Below is the roundtable discussion and Q&A with Chancellor Jim Woodward from the Autumn 2009 issue of NC State magazine. A pdf version is also available.
Taking a Hard Look
A conversation about NC State’s culture
Three top university officials step down in May and June, after an investigation of a former governor raises questions about a job created for his wife. The chancellor in the interim pledges to create a culture of openness and transparency. The chair of the Board of Trustees appoints a committee to review what happened. Alumni send in letters from all over the world, expressing disappointment and support and asking questions.
Time for some soul-searching.
We asked Chancellor Jim Woodward about his perceptions of the university and plans for moving forward. (See end.) We also asked a group of six people—each with a unique perspective on the events of this summer—to come together in the Park Alumni Center for a freewheeling discussion about the university’s culture, media relations, governance and more.
The participants were: William C. Friday ’41, president emeritus of the UNC System; Suzanne Gordon ’75, chief information officer of SAS and former second vice chair of the NC State Board of Trustees; Dwuan June ’90, assistant news editor at The Washington Post and former editor of Technician; Billy Maddalon ’90, co-owner of Unique Southern Properties and former chair of the Alumni Association Board of Directors; Jim Martin, a chemistry professor and former chair of the NC State Faculty Senate; and Art Padilla ’69, ’71 MS, an expert on leadership in higher education and head of NC State’s Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. An edited transcript of their Aug. 4 conversation follows.
NC State: Does what happened here recently indicate something about our culture at NC State?
Friday: [I] think what we’ve been going through is a phenomenon that has happened across the country. I mean by that, the intrusion of politics into the life of an academic enterprise. For example, in the state of Illinois this very week, the Board of Trustees there is being asked to resign. Some of them [were appointed] by a previous governor who is now in prison, and [his successor], who is going to go to prison, apparently. The whole thing shows you what politics can do when you get to tampering with the administrative structure of an institution.
I’m not alleging anything here in North Carolina. I don’t know what the true facts will turn out to be. But we do know that rigidity on this point is very critical to the life of a university. A public institution is of the public process, to be sure. We are a creature of the state. We are financed by the state. We serve the state. But that is far and away a role quite different from being in the political life of the state. [Y]ou step across the line once in any substantive way and you’re in trouble, because there’s always the second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, as Illinois is showing you right now. [There are all kinds of questions that remain to be resolved.] So that’s the role of the trustees. Their job is to maintain that posture of open, free inquiry and involvement.
Secondly, I don’t think NC State right now does as much as it should do to involve the faculty in the decision process. I created a thing called the faculty assembly when I was in office so that I could hear from faculty people what their views were [on policy]. In 30 years, I did not miss a meeting of that faculty assembly, because they were communicating directly and openly and saying honestly what they really felt. [What happened here at NC State] says you’ve got to change your attitude to function as a community. The administration’s role is defined by law and defined by the code, and it is quite clear and very independent and important. But it’s sort of like our federal government: You’ve got the legislative, the judiciary and the executive. Well, we have the faculty, the students, and the administration and the alumni, who I think have got to be more involved, too. What I’m saying requires more time and a lot more energy, but it’s so important. Because if you don’t have that basic trust feeling of communication internally, it isn’t going to work. . . .
Gordon: [S]erving on the Board of Trustees for 10 years, one of the things that I really learned was what a difficult job it is to be a chancellor at a university the size of NC State. You have so many people questioning everything that you do. You have the students, you have the faculty, you have the Board of Trustees. You have the Board of Governors and the president of the university system.
Gordon: The alumni, the press, the public, because it’s a state-supported institution. It’s just a very, very difficult job.
Friday: You have nine specific publics that you have to be very conscious of.
Gordon: And everything is so open. I was going back and doing a little review of some of our meetings. Everything, minutes of the meeting, who is on what committees, who is what chairman—that’s all available for anybody that wants to look at it.
[I heard Mary Easley speak years ago, while she was still teaching at N.C. Central.] She’s a very vivacious, very brilliant woman. And I remember thinking at that time, “Why doesn’t she work at State?” Even though [hiring her] seemed like a really good thing, a high-profile thing to bring attention to the university, in a lot of respects, I blame the board for not asking more questions.
Martin: The specifics [here] are clearly a unique event. But I think, coming back to what President Friday said, we have not developed the relationship between the administration and the faculty that’s necessary. And part of that relationship really is the ability to effectively ask questions. I think that’s the cultural aspect that is the more systemic problem that, to go forward, we’d really need to get a handle on. . . . Suzanne and I have interacted a fair amount over the last couple of years [while I served as faculty chair]; one of the things that I’ve admired about what she’s done as a trustee member is the relationship that she personally took on to interact with the students. [Turns to Gordon] You were the student representative. You interacted with the student body president. You, and I think it was sort of self-directed—
Gordon: I love students. That was an easy thing for me to do.
Martin: Sadly, we don’t have anybody who has taken on a similar kind of passion to interact with the faculty. We don’t have a faculty member on the Board of Trustees. We’re invited to come to meetings once a quarter, the open part, just like anybody else, and we are invited to speak every other meeting. . . . I think, moving forward, we’ve got to find a better way to engage the faculty, the administration, the Board of Trustees, in a kind of conversation so that raising a question is not a threat but it’s actually a healthy part of what it means to be a university.
June: [I] think NC State has always had that issue. [This attitude is similar to the one on campus when Chancellor Bruce Poulton stepped down after an investigation of NC State athletics in 1989 when basketball coach Jim Valvano was athletics director.] “Everything is going great. Let’s not ask questions; everything is going great.” But then we find out that things weren’t going so great. When Chancellor [Larry] Monteith ’60 came in, he immediately began to talk to the students and talk to everybody. [Monteith held meetings with the students and others to give them a sense of future direction.] We felt part of the mission to help this university get back up. We have to understand what we’re getting into so that we can say, “OK, we’re on board.”
Padilla: I’ve been doing a lot of writing in the last couple of years about leadership situations that are less than ideal. Some people call it destructive leadership. [T]he pattern that emerges is very consistent with this discussion. A [destructive] leader by himself or herself can’t get very far unless he has some conducive environments and some colluding followers to help along with that. If you want to mitigate or minimize toxicity in the organization, checks and balances are really important and empowered followers are very important. [Turning to Friday] I don’t want to embarrass you. But in all the years that I worked with [President Friday], I always felt I was speaking with the voice of his office when I spoke. He never once told me who to speak to or who not to speak to, who to call or who not to call, or which reporter to speak to, and so on. It was a very open conversation. He didn’t use mirrors to be successful. He was in his office at 7 in the morning and he was on the phone, and after that, he drank his Tabs.
Shared governance doesn’t mean that everybody has got to make decisions. It means that you communicate. We’re all in the same boat, and the boat moves faster if everybody is rowing in the same direction. I don’t think there’s any question that there’s been a real disconnect between the faculty and the trustees in the past. . . . To fix that, we have to help the trustees out with some ideas about how that can work. And we need to make sure we pick the right kind of leader coming in.
Maddalon: [T]he reality is three of our last four chancellors have left in less than ideal circumstances. . . . My sense is that—and I love NC State so much that I’m willing to say this—that I worry that our leadership sometimes operates in an environment of institutional inferiority, which creates fear. And great things aren’t achieved in a fearful setting. I think what happened here in this particular setting has fear written all over it. . . . Regardless of what you think of whether Mary Easley should have been hired, what you think she should have been paid—that’s not the question. The question is: How was it handled? Was it transparent? Was she brought in the front door or the back door? Did we tell everyone that we were obligated to tell and share with or did we obfuscate and try to hide? We know the answer, to some degree, to that now.
I look at the situation and say, “Gosh, Mary Easley. I think she’s dynamic. She’s awfully talented.” We should have brought her in the front door. We should have held a press conference. We should have said, “Boy, look at us, we’re lucky; we hired the governor’s wife, with all of her contacts and with all of her ingenuity and her acumen and so on and so forth.” And yet we did completely the opposite. We buried it in a pile of paper. So I guess I do wonder if institutionally we shouldn’t sort of take our coats off and roll our sleeves up and get to talking about what may be going on here.
The roundtable participants discuss leadership. Does the university do a good job of encouraging leadership from within? (Not always, some participants say.) Padilla suggests creating a mentoring program between senior administrators and junior faculty. Gordon points out that the university does do an excellent job, through a variety of programs and initiatives, in nurturing leadership among students, many of whom have gone on to lead major corporations like Caterpillar or take on prominent roles in government. The panelists also talk about the role of leadership development in the search for a new chancellor; Friday says he always preferred internal candidates, if possible, because outside candidates require more time to get up to speed. Friday and Padilla agree that if a search firm is hired, those involved in the hiring process really need to do their own homework.
Friday: [When] I got in the administration [at NC State] the first time in the 1950s, the chancellor’s office was just someplace to sign the mail and hold committee meetings. The deans ran the place, and they did it with an iron fist.
Maddalon: Dwuan, I think that was ending when you and I were leaving school. It wasn’t that long ago.
Martin: The residual of that still exists.
Friday: We’re getting away, but, boy [the attitude of separate colleges] was entrenched when I came here. I was telling Art about going to meetings where I’d watch some of the deans. And if you raised a question, you were trespassing. I said, “Well, now, wait a minute, fellas. We’re all going to read the code.”
NC State: We’re really talking about openness and transparency and how to make that part of the operation of the institution. That sounds like the tenor of the conversation. Am I wrong?
Maddalon: I think it’s the tenor of the world. The truth of the matter is that all of us are being held to, to some degree, a much more exacting standard now than our forefathers. [B]ut going back to what I perceive to be this culture of fear-driven decision making versus possibility decision making, our alumni, I think, are our best asset. They’re our stockholders. Literally, they have a piece of paper that says “I graduated from here.” That piece of paper has value. And the value, in my opinion, isn’t fixed. It goes up or down over time, according to how the institution is performing. [W]hen NC State fails, the value of the stock suffers. [W]hat I would like to see is NC State be more attuned to what its stockholders all over the globe think. Now, that’s a disparate group of people. [S]o figuring out what they think and how they feel is a challenge. We have to engage them in new and different kinds of ways. Our alumni magazine, for example, and our blogs and our Web sites. They all become a part of how NC State engages these external communities. And the question that you have to ask is: Does NC State encourage that or discourage that? We have to, again, welcome the criticism . . .
Friday: Sure. Don’t be afraid.
Maddalon: Welcome the interest, welcome the critique, welcome the question asking. That, to me, is healthy. [I don’t think we always do that.]
Maddalon discusses an alumni magazine article scheduled to run several years ago. The chancellor and others at the university thought the article—about a series of hazing incidents that had made national news, and the steps taken by the university and the campus Greek system to combat hazing through taking a hard line on even minor incidents—did not show the university in the best light. Maddalon found nothing objectionable in it and believed it showed the university was doing a good job with a difficult issue. The disagreement—which ultimately resulted in a renegotiation of the university’s entire operating agreement with the Alumni Association and produced such a long delay that the article was never published—is an example, to him, of a case when fear of bad publicity led the institution to overreact, turning a minor disagreement into a major problem.
Friday: You see, that says something about the culture of a place.
June: I want to say this, when you shut down your source of information to the public and to the newspaper, suspicions rise, and they will try to find out why that’s going on. [Y]ou have to get ahead of the story. . . . All it is, is being honest. When you’re not honest initially, it looks bad.
The panelists discuss honesty, and some of the factors that contribute to risk-averse actions on campus. Probable culprits, some panelists say, are a lack of communication and a support structure between different constituencies that isn’t as strong as it could be.
Padilla: The good news, Billy, is that, from the outside—in California, Texas, New York—we’re viewed much more favorably than we view ourselves here. I was in Australia not that long ago and told them where I lived; “Oh, you live in the Research Triangle.” It’s important to remember where we live. It’s not called the “Real Estate Triangle”; it’s not called the “Elementary School Triangle.” It’s the Research Triangle. It’s built on the research of [NC State, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill].
Over the long term, I’m a little bit worried about some trends. But, in the short run, I think we’re viewed very favorably, internationally and nationally. We have to pick [leaders who aren’t threatened or defensive about communicating openly], and I’m sure we will.
Martin: We’re going to be viewed fine, as long as the substance is there. I think that’s what you’re pointing to, Art. We’re not viewed because we say we’re great, we’re viewed because we create substance that is great. That’s what we need to focus on, and then we will communicate that. I think that gets back to the whole issue of transparency. . . . It’s this culture of conversation [between stakeholders] that I think is going to really tell us, are we transparent and moving forward, or did we just put everything up on a Web site and say we’re transparent?
Gordon: I do think one of the things that happened over the years I served on the Board of Trustees was that we saw the deans [who were] being totally kind of isolated come together. [Chancellor] Marye Anne [Fox] worked really hard at trying to get people together. And Chancellor [James] Oblinger did the same thing. . . .I think that there has been progress made. But . . . there are so many different constituents that—and I find that even at SAS, where I work—no matter where you start, somebody feels like they got left out because they weren’t at the beginning. We need to learn from mistakes, but we also need to give credit to the people, and the good things that have happened. Because there’s a lot of great things that have happened at this university over the past 10 years, 20 years. One of the things that was pointed out at the last board meeting was, during all the time when this was happening in the press, at the same time the faculty got grants of [many millions of dollars] from the stimulus package. The colleges were working, the faculty were working. Things didn’t stop, and the university went on. I talked to several deans who said, “We’ll be fine. This is just a bump in the road.”
Friday: Let me ask you a question now. You made a reference to the deans reassuring you that all is well. Does that mean that you view them as a power base separate and apart from being integrated into the government of the university? Because, historically, that’s been the problem here, in lots of ways.
Gordon: I see them working together a lot more over the past 10 years and not being each separate.
Friday: For whom?
Gordon: For the university as a whole.
Friday: Not protecting a fiefdom?
Gordon: No, there is a lot less of that than there used to be. They’re still very proud of their particular college, but I see a much better working together, and there are lot more programs that are across colleges [and even between NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill], where they cooperate together.
Padilla: I’m not sure, but I hope you’re right. I still see a lot of college by college.
Gordon: But that’s OK. There can be both. It’s a family. There are brothers, there are sisters, but then they’ve got to work together.
The panelists discuss faculty governance and the faculty senate, which Padilla says has very low participation compared to other universities. The historical decentralization of campus may be a factor.
Padilla: Now, having said that, the Faculty Senate, as much work as you put into it, can’t fix itself. I believe the only way you could do this is to have the trustees at the top work to strengthen faculty governance. And the chancellor has to be on board with it. I don’t think the faculty governance will ever get off the ground [without that]. There is no incentive.
Martin: [More faculty at NC State don’t participate because they don’t see a clear benefit to them.]
Padilla: Yeah, and let me tell you, Billy, the great universities, the good ones, the high-performing ones, have very strong faculty governance. And it’s clunky. It’s not clean.
Martin: Democracy is clunky.
Friday: Kind of like churches. [T]his is a first-rate place. You should have been here when I came here [in 1938]. There [were hardly any members] of the administration, at any level, who had earned a Ph.D. Now that’s the kind of change that has taken place in my lifetime. There was no faculty assembly of any kind. I was president of my class, and we could plant trees and sing the alma mater, but that’s about as far as we got. It’s come a long way now. [I have seen the growth in faculty strength and administrative skills, all of which greatly benefit all citizens of our state. Today, NC State is among the nation’s 100 best universities.
We need to endeavor toward a greater recognition and appreciation of the vitality of our alma mater, which produces such splendid results as the building of the Research Triangle. It should be the mission of those of us privileged to work here to share the accomplishments of the university with the state, because it’s by virtue of the abiding support of our citizens that we’ve been able to achieve these successes.
Obviously, the continuation of such strong support is essential to our progress. Public institutions belong to the people. We are very much a part of the public process, and we want to be. But at no time should any public institution be involved in partisan political activity, because we are accountable to all North Carolinians.]
June: [One trend is for public universities to seek more private support. The University of Virginia is virtually a private institution at this point because so little of its funding comes from the state. This allows them to be less constrained by political influence, but may not be the best outcome for the citizens.] That is sort of the catch universities are in right now.
NC State: Let’s talk about some of the structural things that need to happen here in terms of openness and transparency. How do you engage some of those external audiences? How do you convince them that this institution is back on the right track?
Padilla: It’s driven by the top of the institution. There is very little the public [communications] officer can do if the chancellor doesn’t want to talk to the media. And so I think it really is not a very complicated question, to me. . . .
June: When you’re [a reporter] going fishing, you’re going to try to get the big fish. When we don’t present our arguments out there clearly to the alumni, to the faculty members, to the people of the state, questions are going to arise. And so, all of a sudden, here is someone who has just gotten this nice position. How did she get it? Explain what the vision is. You just say it clearly and with meaning. But when you don’t do that, there’s just blood in the water.
Padilla: I think the problem here was the process. There was no process. Nothing followed. If somebody comes to you [with a potentially compromising or politically loaded request], you’ve got two options: [Tell that person] “Don’t bring that to me” or “Thank you. Put that in writing to our current committee with Billy, Tom and Harry, and they can vet it out.” And if you don’t like [their response], I’ll blame Billy. And if you do, I’ll follow process. If you’re the chancellor or the director of admissions or a director of a scholarship program, you get these sorts of things all the time, and you need to be able to deal with it responsibly and transparently. . . .You get those calls all the time. “I have a friend who has a daughter.”
Martin: [I] think we need to recognize that the NC State story was not . . . what The N&O was after. This was a side story. The big story was looking at the governor himself, and the NC State story sort of came in on the side. . . . Had we been candid, even with everything that was done, whether we agree with the policy or disagree with the policy, we wouldn’t have the story that we had. . . .
Gordon: We don’t know that though. We can never know if we take a different path what might have been the case.
The panelists discuss how the position of associate vice chancellor for communications has been vacant since January and how who is chosen to fill that position and how that person relates to the chancellor will be important.
June: [If] you were open and honest from the get-go with the Mary Easley thing, I don’t think the story would have blossomed. There would have been nothing to look for. [I] think one of the things Virginia Tech did with their shooting situation [in 2007, when a student killed 32 people before committing suicide] was marvelous. As soon as they knew something, whether it was good for them or it was not good for them, it was on their Web site.
Padilla: That’s a good point.
June: [They revealed that the shooter had a known history of mental illness.] The shock value is when you find out a year later that they knew something and they hid it from you, [instead of] just putting everything on the table [like they did].
Padilla: So your perspective as a newspaper guy would be you wouldn’t hire a chief [communications] officer?
June: If you’re going to hire them, they have to be . . . like Tony Snow was with President Bush. Tony Snow was at the table [when important decisions were being made and discussed]. . . . But you can’t go in and shackle that person: “You only talk about Holladay Hall renovations,” like they can’t talk about an accident that happened and why we’re spending $2 million on a field house. You can’t restrict them. If you’re going to have a chief [communications] officer, let that person be your communications officer.
Friday: Everything that goes on in your shop can be on the front page of the paper tomorrow. You have to understand that. If you don’t tell it, somebody else will. The leak system is perfect now. . . . You want to build trust. That’s the first thing. [During the political turmoil of the 1970s, I hired the best political reporter I could find to handle communications.] We had one rule: Whenever anything happens, tell them the absolute truth. If there’s something in there you can’t tell them, tell them why, and tell them the reason for it, or if they can come back later, tell them then. . . . .
That was the only way that our shop ever built the bridge of trust that we had with the press. [It’s] something you’d put a lot of effort in.
Friday: Last night I spent 40 minutes with a reporter from The News & Observer on one thing: They were trying to find out what the policy of the university is on you going from the administration back to teaching. How much money should you be paid? Should you be paid a bonus the week before you go? I said, “Look, I’ve been away 25 years from the job; I don’t know.” But when I found out about it, I understand why the people over here got all upset, because you get 60 percent of your gross pay when you go back on faculty. Well, that makes you the highest-paid faculty member on campus. Is that the right policy? Really, should the trustees look at that?
Gordon: I think they will be looking at that. One of the things that’s interesting about that—and I wasn’t on the academic affairs committee when that started so some of it was kind of new to me when I found out—but you have to also know, at what point did it happen? It was when the economy was really good. To get people to take the chance of moving up, you have to make some promises. That’s one of the things we’re going to be looking at, an audit on most of the policies. Do these policies still make sense now? It’s something our new chairman, Lawrence Davenport ’65, put a committee together to do. [Leadership from the UNC System President’s office, and communication from that office to the trustees, is also crucial in helping the Board of Trustees to do its best work.]
NC State: We have a lot of layers of governance of the UNC System and of this institution and in addition to the different constituents. So what are some best practices there? What would a perfect system look like?
Friday: I don’t think there is one.
Friday: I’ve tried a lot of them.
Padilla: I think the North Carolina system is a very complicated system. Most university [systems] have one board, like California. In fact NC State didn’t have a Board of Trustees until 1972. It had one board, the UNC board. So we have a system-wide governing board with 32 members and a president, and then we have a local board that has some limited powers delegated to it by the Board of Governors.
[T]hey don’t hire the chancellor; indeed it’s the Board of Governors that actually hires the chancellor and fires the chancellor, technically, although the president is obviously deeply involved in it. In some ways it creates a sense of frustration about what your authority is. It’s like Clark Kerr [a well-known figure in higher education who led the University of California system in the 1950s and 1960s] said, “A Board of Trustees can be no better than its president, but it can be a good deal worse.” So it’s really important that they are supported, and that they understand what they’re doing.
One of the things that I think is important for this board—and I’m glad Lawrence [Davenport] is moving in this direction—is, I’d like for our board to take a look at a code for its behavior, for its ethics. What kind of things do you bring to the chancellor? Part of a board member’s job is to promote and advocate people and put them in front of the institution, but they have to really exercise some judgment because they have a lot of power.
Gordon: You’re right that double boards can be confusing.
Padilla: Going back to the governance, so let me suggest—
Gordon: It’s a difficult situation.
Padilla: Let me suggest that an institution that speaks with a unified voice, faculty, alumni, trustees—
Friday: Has no problem.
Padilla:—gets a lot more done than an institution that’s passing in the dark. And if we don’t resolve that question—
Maddalon: And I think we have to, because [if] you have a governing board that’s making all of the decisions, and it’s not engaging its faculty and its stockholders, its alumni and others, frankly, the decisions are bound to be less intelligent. [We need to make sure] when it’s time to go to bat, we’re on the same team.
Martin: Part of the problem is not so much that we’re on different teams but that we’re not practicing together. Like I said earlier, I think there needed to be some mechanism for faculty governance and the trustees to regularly interact. And possibly the same thing for the Alumni Association. I mean, I’ll just lay out an issue. I discovered that the number of tenure-track faculty has been stagnant for a decade at NC State. I’m talking zero growth in a decade.*
Padilla: When enrollment has increased 35 percent.
Martin: When enrollment has increased, when the total number of employees has increased. Well, as leader of the faculty, those numbers are very concerning to me.
Maddalon: And they’re probably concerning to alumni too.
Friday: Last 10 years: What caused this?
Padilla: [The General Assembly in 2002 gave North Carolina universities greater flexibility in spending tax dollars, including those funds previously earmarked for instruction. Before that, instructional funds could not be moved around and used for other initiatives. The student-teacher ratio could not be changed. If enrollment grew by 13 full-time equivalent students, the number of faculty positions had to increase by one. After “flexibility,” they could take funding for these positions and divert them to nonteaching purposes. A case can be made for flexibility. But administrators must be careful not to redirect funds away from the core missions of the university, which are to teach and mentor students and conduct leading research.]
Martin: The reason I brought those numbers up is not to debate the statistics here because we don’t have all the data in front of us. But we’ve got an issue here that really needed the kind of engagement that scholars do. Here, we’ve got a research observation. Now what are the controls? What caused this? Where should we be going? We don’t necessarily know all the answers to that. But unfortunately trying to bring up that issue of discussion was met with “Oh, the numbers aren’t right.” That’s not the response we needed. We needed to find an effective way to have that dialogue, to have that investigation and move forward.
NC State: [To Gordon] When you were on the Board of Trustees, did you feel like you were encouraged to engage with these different units?
Gordon: Sure. I never felt like I was restricted or asked not to do anything. I do think—and I tend to be a more tactical person—I like to get to stuff. And when I was leaving, going off, I said, “OK, who’s going to take my role as the chief student trustee member?” I think that’s a great idea to have somebody with the faculty and even, like [Jim Martin] said, the alumni. Because a lot of the board members, especially the newer ones when they come on, they’re not ready to be chairmen of committees. But I think they might embrace a role like that.
NC State: Is there something that the new chancellor or that the leadership structure on the Board of Trustees or the external UNC boards could do to encourage engagement with groups like the faculty or alumni?
Friday: There’s everything they can do.
NC State: How do they do that?
Friday: Invite them in, not be afraid to do it.
Maddalon: [The new leader will need to surround him or herself with people who are not fully invested in the status quo.]
Gordon: I will say one thing that’s been a delight in this is Chancellor [Jim] Woodward. He comes in; he doesn’t need six months to figure out some of the things that you were talking about. He sees it right away, and he has no agenda because he’s going to go back into retirement. He has really been a blessing.
Friday: He’s a happy warrior.
Martin: I can tell you, some people at Holladay Hall have told me that the culture in that building is a different culture.
Friday: He takes no nonsense.
Gordon: Yes, exactly.
Maddalon: But he’s also willing to walk around. I remember I bumped into Chancellor [John T.] Caldwell at a cafeteria when I was in graduate school, and I recognized him immediately. He was eating alone, and I said, “Can I eat with you?” . . . I said to him, “What did you do that helped you become such a great chancellor?” And he said, “I honestly think everybody . . . remembers me as being this great, affable guy because I was prone to just walk across campus and sit down in a class, or drop in on a faculty member and say, ‘What can I do to help you? What am I screwing up? What do you need to be successful?’ ”
Padilla: He had a good boss, too.
Friday: I picked him. I picked him. [Laughter]
Padilla: You know, Billy, I think there are lots of issues. I want to talk about what makes a great chancellor, but I’m more interested in what makes a great university. It seems to me we need to be careful how we pick the chancellor. . . . Best predictor of what a person is going to do is what he’s done in the past. We don’t do a very good job of checking up. We let the search firm do that. So I think the search is important, but I think we need to figure out ways to strengthen the Board of Trustees and support them, and I think with the chancellor and the trustees we need to figure out how to strengthen the faculty involvement. We want the best minds that we have working in that [faculty] senate. Right now, this is seen as a punishment.
Friday: And you see, that’s what’s fundamentally wrong. There is no family at NC State. They’re not equal partners. It’s not, “As chancellor you’re different and I’m different, but we’re all in one direction.” That’s what we’re all coming down to. My great sorrow is that the trustees didn’t hear this discussion. There has been some really candid commentary here that has one objective: Making this place a lot better, more effective, more efficient, more human.
Padilla: There is one area that we’ve not talked about, but I have to mention it because it affects how faculty react to the administration and how the administration behaves. It’s a national problem, not an NC State problem, and it is the amazing—I think that’s the word, or startling—escalation of administrative salaries. And I say this as a business professor. Twenty years ago, a chancellor at an institution like NC State or Michigan would be making about 70 percent more than [the average salary of] a full professor. Today that chancellor is making more like 300 to 500 percent more. There is no market in the world that would ever convince me that that’s a reasonable rate of growth, or that’s the right ratio. We know from research [that] organizations that have great disparity in their incomes don’t perform as well.
Maddalon: But what does that tell you, that the chancellor is overpaid or the faculty is underpaid?
Padilla: [Professors’] market rate is pretty competitive because we can get other jobs. I don’t know where a chancellor or provost would go once they leave this place. But I tell you, when you have that kind of situation, it creates what our colleagues call “accountability up.” You play the game not to win, but not to lose. You’ve seen it in a football game. It’s tough going from [half-million] dollar salaries back to $100,000. [W]hen you have chancellors of public universities that belong to the people of the state, and they’re making these superstar salaries, it’s only reasonable to expect superstar results. How many home runs did the chancellor hit last week?
Friday: Art told me this story, and I told him I was going to file suit because I worked for 30 years in that administrative position at an average salary of $48,299. . . . I really enjoyed talking to y’all. Let’s do it again. We’re talking because we love the place. It’s a great place, and it’s got growing pains—and these are some of the things we’ve been talking about.
Rebecca Morphis is managing editor of NC State magazine.
* editor’s note: Martin obtained the numbers he cited from University Planning and Analysis; they show that there were 1,499 tenured and tenure-track faculty in 1998. In 2008 there were 1,477. There is a conflicting set of official data showing 1,381 tenure-track faculty in 1998 and 1,506 in 2008.
Jim Woodward, NC State’s chancellor in the interim, spoke with NC State magazine about the lessons learned from the resignations of Chancellor James L. Oblinger and Provost Larry Nielsen and how the university moves forward.
Some alumni have said that university leadership has traditionally had a “don’t-rock-the-boat attitude” and “a bunker mentality.” Do you think those perceptions are fair?
Those are legitimate observations and could be directed at any large university. The degree to which those are true vary from university to university. My goal this year is to make sure we appropriately “rock the boat.” And what I find is that the campus community wants the boat rocked. The other thing is that we have to recognize that we live in a new age of communications. We must see the media as partners and not as adversaries, because they do form the linkage between this campus and an external constituency. We’ve got to work with the media. That will be done this year.
How do you do that?
Rather than sitting back and being reactive, we [make] ourselves available for comments. When things happen that we know the public will be interested in—good or bad—we get the news out there. That’s the way you operate. Will we do some dumb things? Sure, every large organization, especially one thathas an entrepreneurial culture, makes mistakes. If we do, then we need to admit it and tell the media about it. If you can’t justify what you’ve done, then something is probably wrong with what you’ve done and it needs to be corrected. That’s the philosophy, and it needs to be carried out in specificity. How you do that depends on the particular issue.
What else can NC State do better?
Communicating the good things that this university does for so many people in North Carolina. The campus does superb work, and we don’t consistently send that message to people throughout North Carolina. From an administrative standpoint, we need to achieve the right balance between centralized management and decentralized management. We’re probably a too decentralized university right now. In some areas, we need to be more centralized so we’re more efficient and more effective. Take fundraising, for example. We have numerous fundraisers on campus that work with various units, and they all work hard. But we are too decentralized there. The flip side of that is that good universities are collections of entrepreneurs. You can, in my view, hinder the good work of the university if you put too much structure on entrepreneurs. So I talk a lot about finding the right balance between centralization versus decentralization.
What changes will be made to those areas during your time as chancellor?
We are now interviewing finalists for the position of chief communications officer, and that person’s responsibility will be to come in and identify the proper balance [between centralization and decentralization in the area of communications] and work toward achieving it.* The communications matter is important from an administrative standpoint, but long term, not as important as the fundraising. So I’ll identify areas where the university can be better managed in the short run and work with the campus community to put improvements in place. But a lot of my attention will be on areas that have long-term strategic importance and to make sure we make progress this year—fundraising and [continuing] to push the development of research on campus and the planning and construction of a chancellor’s house. And we need a student union that would better support the growing student population.
How should the university handle sensitive hires, particularly those that are political in nature?
Suppose I got a call from President Barack Obama and he said, “I want you to give [my wife] Michelle a job.” Would I like to have her here? Absolutely. Instead of just defining a position and hiring her into it, we would make sure that we have the appropriate approvals for establishing the position, the salary range, the recruiting of the position and that type of thing. We simply would not bypass established policy and procedure to hire someone. There are always cases where an exception should be made. For very special cases, there [should be] documentation that it’s justified and reviewed and approved higher up in the administration. It gets down to policy and procedures; we have to have [the] right policies in place and then we have to have the procedures that support those policies and [make sure] the procedures are followed. I can assure you that everybody on campus wants to do that. We’ve all seen what happens when you skirt the edges of intended policies. Good people made mistakes that they wish they could undo. You can’t make certain types of mistakes in this transparent world.
—Cherry Crayton ’01, ’03 med
*editor’s note: Joseph Hice joined NC State as chief communications officer and associate vice chancellor for university communications on Sept. 21. He was formerly associate vice chancellor of public affairs and marketing at the University of Florida.