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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University Gazette

Faculty members Cairns, Perrin vie for faculty chair post

Faculty members will vote next month to choose a new chair of the faculty to succeed Jan Boxill, who will complete her term June 30. Two veteran faculty members, Bruce Cairns and Andrew Perrin, are running for the faculty leadership post.


Bruce A. Cairns is the John Stackhouse Distinguished Professor of Surgery and director of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center, with a joint appointment in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Cairns completed his surgical training at UNC (where he was the first National Institutes of Health trauma research fellow) and has been on the faculty since 2000. His NIH R01-funded research laboratory includes three graduate students, and his federally funded T32 research training grant earned the highest commendation from the NIH for efforts in recruiting under-represented minorities and diversifying the scientific workforce.

cairns_bruce_400Cairns has collaborated with many departments across campus, including Computer Science and African, African American and Diaspora Studies, and he works with undergraduates through the Carolina Covenant, Honors Carolina and Department of Dramatic Arts.

An award-winning faculty member, Cairns has received the Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award for service to the state, nation and University; the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award; and the Resident Physician Advocate Award, among other honors.

He has served two terms on the Faculty Council, including one term on the Agenda Committee and two terms on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (re-elected in 2013). In 2012, then-Chancellor Holden Thorp appointed him to the Committee on University Government.

Cairns received his B.A. at The Johns Hopkins University and his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.


Andrew Perrin is associate chair of the Department of Sociology and director of Carolina Seminars. His research and teaching focuses on the sociology of democracy and relationships between culture and health.

He is author, co-author, or editor of five books, including his recently published “American Democracy: From Tocqueville to Town Halls to Twitter.” In recognition of his work, he has received a Rachel Rosenfeld Award for mentoring in 2004 and a Hettleman Award in 2009.

perrin_andrew_400Perrin has served on numerous faculty committees, including the Educational Policy Committee, which he chaired for two years, as well as the Faculty Council and the Agenda Committee. He led the effort to establish Carolina’s contextual grade reporting, which was featured in the New York Times.

He has been a Faculty Fellow and a Leadership Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and served on its board. In addition, Perrin co-convened an ad hoc Working Group on the Public Flagship University, and he serves on the Faculty Athletics Committee, Committee on Student Conduct and Student-Athlete Initiative Task Force.

Perrin received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He is chair-elect of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Theory Section and has held several other ASA roles. He writes for Scatterplot, a widely read sociology blog (

The Gazette asked both candidates about their views of faculty governance and some of the most pressing issues facing the University today.

What is your view of the role of faculty chair?

Cairns: I believe the faculty chair must represent the goals and interests of the faculty as educators, researchers and service providers to the administration, the Board of Trustees and the community at large. This means presiding over the Faculty Council and ensuring that all 12 elected and 15 appointed faculty committees are supported in their important work.

The faculty chair must be willing to listen to a variety of perspectives and provide a mechanism for productive discussion and action. Equally important, the faculty chair must support the University’s goals of diversity and ensure that all voices have an opportunity to be heard.

Finally, the faculty chair must help create a positive, supportive culture for our more than 40,000 faculty, staff and students across the University.

Perrin: The faculty chair should be an independent voice for the faculty: an effective advocate representing faculty’s concerns. That means representing the research, educational, service and work-life balance interests of the faculty to the administration, alongside promoting these missions and principles to the public.

Because the faculty is the heart and soul of the University, the faculty chair has the honorable duty of putting forth a thorough and enthusiastic defense of all the University’s academic missions by representing faculty members’ specific concerns and needs.

If elected, what are your priorities or goals?

Perrin: Within the University, I plan to continue efforts to improve academic quality and standards. These include the new contextual grade reporting system, honor system reforms, increased transparency and changes around athletics, and communicating these successes to the public. We need to redouble efforts for racial and gender equity for faculty as well as students and staff. All these emphasize academic work at the highest level with honesty and integrity, and demanding similar high standards of our students.

As the public spokesperson for the faculty, I will work to promote the importance of the public flagship university through conversations with the public, government officials, alumni, donors and critics to demonstrate the value of all our academic activities. We should emphasize discovery and scholarship in the social sciences, arts, humanities, basic sciences, education, government and law, alongside our well-known successes in the health sciences, economic development, undergraduate education and technical innovation. The public of North Carolina deserves a world-class university, and it is incumbent upon us to explain why.

Cairns: My top priority would be to ensure that faculty governance is as effective as possible in addressing the issues most important to our faculty members, regardless of their unit or level of appointment. While many of these issues occur at the individual and departmental level, there are always significant issues that affect us all.

By working with the Office of Faculty Governance, I would strive to keep faculty better informed about developments in areas such as appointments, tenure, copyright, faculty welfare and curriculum, to name a few – and how the specific committees outlined in the Faculty Code are responding to faculty concerns.

Carolina has a strong history of faculty governance, and my ultimate goal would be to build and expand on past success to ensure that Carolina’s governance structure is maximally responsive to faculty as a whole.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing Carolina’s faculty now?

Cairns: Budget, priority and oversight. These issues not only affect Carolina but all the schools in the UNC system as well.

Carolina has faced several years of budget cuts and is clearly facing the prospect of more cuts. In addition, there is a new strategic plan for the UNC system that contains a number of challenging provisions, while the general education curriculum specifically, and the liberal arts more broadly, are under siege and must be defended.

Finally, there have been substantial leadership changes in state government, the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees and the University’s administration. All of these issues are related and have an effect on our faculty regardless of their appointment or role.

Perrin: The ongoing budget cuts make it harder for us to do our jobs. Our extraordinary faculty is a prime target for competing institutions, particularly given the lack of meaningful salary increases for many years and the poor benefits package. We need to increase efforts to reward and retain faculty before they are tempted by outside offers.

The scandals surrounding athletics and the skepticism shown by elected leaders toward intellectual work have taken a toll on our reputation and on faculty enthusiasm and morale.

The political and economic environment hurts not just UNC, but also the values of intellectual discovery we represent. We should face that challenge head-on, as solutions to the other issues will flow from a thorough defense of these ideals.

How have these issues changed during your tenure at Carolina?

Perrin: I have seen a lot of change since arriving at Carolina in 2000 amid relative optimism. Faculty hiring was in good shape, the budget seemed comfortable, and the voters approved a bond issue funding the construction boom on campus. UNC – both Chapel Hill and the system – enjoyed strong support in the state legislature and the Governor’s office.

The state budget has since become increasingly tight, and recent changes in state government have eroded support for education in general, including UNC. Carolina’s response has been largely positive, from the Carolina Counts initiative that found ways to use our resources more effectively, to a host of efforts to improve the quality and impact of our academic activities. But more is needed.

Cairns: We are facing some of the greatest challenges in our modern history.

For over 100 years, the State of North Carolina has continued to increase its financial support as Carolina’s programs and prestige have grown; unfortunately this is no longer the case. As a result, we have to work collaboratively in instituting efficiency measures and become more innovative to maintain our stature and remain competitive as an elite institution.

The value of a liberal arts education is as important today as ever, yet we are being asked to justify this inherent value with metrics and outcomes.

Finally, the consolidation of oversight in the UNC system is already affecting Carolina’s programs (e.g., the drop-add policy), and this will only continue. We have to develop effective strategies to deal with these changes.

How will your professional experiences shape how you plan to lead the faculty?

Cairns: As a critical care burn surgeon, I work with patients and their families in the most difficult circumstances, and I believe this challenging work exemplifies our University’s connection with the people of North Carolina.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of wonderful faculty across the University. As a result, I am acutely aware of the need to share the stories about their research and service with the citizens of the state and beyond. Having worked with professional students, graduate students and undergraduate students in a variety of capacities, I recognize that supporting students and their education is our first priority.

I have spent more than a decade participating in Carolina’s faculty governance. This experience has helped me appreciate the value of collaboration, compromise and listening as essential qualities of leadership.

Perrin: I have great experience working with colleagues across the University on research and leadership on Faculty Council, the Educational Policy Committee, the Committee on Student Conduct and the Faculty Athletics Committee.

I led studies and conversations about grading that led to Carolina becoming a national leader through the contextual grade reporting policy that will be implemented this fall. I led a 2009 faculty survey on the Honor System, forming the basis for landmark changes this year and providing greater accountability and faculty input.

My experience leads me to appreciate the diversity of academic life and the urgency of participation. I work to have frank conversations, listen carefully to everyone involved, and synthesize these ideas into substantive, meaningful reforms. I plan to lead by honoring that diversity and the ways it combines into the whole University.

How will you approach representing the concerns and interests of faculty whose work lives differ significantly from those of faculty in your school or department?

Perrin: Through my service and interdisciplinary research, I have a great appreciation for the breadth of academic work on our campus. I also have the unique position of being married to a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Learning the issues she faces has helped me understand a different side of campus from mine.

The concerns of faculty in different fields and schools vary in many ways, including the valued and incentivized forms of scholarship and teaching, importance and availability of research funding, and interactions among faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and more.

It is this diversity that makes the University so vibrant, so I hope to honor and promote the highest quality within each field, discipline and school, and find ways to synthesize these across them.

Cairns: For me to be an effective faculty chair, it is essential that faculty believe that I understand their interests and respect their concerns.

We have a tremendous system of faculty governance at Carolina, and I would do everything I could to make sure that system is effective in addressing issues related to appointments, promotions and tenure, ethnic diversity, gender equity and faculty welfare – to name a few areas.

In addition, I would strive to create an environment where people’s concerns would be heard, particularly the views of those who are under-represented or vulnerable. And based upon my position in the University – professor in the medical school, director of a center and in-depth involvement in education, research, service and outreach – I would work hard to generate buy-in and inclusion for all faculty.

Do you believe the University is headed in the right direction with its dual commitment to excellence in academics and competition at the highest intercollegiate athletic level?

Cairns: I believe we have made important progress. For over 100 years, tension between academics and Division I intercollegiate athletics has existed, especially regarding revenue sports. The challenges we have faced at UNC demonstrate that we are not immune to the problems that can arise as a result of this tension.

Though our experience at Carolina has been challenging, faculty have helped put in place the proper policies, procedures and reforms to ensure that we do not have these specific academic student-athlete problems again.

It is important to remember that as faculty members, first and foremost we are here to educate and support all our students, whether they are student-athletes or not. As long as we remember this, we should be in good shape, but that doesn’t diminish the need for vigilance.

Perrin: After a very difficult period, I think the University is headed in the right direction. In the fall of 2011, I was one of several concerned faculty members who gathered to discuss the athletics scandals. On the Faculty Athletics Committee and the Student-Athlete Initiative Task Force, I have sought to be an independent “faculty patriot” voice.

I have learned that college athletics is far more complicated than I had imagined. We are being more systematic and transparent than ever before. The reforms that have been and will be put in place should return Carolina to being a national leader in integrity in college athletics.

We will have to keep talking about athletics, but there are over 18,000 non-athlete undergraduates and thousands of graduate and professional students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty doing extraordinary research, education and service. We need to return more of our attention to these core missions of the University.

How can the faculty best respond to ongoing declines in state financial support and to state leaders’ changing levels of investment in the University’s mission?

Perrin: These are our key challenges. We have some great resources to address them, including phenomenal faculty and enthusiastic, engaged alumni. We have to pursue new funding sources for all our missions while never abandoning our commitment to being a truly public university and advocating for public funding to back that up.

We have to work to bring Carolina to the public we serve, to demonstrate the value of our world-class, complete university. That means renewing our commitment to the highest quality academic work, alongside making the case that that work is important and worth public support. And it means engaging with our critics, listening to their concerns, and explaining and demonstrating the importance of both the University and intellectual life.

Cairns: Great question! It is important to remember that we are a state university and that the people of North Carolina continue to provide generous financial support to Carolina, even with the recent budget cuts.

We should carefully embrace efficiency initiatives such as Carolina Counts while making sure faculty interests are not adversely affected. The leaders of the state are accountable to the people of North Carolina, and I strongly believe the citizenry still supports the University’s work throughout the arts and sciences and in the various professional schools.

As long as we remain focused on our primary missions of education, research and service, and we work hard to help our various constituencies understand Carolina’s many contributions to North Carolina, state leaders will recognize this value and continue to invest in the University.