Address to Campus Community

Remarks at a University-wide Meeting from Chancellor Gary L. Miller

Good morning.

Thank you all for taking time from your day during this important and very busy time of year to attend this event.

Welcome to the beginning of a new academic year!

I am particularly grateful to see representation from so many of the different important constituents of the university–faculty, staff, students, friends–in attendance.

It is a great honor for me to be here today as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

I have been on many university campuses in my life. Every campus has its own energy, its own dynamic, but few universities are as special as UNCW.

There’s not another place quite like it – the combination of top-notch academic programs and world-class research at a campus, so obviously centered on student success, is unusual among public universities of our size. I congratulate you for your inspiring work.

As I will emphasize today and in the future, the energy and sense of purpose that we all feel in this place is what will sustain us in these challenging times.

I asked for this time with you today for two reasons.

First, it is important in this time of transition to create opportunities for Georgia and me to meet and get to know as many of you as possible.

Georgia is with me this morning and after my remarks we look forward to meeting or reacquainting ourselves with all of you who can stay.

The second reason is related to a promise I made to you when I accepted the position of Chancellor.

That promise was that our vision for the future of this great university would emerge this fall from a conversation about our most sacred values and our most important dreams.

This is not a conversation that is just beginning today. You have been actively involved with it for years in the planning from which so many important initiative and programs have emerged.

But, this is a time of campus transition. A natural opportunity to reflect on and reshape accepted practice and test new ideas.

It is also a time of great transition in higher education in North Carolina and the rest of the country.

The transition in leadership on campus offers us an opportunity to reflect; the broader transition in higher education requires us to respond.

In that spirit, I will use my remarks today to renew the conversation and to add my voice to it.

My hope is that when we assemble again in the spring to celebrate the achievements of our faculty and staff and students that we will have agreed on the essential elements of our vision of the future.

I believe our conversation should include at least three important elements.

  1. The Celebration of the important values that have shaped this university for nearly 65 years.
  2. A deep understanding of the realities of the new environment in which we find ourselves today.
  3. The embrace of new ideas and innovations that will place us in the position both to preserve values that make UNCW a special place and prosper in the new environment.

To begin my part of the campus conversation, I wish to comment on each of these elements this morning.

The Celebration of the important values that have shaped this university for nearly 65 years.

UNCW’s deepest and most sustaining value is its fundamental commitment to the belief that the real power of learning and discovery emanates from the magical interaction between students and exceptional faculty and staff and in the extension of that interaction into the world.

Any discussion about UNCW and its future must begin with the affirmation of this essential institutional value.

Your collaboration with our students takes place across campus, throughout our larger community and, increasingly, around the world.

These experiences take many forms, including course assignments, research, honors projects, internships, civic engagement projects and study abroad programs. They also include the countless interactions students have each day with non-teaching staff at the university. Each of these interactions is a learning opportunity and essential to the UNCW experience.

This summer, three UNCW students from the department of anthropology and the department of philosophy and religion participated in an archaeological dig in Jordan with Associate Professor Teddy Burgh.

A number of business students landed internships with New York firms.

Two students interested in computer animation careers attended an international conference, held in Vancouver that focused on digital design and production. Conference presenters included industry leaders like Pixar, DreamWorks and Industrial Light and Magic.

Recent graduates Jeff Raynor and David Macurak are good examples of the value of the UNCW experience.

Jeff and David obtained these highly competitive internships at Oak Ridge National Laboratories as a result of their undergraduate research with Associate Professor Karl Ricanek and UNCW's Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in Identity Sciences.

There are many, many other examples.

UNCW also values civic engagement.

We are a Carnegie highly engaged university.

This year, we were placed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. We’ve been on that list for five straight years, since it was first published, but UNCW earned the “with distinction” recognition this year after our students boosted their service learning and volunteerism to more than 70,000 hours – that’s 20,000 more than the year before.

I am deeply proud of this designation because it demonstrates the power of service as an institutional value. There is no question that the desire of our students to volunteer and to provide service to the community can be realized only because of the extraordinary commitment to service of the staff and faculty at UNCW and their determination to find opportunities for student service and encourage them to serve.

The service of our students is an institutional triumph. Congratulations!

UNCW values partnerships as important both to providing educational experiences and to nurturing communities.

Our innovative outreach programs include extensive partnerships with regional schools and healthcare agencies, a comprehensive effort to promote local, sustainable farming practices and healthy dining options, a number of public service programs for youth and adult learners and UNCW’s innovative collaboration with Coastal Carolina Community College and Camp Lejeune and the U. S. Marine Corps, one of the most productive and effective such partnerships in the country.

We also value research and discovery.

We have a great deal of strength in research on which to build.

In June, UNCW marine biology professors, two doctoral students and three graduate students teamed up to use the underwater habitat Aquarius for the latest segment of a long-term sea sponge study.

Just this week, at our request, visiting scientists on board Aquarius broadcast a live update of their research mission to scientists around the country.

In July, the Star-News published an article about nursing lecturer Brandy Mechling’s research for her doctoral dissertation in psychiatric nursing. She’s studying the effects of parental depression on children; very little current research documents and explores the experience of young caregivers.

In August, several faculty members earned positive press for their latest publications, including Laurie Patterson and Phil Furia for The Songs of Hollywood, David Gessner for My Green Manifesto and The Tarball Chronicles, and Clyde Edgerton for The Night Train.

In fact, during the past academic year, UNCW faculty produced 17 books and 650 chapters, articles, research findings, short stories and other writings that were published or accepted for publication.

Research and scholarship is critical to our success as I will emphasize again in a moment.

It is very important in my view that we place a high value on place.

We are North Carolina’s coastal university.

The coastal metaphor is powerful. In many important ways, the demographic, economic and social dynamics of a coastal city reflect the forces of the global economy and the dramatic changes in human movement and demography.

Few questions of human health, nutrition and economic prosperity are not connected in some way to the world’s oceans. There is no complete understanding of human history, the human condition or literature and music and art in the absence of the sea.

What an extraordinary laboratory our place by the sea offers us!

What a great advantage that we have that many students (and faculty and staff) really like the beach!

I am proud to lead North Carolina’s Coastal University.

I would like to celebrate another very important value that is evident at UNCW: A deep commitment to each other.

This is important in these very challenging times. We must take care of one another, respect one another and celebrate one another’s work no matter what that work may be. I have seen this everywhere on campus. I am most grateful for it.

Let me now turn to a more sobering theme: the features of our current environment.

The environment in which higher education operates has changed substantially in the last half decade.

It is very important for all of us to have deep understanding of the realities of the new environment in which we find ourselves today.

You are well aware of the effects of the global economic recession on state budgets.

This year, the UNC system, one of the finest in the world, was cut over $400 million dollars.

UNCW’s portion of those cuts amounts to $16.5 million dollars, which, when added to previous cuts during the past four years, totals more than $47 million dollars.

In the past, through good planning, UNCW was able to preserve the academic core in much the same way it has always operated.

But things have changed.

The latest cuts were deeper than expected, and we had no choice but to make some very painful decisions. Our mission remains the same, but going forward we will have fewer faculty and staff, fewer course sections, larger class sizes and less money for financial aid.

But, it is important to appreciate that higher education is facing other challenges, many of which inform the views of policy makers. I want to mention five of these.

  1. The concept of higher education as a social good is eroding in this country in favor of the view that a college degree as is primarily a personal good. This has important implications in policy discussions about who should pay for the degree.
  2. There are emerging strong voices that even question the value of the university degree as a pathway to individual prosperity. We cannot simply discount these voices.
  3. Universities are being held to much higher standards of accountability particularly with respect to student learning. The Assessment movement has transformed into the accountability movement.
  4. Funding for university research in public universities, especially comprehensive universities like UNCW, is dwindling.
  5. Despite reductions in state funding, universities are expected to play a much more active role in community economic development and community engagement.

These are not remote influences. They have direct consequences on our campus. They are part of our environment we must understand and respond to.

I know your patience has been tested to the limits by the continued economic downturn and its effects on your personal income, your departmental budgets and, therefore, on the options and opportunities you feel you can offer our students. We can, and will, get through this, but we must develop a new vision that empowers UNCW to adapt effectively to this new environment we face.

Let me turn now to some ideas about how we might face the future. How will we prosper in the new environment while preserving the values that make the UNCW experience so special?

This is where I add my voice to conversation I am asking us to have.

Before I do that I want to go back to another promise I made to you when I accepted this position. That promise was that we would build the future on the firm foundation already present at UNCW.

It is not my desire to restart the strategic planning processes of this university. I support the strategic vision of the university as documented in the Soaring to Greatness and Vision 2020 strategic framework.

It is my desire to build our future on the great work you have already done. Let’s reaffirm and embrace our strategic vision and move forward from there.

There are five themes I suggest we must consider if we are to respond to the current environment.

1. I believe we must transform our promise of the “Most Powerful Learning Experience” into action. The power of learning is the power to understand, to be tolerant, to question, to analyze and most importantly to serve. Let our conversation about the power of learning be about those things. Let our programs have those as outcomes.

We have already begun this part of the conversation with an important initiative.

The SACS QEP initiative in applied learning is, in my view, an excellent foundation for a new vision of learning at UNCW. I believe this for several reasons:

I strongly support this initiative. I have authorized funding for the pilot projects of the QEP. I urge us to make it a cornerstone of the UNCW experience.

2. I believe we must fully embrace innovation and entrepreneurship.

Despite the complexity of the challenges we face, I see many opportunities for UNCW to soar.

But we cannot plan our way to greatness. We must invent our way there.

In the coming weeks I will engage the faculty, staff and student leadership in a discussion of how we can organize ourselves to create a vibrant culture of innovation and how we will reward innovation.

I will be proposing some changes in the current university planning structure to focus it on innovation.

We will also talk about what leadership means and how to be adaptive leaders in these times.

At the Board of Trustees meeting later this month, I will outline some division-level organizational changes. One of the most important of these has to do with organizing ourselves for innovation.

We must always have good plans. But, to seize the opportunities before us today, we must overlay the sometimes disquieting force of innovation on top of our planning foundation.

3. I believe we must recommit ourselves to nurturing scholarship and research among our faculty. This includes providing the required staff expertise and support that are essential for a vibrant research environment.

UNCW must continue to grow its reputation in research and scholarship. To do this, we must encourage and support scholarship in all disciplines while we very intentionally expand signature research and signature graduate programs.

I believe this important not only to sustain our national reputation in research but, also, to provide avenues for revenue generation through partnerships with government and business.

This is an area that will require considerable faculty discussion and resource management.

4. I believe we must invest in even more vigorous community engagement.

Our students have shown us the way with their 70,000 hours of volunteer service in this community. And, I have already mentioned a number of the many ways in which we partner in the community.

But, in the new environment, this university has an obligation to be an even more important contributing partner in Wilmington and beyond.

We must do this by building partnerships with business, education, government, and non-profits that create educational opportunity, provide service and promote the welfare of all communities in this region.

In addition, we must be willing to let these partnerships be measured, in part, in real economic terms such as value and job creation.

We must continue to seek private investment in UNCW.

We already have a successful campaign well underway; we’ve raised more than $60 million dollars, which means we’ve raised 92 percent of our goal. Seeing the Campaign for UNCW – Soaring to Greatness—through to a successful conclusion is essential for UNCW’s future success. We will complete this campaign soon and move quickly into planning for a future campaign.

I want to demonstrate my commitment to working with our advancement staff to generate support for this university. Georgia and I will make a gift to the Soaring to Greatness campaign in the near future. I would ask each of you to consider the same.

All this will require an investment of real money. It may seem counterintuitive to make such an investment at a time of retrenchment. I will argue strongly, based on my experience, that our success in weathering these times and growing in the future is directly related to our engagement with the City of Wilmington, the region, the state and beyond.

Let me conclude my list of ideas with one that is very important to me and Georgia.

5. I believe deeply that one of the most sacred obligations we have to our students is to instill in them a deep and abiding knowledge and understanding of the great diversity of culture and race of humankind.

I do not believe this is matter of curriculum. I do not believe it is a matter of administrative structure. It is, in my view, a matter of the heart, of commitment, of action and, ultimately, of citizenship.

In the coming months I will be asking all university leaders to recommit to our diversity goals and, importantly, to find ways to use diversity to inform our programs of learning and our strategies of engagement.

I ask each of you to think about how you, individually, can find ways to embrace the importance of inclusion on our campus to ensure that this university is viewed as a warm, welcoming environment for all people and cultures.

We look forward to the beginning of classes in a few short days.

This weekend we will begin to welcome over 13,000 students to this campus. Some 2000 freshmen will move in tomorrow. I hope you will join Georgia and me as we help these new students move onto campus beginning at 6:30 am tomorrow morning with a volunteer breakfast in Wagoner Dining Hall.

You won’t be alone. At last count over 1800 university and community members have volunteered to welcome these students and their parents to campus. What a testament to the spirit of this campus and this community.

Each student comes to us with dreams of their future, of their family, of their country.

There is no enterprise in the world having this responsibility, this opportunity. We, very simply, give people the tools to make their dreams come true.

Each of you is important in making these dreams come true. Each of you has ideas about how we can do it better.

I will do my best in the coming months and years to build the resources we need for you to succeed.

In the meantime, let’s take care of one another.

Thank you and Go Seahawks!


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