Chancellor gives himself a good grade

I'm happy for Chancellor James Moeser that he looks back at his time at Carolina and sees an improvement in Town-Gown relations, as WCHL reported recently. I'll admit that the Chancellor seems to have stopped lobbing bombs at the town, which seemed to be his M.O. when he first arrived almost 8 years ago. He also seems to have developed a trusting friendship with the Mayor of Chapel Hill.

But other than last year's series of public PR sessions on Carolina North, I haven't seen the University solicit or engage the direct input of the people that will be affected by their growth. In fact, I see very little communication with the local government entities that are responsible for the future and well-being of our community (which includes UNC). When I look at this list of the Chancellor's accomplishments, I don't see any mention of Orange County or the local community that hosts and sustains Carolina.

So y'all fill me in, what am I missing? What grade would you give the outgoing UNC Chancellor?


PS: Slight correction to the WCHL story, I think the bond issue mentioned by Chancellor Moeser was for expansion of the main campus, not Carolina North.



I'll withhold judgment until he deals with pressing issues.  Of course, waiting a week to take any action in hopes that these darn students would just all go away didn't exactly speak highly of his leadership abilities.

I think Chancellor Moeser has done a more than adequate job over the last eight years. He has raised a tremendous amount of money from private sources, he has overseen the largest building program in the University's history and he has managed to get several major funding programs from the legislature which has enabled the University to not only keep but improve its national and international standing. While I think he has worked to improve Town-Gown relationships, there is still a significant amount of improvement which can be had.

Regarding his successor I think the University is going to need someone with even greater leadership abilities. I think it will need someone with a bold vision for the University's future whose leadership style draws all those around him(her) to passionately embrace that vision while energetically striving to see it become a reality. With federal and state budgets burdened by years of accumulating debt and with the private sector and citizens struggling with an uncertain economic future, I think it will take a person with incredible leadership skills to pilot the University through the shoals and reefs that lie ahead. The next chancellor will need to be an A+.

I think most objective observers of the local scene recognize that there has been a lot of progress in town-gown relations.  Every participant in the Town-Gown session of the WCHL Forum on April 17th agreed with that conclusion and I don’t know many who would have said that five years ago. 

I also saw many examples of reaching out to neighborhoods in the last few years and steps taken to share information.
It could also be argued that UNC-Chapel Hill as an institution has been extremely engaged with the community over the last few years.  Meetings have been held with neighbors and that’s a positive thing.  Some of the T-G stuff is either overlooked or is unknown to some.  The number of programs that are engaged in various projects that directly or indirectly help our greater community and the state is impressive, at least to me.  One of my favorites is the program that our local schools and the School of Social Work have developed to address the achievement gap among elementary students.  The Carolina Center for Public Service, continuing fare-free transit and developing the Arts Common plan are other very positive things.

I think also that people recognize the Chancellor for making some tough calls.  Remember the furor over the book about the Koran as a freshman reading assignment?  Taking a principled stance on an academic freedom issue is something that I admire.  What about the Carolina Covenant?  Some in our community benefit directly, and it‘s a very strong values statement.

If we look at growing the institution, I think he gets a high grade for the reasons George mentioned.  If we look at the vision that he articulated and how it has been set in motion or implemented, I would call it well above average.  Clearly, his successor has a solid foundation to continue to build on, and as Trustee Chair Roger Perry indicated at the WCHL Forum, the successful chancellor candidate who will get the job will have community relations as a top priority.

Leading an institution like UNC-Chapel Hill is hard and everyone isn’t up to the challenge.  As to Jason’s comment, I would offer that leaders who give in to demands don’t tend to last; those who can find grounds to discuss issues with their critics will probably be more successful than not.  Good leaders listen to reasonable requests, if they are made as requests.

When things are tough, a leader’s character is revealed.  A revealing highlight for me will always be how the Chancellor demonstrated leadership after 9/11 and after the recent Eve Carson murder.  I don’t know what others leaders might have done to handle these things better, but I can easily visualize how many could have handled it so much worse. 

I’m glad the Moesers will remain part of our community.

A few of my observations on the Chancellor:

When I received my Master's Degree in 2004, he did not finish speaking at Kenan Stadium and hightail it out of town. In fact, he was one of the first people greeting me and my family on the lawn by Wilson Library. He was congratulating students and parents individually, asking them about their majors, classroom experiences, and future plans.

At the VA Tech basketball game, several faculty and graduate students who won distinguished teaching awards were honored at midcourt at halftime. Moeser shook the hand of every award recipient, but then turned to the Dean Dome and vigorously exhorted the crowd to get out of their seats and give the award winners a standing ovation.

Coming from an undergraduate experience where the university President seemed more focused on raising money and economic development concerns, and was rather aloof and distant from students and faculty, I see these episodes as evidence that Moeser embraces the primary mission of UNC wholeheartedly.

Another area where I think Moeser has excelled is in the development of theCarolina Performing Arts series, which includes providing tickets to students for $10. (similar in spirit to the Carolina Covenant, I think)

Quickly, let me say that director Emil Kang has built a national-level, first-rate arts series at UNC. A key part of Kang's success has been working in an environment that supports the recruitment of unusual, up-and-coming and more "out of the mainstream" performances. I get the sense that Moeser has given Kang the freedom to pursue the best performances to bring to our area, rather than simply the most popular ones.

Which brings me to my final point, which Fred touched on above. The day Eve Carson was identified as the victim of the shooting near campus was also the evening of the Joshua Bell concert at Memorial Hall. Everyone was still in shock, and Chancellor Moeser walked out before the performance and addressed the crowd.

Moeser confirmed the sad news and spoke personally about how much he thought of Eve, and what a positive contributor she had been to the campus. He acknowledged the shock that everyone was feeling, and that he and Kang had discussed earlier in the day whether or not it would be appropriate to go on with the concert. Moeser said that he felt in a time of great grief, when it is difficult to put many things into words, the concert could not have been more needed as an opportunity for reflection and remembrance.

Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk followed Moeser's lead, and simply did not speak until their encore. Bell acknowledged that as an outsider to the community, there was nothing he could say of value in the face of such senseless tragedy. Picking up on Moeser's comments, he added, we have Mozart, Prokofiev, and others to say through music the things we cannot find the words to speak. He then said they would play one more piece dedicated to the life of Eve Carson, and asked the crowd to hold its applause at the end.

The performers provided a deeply moving, healing moment for the community, but it was clearly Moeser's leadership that set the tone.

Y'all have listed many admirable qualities of James Moeser in his capacity as a leader for the University community. Since I graduated 7 years before he came to Carolina, I can't pass judgment on that. He does seem supportive of academic freedom and of addressing important cultural challenges. But I note that some of the accomplishments listed (such as growing the campus) aren't necessarily seen as good things by all of us.

The story on WCHL specifically has the Chancellor citing improved relations between the school and the community. I just don't see much evidence of this. If anything, he may have restored communications to the level of basic civility that existed during the brief Hooker era, but Moeser had to work to do that because of the incredible "collateral damage" he caused in his first few years as Chancellor.

No surprise, but the Chancellor in an interview in today's CHH sees things a little differently than Ruby does here or in her WCHL "Commentary."

H-S: Has the Carolina North process taken longer than you thought it would?

Moeser: Honestly, no. I knew this would be a long process. This is a marathon not a sprint, truly. No, I'm not surprised. If you look back, we have made a lot of progress on Carolina North. I think one of the most significant changes [in my eight years] is our relationship with the town of Chapel Hill. I really think that's been a huge change.

When I got here in 2000, the town and the university, as far as I could tell, really did not talk to each other.

The view of the town was that the South Building was kind of a sealed place where decisions were made in secret and we would just announce from time to time some decision and just lay it on the town. The view from South Building on the other hand was that the town set about to try to block almost everything that the university wanted to do. And that was the atmosphere that I inherited.

Nothing could be further from the truth today, and things changed very gradually. I think it really began to change significantly (in the last few years) to the point that we have constant communication. And it's not like a red phone, either. We trust each other, the mayor and I have an agreement that we will never surprise each other. We inform the council, we have staff-to-staff working relations on a daily basis to the point that I think we've established trust, and it's been through a variety of venues.

It's been through taking the trip to Madison, the informal time -- the sit-down we had with the trustees and council in January right after their retreat, the conversations that we've had on-going, the processes that we have in place for transit and transportation planning and fiscal equity related to Carolina North.

Beyond that, we put in place ways that allowed us to establish this development plan process, which was the first real breakthrough in terms of creating mutually agreed-upon processes. We had amendments to that plan, I think three of them, but we have a structured way of talking to one another.

H-S: What is the status of that relationship now regarding Carolina North?

Moeser: What is now evolving is ongoing conversations, staff to staff, between [Town Manager] Roger Stancil and his staff and Jack Evans (executive director, Carolina North) and his, which the council has sanctioned. I think our assumption is they will actually bring forth to the council a proposed process for moving forward on Carolina North. It was a very big step for the council to say, 'We're comfortable with our staff sitting down with the university staff to hammer this out.'


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