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Faculty discuss response to Tom Ross ouster

Panelists identified qualities they’d like to see in a new president.

Ross Panel
Ross Panel

On Monday, a passionate contingent of UNC faculty discussed how they should respond.

The event, which featured four professors as panelists, was hosted by the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

The panelists began by outlining characteristics they’d like to see in their ideal UNC-system president — a passion to defend the 17-campus system and its diversity; a commitment to the research, teaching and service of universities; an ambition to secure long-term investment in the system.

The search for Ross’ replacement is expected to begin this spring, and faculty members have traditionally been part of the process through the leadership statement development committee. Ross will remain in the role until at least Jan. 3, 2016.

A president should be persuasive in promoting the value of the humanities and social sciences in a broad UNC-system education, particularly in light of politicians’ recent emphasis on vocational studies, said history professor Lloyd Kramer.

“The president shouldn’t be embarrassed to make that case,” he said.

Education professor Suzanne Gulledge cited former University of Indiana president Herman Wells, who once said that an ideal university president “would combine the physical charm of a Greek athlete ... the skin of a rhino and the stomach of a goat.”

Panel moderator Kim Strom-Gottfried then opened up discussion to the audience, which elicited spirited responses from faculty on how they should defend the UNC system and simultaneously address differences of opinion with the Board of Governors and the legislature.

Several audience members implored the faculty to actively spread a message of concern about the direction of higher education.

“This is a time to get outside the safety zone,” said Asian studies professor Mark Driscoll.

Kramer said he thinks some faculty are worried that speaking out will worsen the situation.

“That’s a very dangerous situation to be in,” he said. “Fear is not a way forward.”

Public policy professor Pete Andrews suggested that faculty might improve communication with board members and lawmakers by listening to the other side more often — such as reading reports from the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and Civitas Institute.

Mark Katz, a music professor and director of the institute, said that Pope Center representatives will visit UNC’s campus in April and debate alongside a panel of faculty and students.

Philosophy professor Ruel Tyson said he thinks faculty should engage directly with decision-makers by leaving UNC’s campus, visiting politicians and board members and learning about them in their daily work.

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“We’ve got to learn how to talk another language than the one we use here in Chapel Hill,” he said.

This dialogue and willingness to change is important, Kramer said — but he added that faculty members shouldn’t shy away from the fundamental principles of the UNC system.

“You don’t want to ever deny who you are,” he said.