In this second of five posts, I’ll look at one more force faced by public universities, as described by Hunter Rawlings during his recent talk at Carolina. Rawlings is president of the American Association of Universities.
Rawlings’ second force facing public research universities is the complexity of the institutions. Rawlings refers to this as ‘corporatization,’ and certainly there are ways in which the complexity that universities have taken on in the past few decades has forced behavior more akin to that of a corporation. Further, there are many collaborations that universities need to foster with corporations.
Here’s what I think Rawlings is really getting at. The chancellor of a public research university leads academic units and various kinds of student services like advising and study abroad that most people would associate with higher education. But in addition to that, universities have police departments, fire departments (we share ours with the town of Chapel Hill), a hospital (ours takes care of 1 out of every seven North Carolinians who goes to the hospital), a hotel, residence halls, a student health operation, a multi-billion dollar endowment, a communications operation, a computer network with 50,000 users, a dining plan, housekeepers, grounds workers, architects, and on and on. There’s not a lot of coursework in graduate school about how to run all these things.
So there’s the conundrum that Rawlings lays out. Nearly all faculty, most students, and most staff expect the leader of a university to be someone with academic credentials who published and got promoted through the academic channels from graduate student to assistant professor and on upward. But only upon promotion from provost or dean to chancellor does one find herself with a police chief as an employee.
This area is one where Carolina has made significant strides, particularly in the area of labor relations and town-gown relations. We have worked extensively in the past 18 months or so on resolving many lingering issues in housekeeping. I consider this one of our administration’s greatest accomplishments. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to have James Holman (housekeeper) and David Brannigan (grounds) appear at the rally after I announced my intention to step down. It made me feel like all the work we did on labor relations paid off. I’m confident that we can continue that rapport into the next administration, and Jackie Overton and I are committed to making sure that happens.
I was also thrilled to see the mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro at the rally. Patti and I had set as critical goals the establishment of collaborative relations with Chapel Hill and the surrounding towns. We came up with a lot of things to do to help with town-gown relations the past 5 years – logical compromises on the Carolina North agreement, setting aside the Parker property for conservation, working with Self-Help on preserving the Northside neighborhood, collaborating closely with the town on the University Square project, and many others. But mainly, we just spent a lot of time listening to and talking with town and county officials. It was fun.
But there are other areas where we can improve the next nine months and beyond. The overall level of oversight in many of our business transactions needs to continue to improve, the security of our computer network is a major challenge for us and all large universities, and we need to complete the installation of PeopleSoft as our finance and HR computer system. This latter project is critical, as the lack of good data on transactions underlies many of the operational problems that we encounter. Karol Gray has revitalized these efforts, and I know we will complete them on schedule.