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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As IAH leader, Katz makes it his mission to serve the faculty and the state

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What do Carolina’s faculty need?

Mark Katz starts to say “freedom,” and stops. Instead, he settles on “time.”

For many academics, the two are one and the same. Time means the freedom to create away from the classroom, the chance to take stock of skills and develop new dreams or perform research without a rush.

Since Katz came to Carolina in 2006, the music professor has turned to Carolina’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) for the opportunities that he says have made him a better scholar, educator and leader.

“As faculty, we are charged with being scholars and researchers and creative artists, but we often don’t have much time left over after teaching and meeting all our other obligations,” he said. “And that’s where the IAH comes in – through its Faculty Fellows Program and its many other initiatives, it offers the time, space and inspiration we need to do truly excellent work.”

Now, he’s at the helm of a place he calls his “second home.” On July 1, Katz took over as director of the IAH, an interdisciplinary center dedicated to helping Carolina faculty develop their talents and goals.

“The IAH provides a space for faculty to come together for fellowships, leadership programs, workshops, conferences, symposia and just conversation,” said Katz, a musicologist and classically-trained violinist whose current scholarship focuses on hip-hop, music technology and cultural diplomacy. “It’s here so faculty can keep their eyes on the bigger picture, on scholarship and intellectual life.”

Katz’s own scholarship, already interdisciplinary in nature, has been enriched by the IAH, through its semester-long Faculty Fellowship Program and participation in the IAH’s Chairs Leadership and Academic Leadership programs, and through an innovation grant that helped him broaden the scope and reach of Carolina’s music program.

Katz brings to the directorship a passion for University service and the drive to put faculty successes in front of the taxpaying public.

“It’s a dream job. The purpose of this institution is to serve the public good, and so that’s also the purpose of the faculty,” said Katz, Ruel W. Tyson Jr. Distinguished Professor of Humanities. “If my job is now to serve the faculty, and the job of the University is to serve the public good, then I want to facilitate the connection between the faculty and the public.”

Caring for Carolina’s faculty

The IAH was established in 1987 as the Program for the Arts and Humanities to nurture the liberal arts and support the faculty. Since then the institute has grown in every direction, through its many fellowship and grant opportunities, leadership programs and fundraising campaigns, in lectureships and staff, and into its own building, Hyde Hall.

In nearly 30 years, one thing has stayed the same.

“We take care of faculty,” said Katz. “We provide funding opportunities and avenues to grow outside of the departmental structure. And we strive to make Hyde Hall an appealing space for faculty to connect. We have receptions with good food and a nice kitchen with newspapers and coffee. I plan on having more art and music in the building, too.”

When the faculty are cared for, Katz said, they stick around.

“Our research shows that the retention rates for faculty who participate in our leadership and fellowship programs are between 85 and 96 percent. The point is, when people get involved with the IAH, they tend not to leave UNC.”

The IAH strives to serve faculty throughout their tenure at Carolina. The institute has expanded programming in recent years to serve new faculty and associate professors, and Katz is now working on a program that will serve retired faculty, too.

“We want to make sure we are hitting faculty at every important stage so that they will spend a full career here, from the day they come as a new hire, to the day they retire,” he said.

Stretching through scholarship

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Katz speaks to a high school group in Patna, India for the Next Level hip-hop diplomacy program.

The benefit to faculty comes in the way the IAH stretches the boundaries of departments and disciplines, a process of learning that Katz said has taken his work to unexpected places and has led to bigger opportunities in scholarship and outreach.

“Any time you’re in a room exchanging ideas with smart, engaged people from different backgrounds and disciplines, your work will benefit,” he said. “It’s that model of conversation that’s really helped my career, and it’s now my job to facilitate these kinds of productive interactions.”

In 2011, Katz received an innovation grant from the IAH to expand the role of music pedagogy on campus by reaching out to those who want to make music but don’t have formal training. He didn’t always know what he was getting into, but that didn’t hold him back.

Katz ended up co-creating a course on beat making, even though he wasn’t a beat maker. He answered Executive Director for the Arts Emil Kang’s call to teach a course on arts entrepreneurship, though he wasn’t quite sure where he wanted to begin.

His work with beat making, which made global connections, led to funding in musical diplomacy from the U.S. State Department for which Katz used hip-hop to promote cultural exchange and conflict resolution in Africa, South Asia and Eastern Europe.

“I’m not a diplomat, but I know music and I know how music connects people,” he said. “I often start with something I know and use it to connect to something I don’t know. I use the expertise I do have as vehicle for discovery and as a means to develop new areas of expertise.”

That’s been the story of his career, moving from one thing to another, with his anchor always in music.

“It’s allowed me to explore widely diverse areas of scholarship inside and outside of academia. Now, it’s led me to this new position,” he said.

Telling the story

Katz believes the humanities make the world a better place, so it’s important to go out into the world and show what the humanities can do.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of just doing our work and letting it speak for itself. We need to champion the work of the University,” he said.

Getting faculty stories into all 100 of North Carolina’s counties is a personal mission of Katz’s. He has been to each one of those counties, and he sees how sharing the work of Carolina faculty – as well as listening to the needs of the citizens – can drive home the importance and relevance of the liberal arts.

“It’s not obvious to many people that studying subjects like philosophy or art history or music can help us understand the world, and ourselves, more clearly,” said Katz. “There’s so much we do at Carolina that’s relevant to every walk of life.”

Katz will also look to continue the conversations that have supported his work so well, especially those that transpire between faculty members with different interests.

As director, he’ll get to listen to the faculty’s needs and make things happen where he can, to help their lives as scholars and artists grow, just as his has grown.

“The IAH can put funds in the hands of our creative and energetic faculty and give them the freedom to do things they couldn’t do otherwise,” Katz said.

“I look forward to hearing great conversations where exciting ideas are born and then helping faculty make their dreams a reality.”