devoid of academic experience, but someone with management experience, too,” he said.

One student talked about the importance of financial aid. He said receiving his financial aid package had been one of the best days of his life.

John McGowan, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and a member of the search committee, thanked students for taking the opportunity to discuss the chancellor search with their peer groups and urged them to continue to email the committee their ideas.

Michael Bertucci, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, told the group, “You might not think we read those emails, but we do. We discuss every one.”

The broader community

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Thorp adopted Chapel Hill as his hometown, and that the next chancellor should sustain the progress that has been made in town-gown relations.

“We now have leadership on both sides of Franklin Street that understands how our fates are shared and how the dreams we have are so inextricably linked,” Kleinschmidt said. “We have built something wonderful and the evidence is all around us.”

Town Council member Lee Storrow said the next chancellor should also be someone who “understands the importance of having students engage with the town, because that’s when we’re investing in what the function of the University should be.”

Doug Dibbert, president of the General Alumni Association, said the search committee should discuss with top candidates the challenges they know the University will face, while remaining mindful that new, unanticipated challenges will emerge.

During last Friday’s Faculty Council meeting, Thorp thanked people for their candor in speaking during the forums. “It is important for the committee to understand the complexity of the environment in which we work,” he said.

Boxill said that most search committee members had been to all four forums. Although the turnout had been relatively small, she said, the comments were very helpful.

“These forums provide the substance to go with the ideas we [the search committee] have,” she said. “More is better when it comes to input.”