Chancellor Jim Woodward spoke with us earlier today about alumni, NC State’s image and the work that’s ahead.
What’s your message to alumni? [T]he NC State that our alums came to love is the same NC State. And it is because the university is principally defined by its faculty and staff—those who do the work of the university. That faculty and staff today is still the outstanding faculty and staff it was a week ago. So, alums, know that this is still the institution that you love and that you have been and should be proud of.
No matter what one thinks of how this situation came about, it’s obvious that NC State’s image has taken a hit. How can it be repaired? The image of a university is developed over a long period of time and is based principally on the good work it does. There is no question that the image has taken a hit as a result of these events over the last several months. That can be dealt with. That will dissipate if we keep our eye on why we exist as a university and do good work. Having said that, it’s important that I, as the new interim chancellor, reinforce to all of our constituencies that we do good work and that, furthermore, we are a well-administered university that understands it is owned by the people of North Carolina, and we must be transparent to those who represent the people. That includes the political leadership, certainly, but it also includes the media.
With the budget crisis and other issues, your job is going to be different from that of a “typical” interim chancellor. How are you going to approach those challenges? I guess this is a unique appointment in that I had nearly a day and a half notice before I showed up on campus. But I came to the campus with a certain understanding of the state of North Carolina and the UNC System and also a certain understanding of and great affection for NC State. The job is the job of being the chief executive officer of a large and important enterprise. I’ve got a bit of experience being a CEO of a university, though not [one] as comprehensive or large as NC State. So I believe I know how to administer a university. My most immediate task internally is to reinforce to our good staff and faculty that the work they do is appreciated and continue to do that. From a budget standpoint, my responsibility is twofold. We must work with the General Assembly, hand in hand with [UNC System President Erskine Bowles], to minimize the budget cuts that impact this campus. Secondly, we’re to ensure we deal internally with those budget cuts in an open way with the goal being to minimize the negative impact on our teaching, our research and our service programs. That’s what the university is about. I fully intend to accomplish that.
What was your reaction when President Bowles asked you to take the job? I would not have taken a similar position at any other university anywhere in the country, period. I was happily retired. Living on a lake. Not having to get up early every morning. I didn’t have to put on a tie every morning. Erskine is an old and respected friend. I know his dedication to the state and the [UNC System]. Him calling me and indicating that he thought I was the right person, the unique person, to assume this position carried great weight. The chair of the [NC State] board, Bob Jordan ’54, again an old friend, served on my board at UNC-Charlotte for eight years. [He] called and had the same message: “We need for you to take that position.” It was very difficult for me to say no. It was impossible for me to say no. The interesting thing was it was impossible for my wife to say no for pretty much the same reason. [S]he thought it was necessary that I do the job and committed her support. I would not have done it if she had not supported me taking the position. It was not something that I expected to be doing on Sunday morning when I got up. I could not decline the request, because of my personal affection for the institution and because I recognize its importance to the well-being of North Carolina. I’m here and my commitment to those on campus, the alums, those who care about NC State is that I will do my absolute best to provide the leadership, the management and the administration that this institution deserves and that will make them proud and continue to love NC State.
How will your 16 years as chancellor of UNC-Charlotte inform your approach? I was the CEO of a large enterprise. Again, not one as large as NC State. But it is a million-dollar-a-day enterprise. By the time I left, we had about 2,800 employees. It’s bigger than that now. The principles you use in being the CEO of a large organization are pretty well defined. The same principles apply for NC State as applied to UNC-Charlotte. Those principles are to make sure you have a clearly defined vision for the organization and that those within the organization—in this case faculty and staff—understand and embrace that vision. Then provide an environment where they can contribute to pursuing that vision. I believe deeply at the administrative level in hiring and keeping good people, ensuring they understand what their job is and what their piece is of pursuing that vision and giving them the flexibility and freedom, delegating to them the responsibility to pursue that vision. I also believe deeply in being open, not just to the media folks external to the institution but I think internally, as well. You explain why your decision was made. You explain the decision. And when you mess up—and you will absolutely mess up in a job like this—you say, “I messed up. Here’s what I did wrong, and here’s what I’m doing to try not to make the same mistake again.”