Fitting the ‘niche’: UNCW faculty, staff weigh in on chancellor search

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Kemille Moore was among a small group of UNCW faculty and staff who spoke out during a forum on the university's chancellor search Thursday. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Kemille Moore was among a small group of UNCW faculty and staff who spoke out during a forum on the university’s chancellor search Thursday. Photo by Hilary Snow.

No matter who is selected as UNC-Wilmington’s next chancellor, he or she needs to fit into the niche of the local campus.

That was the consensus among faculty and staff during a forum held Thursday afternoon, as the process for picking the university’s next head administrator continues.

The informal meeting was the first sponsored by the chancellor search committee, comprised of faculty, staff, students, community members, as well as members of the UNCW Board of Trustees. A second forum–geared toward the general public–was held later in the evening.

The 19-member committee was appointed last month to assist in the selection of a permanent replacement for Gary Miller, who announced his resignation in June.

While their specific comments varied, a handful of employees told committee members that, in general, maintaining UNCW’s student-centered focus in the midst of continued growth was essential to effective governance.

“They’re here to listen to you, to what you want,” Chief of Staff Max Allen told the small group. “So, feel free to be frank, be open in your comments and questions about what you would like to see in your next chancellor.”

David Webster, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Research, and Infrastructure and a UNCW alum, broke the ice, speaking from both a personal and professional perspective. Having been associated with the university for more than four decades, Webster said he has seen a host of changes in both the campus and its leadership.

“I think I’ve seen what has worked the best, and I think I have also seen what doesn’t work,” Webster said. “UNCW is my home; I grew up here. We have a very special place here. We built a niche for ourselves that is really unique…I’d like to see the next chancellor come in and build on that niche…Here’s the problem as i see it. In upper administration today, throughout the country, chancellors have a life expectancy of about four or five years. So their goal might not be to build on that niche. Their goal may be to come in and change it.”

Offering quality degree programs that rival larger universities while keeping a student-centered focus found on smaller campuses, Webster said, is what set UNCW apart.

“The relationships that professors build with their students…really define us. I would hate to see us lose that,” he said.

Kemille Moore, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed.

“This place does have something special. And it does have a sense of student-centered[ness] and collegiality,” she noted.

A chancellor who is visible and accessible, Moore added, would go a long way toward preserving UNCW’s campus community. She lamented the end, in recent years, of a tradition in which the chancellor led freshman orientation sessions.

“It means so much to a student and family to walk away and say, ‘Wow, the chancellor welcomed us.’ They really want us here,” she noted.

Several in the audience said interim chancellor Dr. William Sederburg possessed those qualities and shared anecdotes about his casual, approachable demeanor around campus.

“Is it your sense that Dr. Sederburg is a good model?” committee member Dennis Burgard.

Burgard’s question was met with more than a few nods from the crowd.

But Art Frampton, an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, said a friendly chancellor wasn’t enough.

“Approachability is important, but also a chancellor who understands UNCW…Not only showing up but also understanding that these things we do need resources,” Frampton said. You know, lab work costs money for supplies, field work, creative projects, whatever, costs money.”

A lack of understanding of faculty and programs, psychology professor Carol Pilgrim said, often led to a lack of appreciation.

“Our faculty are feeling pretty hammered from a lot of different directions…We feel it from many forces that some of our efforts aren’t always appreciated or that our specific work isn’t valued,” Pilgrim argued. “The chancellor makes a big difference in that.”

“I think the lack of faculty here speaks to how hammered they are feeling,” committee member Tom Barth observed. “I thought there would be more here.”

Allen said comments, suggestions and questions offered up during Thursday’s forums will be compiled in a “leadership statement” that the search committee would use as a guide going forward.

The committee recently held its first meeting, where it hired executive search firm Baker and Associates, LLC. Committee members will meet with the firm on Nov. 4.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily.  Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or [email protected] 

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on October 17, 2014. Filed under Latest News.
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