Chancellor Gilliam’s Prepared Remarks Delivered at the General Faculty Meeting, March 13, 2024

Posted on March 13, 2024

Chancellor’s Prepared Remarks
General Faculty Meeting 3.13.24

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you directly.

My deepest concern is about the future of this university. I am willing to work with those of you willing to work with me.

I understand that the campus is experiencing uncertainty, and that we are deeply unsettled, perhaps in ways we never have been before — and for some this has turned to anger.

There’s no question: We’re in a period of substantial change for the University. I understand how difficult this is and how painful it can be.

Academic Portfolio Review, one of many tools enlisted, challenged us to make difficult choices, while looking forward. Ours was the first in a wave of like-minded reviews that we expect within the UNC System — and among the first in a similar wave nationally.

We believe our process was fundamentally sound, but we heard you and are taking lessons from the process and will incorporate those lessons into our next steps.

  • Among those taking a look, the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee is conducting a thorough assessment of the APR process. I look forward to its findings.
  • Additionally, as stated in the Provost’s charge to the Portfolio Review Task Force, the committee will provide her with its feedback and recommendations.

But all of this, in many ways, really misses the mark. A recent piece in the February 29 edition of US News and World Report entitled “Higher Education on the Edge” says, and I quote: “A shrinking pool of potential students and a skeptical public spell even greater trouble for many colleges and universities in the years ahead — and solutions aren’t easy.”

The article gives examples and provides data on how most colleges and universities around the country are experiencing what we are. There are no easy answers. Here at UNCG, we have been living this reality. We continue to experience real and urgent challenges — yesterday I shared with you a budget memo. For fiscal year 2024 alone, our state appropriations are dropping more than $3 million on a year-over-year basis. We’re projecting further declines in state support and in tuition revenue through fiscal year 2027.

Remember that this comes on top of appropriations and revenue reductions of $29 million since fiscal year 2019 — all consequences of depressed enrollment.

Combined, these factors illustrate just how urgently we must sharpen our focus — and strengthen our footing financially and academically. If we don’t address these issues now, the challenges will metastasize and undermine our ability to support our students and communities in the future.

The only way forward, as I’ve argued for the last two years, is to recognize this as an inflection point for us, and for higher education as a sector. Here’s another quote from the U.S. News article: “Over the next few decades, we will have to adapt to wrenching change. The time has come to take a more serious look at how we do higher education, and whether the models we’re using, which were mostly designed between the late 19th and the mid-20th century, are still the best way to prepare our young people for a future that is likely to be very different from even the recent past, and to enable them to play meaningful roles as both engaged citizens and productive participants in a rapidly shifting economy – and world.”

Who we are has not changed. Why we do what we do also has not changed.

But we have a real opportunity to reimagine how we do things. How do we fulfill our vision of being a national model for how an R2, with our vast array of students, can blend excellence and access? Put differently, we educate first-generation, low-income, urban/rural, and military-affiliated students so they are better prepared for the workforce and more engaged community members. But we also produce knowledge – from bench to community-engaged research. In this context, we must systematically examine the critical drivers of a re-engineered university.

It’s crucial that everyone here understands the realities of this moment.

If we step back to see the big picture, this is a period of great potential and reimagination. That should energize and empower us. With the intellect, experience, and passion that all of you bring to the table, no university is in a better position to lead higher education into its new era.

We need your talents and ideas to get us beyond just tinkering around the edges. We need your insights to reimagine what our university looks like — to bring about the fundamental change that will help empower the generations to come.

Certainly no one else in North Carolina is visioning on this level. If we harness our collective power, we can innovate in ways that drive change for our peers, too. We can help change the paradigm of success in higher education — how we get there and how we measure it.

Of course, doing this requires that we rise above infighting to seize and reinvigorate our mission.

Look, I’m not here to be combative or to relitigate decisions stemming from the Academic Portfolio Review. I know this is difficult to hear, but APR is tinkering around the edges.

To be clear, it was an important tool we had available to us. We had to act proactively — given our budget imperatives and unsustainable size of our portfolio. As I’ve said, we can’t be “everything, everywhere, all at once.”

There has been rumor of another APR focused on our graduate programs in 2024-25. Let me say this, in the near term, we must continue to assess and evaluate all University functions — both administrative and academic. We will be looking for ways to become more efficient and effective. But what does this look like? As I previously shared, we are moving forward on two recommendations from the Task Force for Financial Sustainability – reorganizing our communications/marketing function and reviewing some of our endowments in line with donor intent.

Something APR has revealed to me is that we have a serious issue around supporting our graduate students adequately. I believe we must prioritize a living stipend and health care for them. I’m committed to collaborating with faculty on solutions. What that looks like will be an ongoing conversation between you and me.

Regarding the action under consideration here today, let me say this: the President of the System, our Trustees, the deans, and I have full, unequivocal confidence in Provost Storrs. She is a fair and courageous leader who makes tough calls in the best interests of the University. Moreover, she has the highest level of personal integrity, something I deeply value.

I believe this action is excessive, pointless, counterproductive, and downright cruel. And since the rumor mill is so active, let me address one that has come to my attention: In an effort to assault the reputation of our Provost, among other tactics, I hear that some faculty have gone to her former employer to collect campus feedback from her candidacy for the provost’s job there. I wish I had seen that information; it would have only solidified my choice of Debbie as Provost. All I can say is wow! This is so unlike UNCG.

Now, I’ve said my piece. I’m ready to turn the page and work together on what really matters. Given the headwinds facing higher education and UNCG, we must figure out a way to reimagine how we do what we do. How do we continue to serve our historic mission of providing excellence and access? What are our next steps? How will we tackle the issues confronting us?

For one, we plan to refresh our strategic plan. We’ll build on the existing plan’s foundation to align our goals with the current landscape. The refresh process will be collaborative, bringing in stakeholders from across the University community and keeping everyone posted along the way. We will try our best to communicate as often and clearly as we can. I’ve appointed Wade Maki to lead the refresh process. He will be reaching out to many of you for insights and engagement.

Amid this turmoil, I want to remind everyone that there are many great things happening at this university. For example, we have just learned that we have been awarded a seven- figure grant from an important national funder to support work in the humanities. The faculty who worked on this from the College of Arts and Sciences should be extremely proud of this support for their work.

We’re so much more effective when we work together. I’m looking forward to your partnership as we strengthen – and dare I say – transform the university. We can be the state and national leader in higher education reform. We won’t get there by infighting. We will only get there by collaboratively playing to our strengths. There are too many smart and dedicated people in this room to fail. Let’s design the rope together and all pull in the same direction.

Thank you.

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