This paper summarizes the second set of strategic planning discussions held at the University of North Carolina Asheville. For an overview of the planning process and goals, as well as a summary of the first set of discussions, please refer to the Nov. 18-19, 2015 page.
Overview of January 13-14 Sessions
The consultants continued their information gathering efforts, allowing more people from across the UNC Asheville community to contribute to the process, and providing a wealth of information for the Strategic Planning Task Force (SPTF) to consider as it develops the plan.
This paper highlights sessions with the following:
- Department Chairs/Program Directors (31 participants in 4 sessions)
- University Planning Council (UPC) (14)
- Faculty Senate (About 12)
- Alumni (5)
- Resident Assistants (13)
These conversations provided additional valuable input on the issues and opportunities facing UNC Asheville. Highlights of each of these discussions are included on the following pages. Each group explored broad topics most relevant for them, and specific content varied based on the constituency and its perspective.
In addition to these discussions, the Strategic Planning Task Force held its first meeting on January 13. This meeting focused on providing members with an overview of the planning process and their role; an initial discussion of facts and trends about UNC Asheville and the environment in which it operates; preliminary identification of strengths, challenges, opportunities, and threats facing UNC Asheville; and a discussion of next steps, particularly ways to build engagement and involvement across the community.
The consultants also met with the Chancellor’s administrative staff to further refine the planning process and identify specific next steps to keep the process moving forward.
Department Chairs/Program Directors
Highlights of the Four Discussions:
Community engagement: Many faculty members are already engaged with the community, and these efforts could be enhanced if there were more of an infrastructure and institutional support for community work. What does the UNC Asheville leadership envision in terms of community engagement? Are there specific areas/organizations that are priorities for community work? How can we best align our plans? Additional comments:
- The level of community involvement varies greatly from department to department, and it also reflects the priorities of the administration.
- When faculty tenure procedures were revised, there was more emphasis on community engagement and research. Faculty members were made aware that they would be held accountable in these areas as well as for traditional research.
- There are opportunities for UNC Asheville to be a community leader in some areas of strength, such as music and arts. Some faculty members serve on local boards, and there will be more opportunities.
- Department chairs are very willing to be involved with community activities and provide leadership for community engagement, but they need some relief time in order to do so.
- We would like to focus on being more responsive to the communities that we connect to: Asheville, Buncombe County, and Western North Carolina. We owe it to the public to be open to their ideas.
- In the past, the community saw us as very separate. We have made great strides in bringing the community and the college closer, and we should continue to build that culture.
- We need a downtown presence where students not only perform or work for the community, but also work with the community. What do the community and the university each have to offer one another?
- The university has a responsibility to be a leader in the cultural diversity of the community.
- Chancellor Grant has demonstrated a willingness to find and follow through on community partnerships. The best partnerships will have diversity within them. We need to do not just arts, but harder partnerships with racial minority organizations.
- We try to integrate the university into the community, but we’re not getting local students. The culture of the university isn’t the same as the culture of our communities and towns. There are many divisions between what we are and what the communities are.
- Increased engagement in the community is to do work not only in collaborating with the community but also figuring out how we as faculty collaborate with each other as we collaborate with the community. We need to do this in a way that doesn’t create another layer of bureaucracy.
Faculty time commitments/workload: Standard teaching loads have increased over time. There needs to be a balance between faculty workload and expectations. If faculty members are to do more things like community engagement, supervising research, and advising students, they need to have the time available to do those things well and still teach. Faculty experience constraints because of the expectation of the teaching load. This is particularly challenging in departments that have seen significant growth.
- Everyone has well over 40 advisees. You can’t do a great job with that and teaching 4 courses and be involved in university service.
- It would be nice if faculty knew in advance what they were teaching; there is a need for more long term, holistic planning.
- Service isn’t always rewarded. Teaching is #1, scholarship is #2. Some faculty members who have done a lot of service haven’t been promoted because they didn’t have the scholarship.
- We should look at how lecturers, adjunct faculty, and other contingent faculty are rewarded, and minimize our reliance on adjunct faculty.
- Faculty members need release time to do special projects and publish.
- “I’m excited about partnerships but also scared because faculty time is so overtaxed. We need to find other kinds of efficiencies, not just add a whole other thing.” The university needs to re-examine teaching loads and provide more release time and other support to balance the commitment of faculty.
Tenure and Faculty Development: The tenure system is based in disciplinary expertise, and to encourage more cross-disciplinary work, appropriate rewards must be in place. Some faculty members also report that junior faculty members are sometimes told to cut back on their service to the campus so they can focus on their discipline. Cross-disciplinary work and service may be taken into account for promotions, but faculty don’t get the support for this in their daily lives.
- There is an expectation that you work in your discipline, but the resources aren’t there.
Faculty career paths: As faculty move through their careers, how can we help them maintain excellence in both research and teaching?
- The re-establishment of professional development leaves is excellent, and the faculty will need support to take advantage of these opportunities. (several comments) These leaves are incredibly important for the health of faculty.
- Many faculty members who have been here for a long time are starting to retire, and more new young faculty members are coming every year. How do we bridge the generation gap that exists within the faculty?
- With new faculty come new ideas. How do we encourage them to express those new ideas, particularly when they are hired by senior faculty members with different experiences and expectations?
- Recent changes in hiring practices and how new positions are acquired are seen as positive. But these sorts of initiatives need to be part of managed growth.
Managing growth: If we are going to continue to grow, we have to ensure that we are making appropriate investments in faculty so that we can continue to offer students the courses they want and need.
- Is there a “magic number” for enrollment and faculty? How big are we going to get? Innovation doesn’t equate with growth.
- Capacity: we need to make sure we can meet classroom capacity.
- Growth also impacts support areas, especially technology. One example is the media design lab that opened last year and is extremely popular and not large enough to support the demand.
Communication and integration: There is a need for more mechanisms to enhance communication and integration across the campus. People need to be aware of their colleagues and what they are doing, both internally and in terms of community engagement. We must make sure we have the resources so faculty can come together and grow and learn from each other.
- Teaching and learning at UNC Asheville could benefit from enhanced collaboration and communication across departments. We need an institutional structure that rewards and facilitates more opportunities for collaborating, so that faculty can do more co-teaching and more cross-disciplinary education.
- The university values interdisciplinary collaboration across departments. But there are so many students, and we don’t have the resources/people to serve our own students within the department. It’s difficult to collaborate across disciplines if all of the resources are all used for departmental specific work.
Governance: Does our organizational structure allow us to be nimble? What structures and policies support that and what get in the way? We want to be innovative and agile, but we have an archaic institutional design. Most governance is designed to maintain and protect. How do we make it an enabling structure that still protects free speech and good values?
Graduate programs: There are strong feelings on both sides of this question. Positive aspects of graduate programs include:
- Some departments seem well positioned to sustain a vigorous graduate program. Climate study in conjunction with NEMAC was proposed, along with Appalachian studies, an MFA in creative writing, and atmospheric sciences.
- Graduate tuition tends to be much higher than undergraduate tuition, and additional funds could help support other programs and activities.
- Many of the programs being discussed would draw on current faculty from multiple disciplines—public health, sustainability, etc.
- Would graduate programs attract people to UNC Asheville in new ways, attract new audiences?
- Some have seen schools that didn’t offer graduate programs grow successfully by adding graduate programs and getting more funding and being better positioned. If programs are well thought out and implemented in a way that takes issues into account, they could be a good addition.
- Graduate programs can provide economic development for the community and create jobs. Could this help Asheville’s economic development by creating jobs outside of tourism and service?
Concerns about graduate programs include:
- Some expressed concern that graduate programs would take resources away from what makes UNC Asheville unique
- It would require significant restructuring to offer graduate programs.
- The market is saturated and the demand isn’t there. A bad masters program would be worse than no masters program.
- If we are primarily an undergraduate liberal arts institution, why do we continue to add masters programs? We have a great reputation as an undergraduate institution and we don’t want to jeopardize that.
- Some raise concerns when graduate programs get primary space. They questioned whether or not it was OK that programs get moved around so the pharmacy school can have more space, for example.
- Some disciplines do want graduate programs, but could this create a two-tier faculty? Would there be teaching assistants?
- Having programs in some areas but not others could privilege certain disciplines. Who decides?
- Graduate programs have the potential to dramatically change the kind of institution we are.
- “There hasn’t been a transparent process around the graduate programs we brought on. Are they guest programs or permanent?”
- Some are concerned about creating more divergence in faculty time and resources. If a program established a masters program and some people were invited to teach in it and others were not, that could cause problems.
Outstanding questions about graduate programs:
- Some cited the fact that there are currently 700 graduate students in Asheville as evidence that the market is there and there are opportunities for UNC Asheville. Others felt these numbers indicated that the market is already well served.
- Why would someone come to Asheville when there are other programs? Who are we targeting? Can we compete on a national level? What are the risks and costs
- What can we do at the graduate level to leverage our strengths? At what cost?
- There are not many graduate programs in the western part of the state. UNC Asheville could be very active, but does that significantly change who we are?
- Could we have graduate programs in collaboration with other institutions, such as NC State? Could we have a 5-year joint undergraduate/graduate program with Chapel Hill?
- If we do a public health masters, will there be an investment by the university to allocate FTEs to that program, rather than doing it on the backs of faculty?
- The local community would love for us to have a graduate program. Do they understand what it would require?
- Having graduate programs could change how we are categorized as a university. It could be good, but it needs to be thought through.
Supporting and branding our liberal arts mission: The liberal arts mission sets UNC Asheville apart, and we need to better communicate that mission and why it is important to both internal and external audiences. UNC Asheville offers a four-year, comprehensive experience aimed at educating the whole person. We offer a very different model of education than that offered by community colleges and other public universities, and we need to ensure that message is heard. We need to create an environment that students don’t want to leave because it’s so exciting. We should create interdisciplinary and community outreach programs that make us unique.
- The word “liberal” has taken on a new meaning in American culture. Some people who aren’t college educated don’t understand that "liberal arts" has nothing to do with politics.
- What makes us distinctive is the liberal arts mission. We need to develop a primary audience of students statewide who are interested in the liberal arts.
- We must keep a focus on students and student learning—that is part of our success.
- One strength of UNC Asheville is its small size. We can do interesting, high quality work with students because of that.
- If we want to be the #1 public liberal arts college in the US, how do we do it? How do we differentiate ourselves?
UNC Asheville as a distinct choice: UNC Asheville needs to distinguish itself from other universities so that it is a distinct choice for students. This should be based on all students having experiential learning—undergraduate research, internships, and/or service learning projects, as well as study abroad. This would require infrastructure investments so that systems are in place to facilitate these opportunities, as well as resources to support faculty involvement.
- As the January break becomes longer, there are more opportunities for students to study abroad/study away. Local, regional, national and international collaborations could open up more opportunities for students.
- Experiential learning is an important part of what sets UNC Asheville apart, and it could benefit from more resources. Faculty need more support for planning and logistics, so that they can help students really benefit from these learning experiences.
- What can we do to be more attractive? Can we better use the summer to support things like 3-year degree programs for students who arrive with some college credits?
Diversity: Although we have made progress in increasing our diversity, much more remains to be done.
- There are only 14 African American faculty members out of 250. If our vision is to sustain our commitment to all communities, we need to increase this.
- To be part of the 21st century requires embracing diversity: racial, cultural, income level, etc. UNC Asheville still struggles with the question of bringing diverse voices to the table. By increasing the number of diverse voices, some people believe that certain critical voices could get lost. Some feel they are losing control. The University has a public statement that we embrace diverse voices, but we need to understand that when you have diverse voices it tends to create a different conversation.
- Whatever we do should reflect the changing demographics, be intentional. Otherwise we’ll be strategically planning for the rest of our lives without the diverse voices. What is the strategic vision? Where are we going?
- Are we creating an environment that constrains faculty or student voices or allows biases? We need diversity of ideas, religion, and views that don’t fit with the political views of our faculty. How do we make sure that when this institution thinks about its future, it is systematically integrating the issues that relate to the multiple cultures and all aspects of diversity so that the chosen direction reflects a multiplicity of ideas?
- Diversity example: A faculty member’s evaluation says he’s not accessible. The difficulty wasn’t that he wasn’t physically present, but there was a cultural obstacle for students to go to this person. How do we break the cultural barriers? When we evaluate our faculty, if you don’t understand these basic cultural nuances, then the onus is on you to change. The default is for anyone who feels different to find a space, but it should be the institution’s responsibility to make those spaces. We can bring diverse people here, but can we create a home for everyone? UNC Asheville includes multiple voices that strategically should be represented.
Funding: The COPLAC Mellon grant in digital humanities illustrates that there is support for innovative programs. We need to identify programs and initiatives that will help us attract funding.
Communication: Many things at UNC Asheville make it special, and we need to do a better job of communicating who we are, what we do, and the importance of our liberal arts mission.
- The faculty needs more interaction with faculty at other institutions. We are starting to make progress as we become more involved in external review processes with other universities. Statewide faculty reputation will continue to be important.
- The best way to be known to other institutions is through publications, but because our teaching load is so heavy, we don’t have time to publish as much as we would like.
- We also need to focus on communication with today’s students. We cannot communicate in the same ways as in the past and must tailor our communication to speak to the evolving student body.
Alumni outreach: There are opportunities to further engage alumni, who could be a good source of resources, both financial and human. We need to tap into their knowledge, connections, willingness to take interns, etc.
Program quality: UNC Asheville needs to continue to strengthen the quality of its programs in a variety of ways.
- Humanities have always been a major part of UNC Asheville. We need to maintain and strengthen that, not relegate humanities to second tier.
- Many students who need core humanities courses can’t get them. The challenge is balanced growth, matching growth in student numbers to growth in faculty lines. That takes time, but student needs are immediate: parking, advising, classes, etc. Growth is a challenge that must be managed. Growth numbers are reported joyfully, without taking into account the pressures this growth creates.
- We want every student to have an experiential learning opportunity, but to do that requires small classes. To be efficient requires large class sizes. We need to find the right balance. Our intern class is fabulous, but we don’t have the manpower to offer it to a lot of people.
- We should consider the degree to which accreditation of select programs is seen as important. Should we expand that? Many disciplines have external accrediting bodies. Should that be considered on this campus?
- Space limitations make it harder to grow a department. There is pressure to have larger classes, to facilitate faculty leave, but there are few classrooms that can hold more students.
Sustainability: UNC Asheville needs to find a way to address some broader concerns in our community and the world.
- Sustainable food is a good example. We should continue to help people learn about urban agriculture, support external community organizations that need information about locally grown food.
Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force
- Set priorities. This campus has tried to do too much. We need to define our priorities so we don’t take on more than we can chew.
- We need to trust the leadership to do the right things.
University Planning Council (UPC)
The UPC provided input to the planning process at its November meeting. The focus of the January discussion was on the role of the UPC in the planning process and comments from those UPC members who are on the Strategic Planning Task Force.
Highlights of the Discussion:
- Task force members reported that their first meeting had healthy and productive discussions, both at a high level, and also directly linked to action, implementation, and accountability.
- Because the task force is a relatively small group, it has opportunities for in-depth discussion, and everyone could participate. It’s then appropriate to bring some of the work of the task force to the UPC to ensure communication and coordination.
- Suggestion for input: consider ways for people to have input, without having their names revealed, so that people like junior faculty can feel free to express their views.
The UPC can play several roles during the planning process:
- Monitor planning issues outside of the realm of the strategic plan, such as the proposed new residence hall, and provide feedback and advice on such projects.
- Test and discuss some of the ideas that emerge from the task force, providing feedback, reality checks, and guidance on how to best build support for new ideas. Initially this might include discussion of the information gathering sessions and the implications of the information that is emerging from them; later in the process it could include reviewing draft elements of the plan.
- Members could meet with their groups and share with them information that is emerging from the planning process, and solicit feedback.
- Once the plan is approved, UNC Asheville anticipates holding annual planning meetings to assess progress and adjust the plan as needed. The UPC could play a role in organizing these annual events.
- During this time it would also be appropriate to look at the composition of the UPC and identify any gaps or areas that should be represented
Highlights of the Discussion:
- The plan should define how best to measure results in meaningful ways that do not require a lot of faculty time but provide useful information. We need to be able to demonstrate impact and have data to show what we are accomplishing.
- Avoid people with agendas, and keep agendas transparent. Ensure that quiet people with good ideas are heard, as well as those who are more experienced at navigating the political minefields.
- Remember that the ultimate goal is to get better, not bigger.
- Take this opportunity to take some of what we do and make it more distinct. Hold up the things we do well and shine a bigger light on them.
- Make space in the plan for latecomers, voices not heard. Be open to all ideas.
- The fact that a large proportion of the members of the SPTF are faculty was seen as very positive. This is a higher proportion of faculty involved than at the system level and at several other institutions. There was optimism that UNC Asheville will be “the rare one that listens and really tries to get a sense of the community.”
Highlights of the Discussion:
- Mission: UNC Asheville’s mission is a strategic opportunity that hasn’t been fully realized. Knowing who you are is important, and helping others know who you are is important too.
Athletics: There may be opportunities to enhance sports programs and consider adding a football team or expand sports in other ways. Note: Although athletics may enhance student life for some, they’re not important to all students.
- In considering expansion, we need to consider the overall scale and the level of programs we can support.
- Athletics are important to engaging the community and enriching the student experience. How do we drive traffic to our events?
- Student experience: Our focus should be on the student experience, and engaging students with the community is an important part of that. UNC Asheville has opportunities to connect more with the city of Asheville.
Community engagement was not perceived as important in the past, and many alumni didn’t experience it. But now it’s understood to be very important and our efforts need to continue and expand.
- Individual faculty members do work in the community, but the institution’s presence isn’t well known.
- Athletes do community service day, but then they’re back on campus. How else can they engage with the community?
- We need a deliberate strategy around community engagement.
- We can get alumni to help spread the word about UNC Asheville and its community activities.
Diversity: There are differing opinions about the actual level of diversity in the city of Asheville, but all agree that it, comparatively, it is not a highly diverse community. Also, UNC Asheville is predominantly a white institution, and students of color can feel isolated and may encounter “micro aggressions.” This can leave them feeling frustrated and isolated. Some ideas:
- UNC Asheville can’t create a healthy diverse community on its own. In order to make progress in this area, the institution needs to partner with the city of Asheville. Both communities need to become more inviting to people of color.
- We need to attract and retain the very best candidates of color for positions on campus. If we can retain them, they will put down roots in town, and can help students adjust and feel part of a community.
- We put a lot of effort into attracting diverse students, and we also need to build support around students so that they want to stay here.
- We need an institutional commitment that we’re going to take this on seriously and focus on multiple efforts at all levels. We need to connect with the wider community. It must be in front of us every day, a shared responsibility.
- Why do we want diversity? Not everyone values diversity in the same way. We need to define our goals.
- We should recruit more students from the local area.
- Academics: We need more majors related to the industries in our area, such as health care, high tech manufacturing, hospitality, and nursing. We have an astronomical observatory; should we develop majors related to astronomy?
Masters programs: We should add masters programs only if they fit the mission of a liberal arts school. We don’t need to bend to the pressures of other political or cultural programs, unless an area of need for a program is identified on campus.
- Graduate programs need to be studied carefully. Programmatic decisions have to be based on areas of strength as well as need. Is there a need? Is there a market? Does this program add to the institution, not subtract? At what can we excel? Could we do a 4+1 program or something so students could finish their masters? Are there clear signposts where there is a need that could be met in a graduate program?
- The health sector offers opportunities to build on our strengths and faculty strengths.
Communication/building awareness: We need a marketing plan for the area. We should host more events on campus for the general public, like concerts on the quad. Ideas include:
- More internships and coops with local manufacturers
- Art department do more with Biltmore estate
- More engineering majors, with a program here (not NC state)
- More events on campus (must address parking)
- Many institutions that come from positions of strength are often humble and quiet. We need strengthened marketing, endorsements from local or national media, and successful alumni.
- UNC Asheville should strengthen its alumni program, get people back to campus, and engage them in building brand recognition.
Highlights of the Discussion:
Space/facilities: RAs identified many opportunities to improve the facilities and space on campus, thus enhancing the learning experience.
- More academic buildings, to allow departments and programs to expand and build on their strengths.
- Either larger classrooms or smaller classes, to address the overcrowding in some classrooms.
- New theater building to support expanded programming. The theater program needs more storage and building space, with appropriate tools and equipment, as well as additional offices for faculty.
- A performing arts center that is not just a theater, but also a place for musicians to perform and interact, bringing together music majors, theater majors, music tech majors, etc. and developing the synergies among them. This facility could also be rented out to community artists and be both a link to the community and a source of revenue.
- New buildings for the arts would open up other space and allow departments to reorganize in ways that bring them closer together.
- In addition to new buildings, there is a need to maintain and improve existing buildings to make them more conducive to learning.
- Additional computers/technological support.
- Enhanced upkeep and maintenance programs for computers and equipment.
- Additional parking.
- There are opportunities to do more green and sustainable things on campus, such as installing solar panels. UNC Asheville is known as a progressive school, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate that.
- There are opportunities to beautify the campus.
- Combined academic and residential facilities would allow for greater integration and efficient use of space (residential facilities on top of academic buildings).
- Gender neutral, accessible bathrooms in every building.
- Greater support for substance-free living, so that people who choose and need that support are not exposed to others who have not made that choice.
- Enhanced handicap access and more ways to ease movement by those in wheelchairs and with other mobility needs.
Academic areas to build on:
- Computer science is a growing field. In addition to the emphasis that UNC Asheville has on mechatronics, it should focus more on computer science, with more classes, more professors, and more labs.
- Create a course or program for students in mechatronics and computer science to learn how to maintain/service computer equipment on campus. This would provide not only a great learning experience, but also a sense of pride.
- Enhance mechatronics so it is more of a UNC Asheville program and less an NC State program. Make it a UNC Asheville program with faculty here. It’s a growing area that not many institutions offer, and it could help distinguish us.
- Expand the new media programs to include animation, which is a very popular subject.
- Expand the humanities curriculum so that it goes beyond a Eurocentric focus and is more global. Refocus the requirement so that it is more cross-disciplinary and provides more opportunities to explore new areas. Anthropology should be included. There may be ways to reinvent the humanities program and combine it with service learning.
- Increase the emphasis on health and wellness, with a course on both physical and mental health.
- Create more opportunities to partner with local businesses, such as the food service industry in Asheville.
- Graduate programs would bring in more people interested in education and more non-traditional students, who would integrate more with the community.
- We need to feel ownership of our community, and they need to feel ownership for our university.
Liberal arts education
- The relationships fostered at UNC Asheville are an important aspect of a liberal arts college and a significant strength. We need to continue to support and grow this.
- The emphasis on undergraduates is important, and that should be our focus.
- Small classes and close relationships are very important to undergraduate success and should be continued. Many people are attracted here because of the small size and good faculty: student ratios.
- We need to do more to connect different groups of students across the student body so that no one feels isolated, or as if s/he is only part of one small group on campus.
- We would like to see the school maintain its relatively small size so that we can keep and enhance the relationships.
- UNC Asheville needs to place a strong emphasis on diversity. Some minority students do not feel a sense of community with the student body and are not comfortable on campus. We need to listen to their needs and establish safe spaces for them on campus.
- Some would like to see a building designated as a safe space for minority students on campus.
- It’s not a problem recruiting diverse student to UNC Asheville, but it is a problem retaining them. We need to do more to help them foster relationships and community on campus so that they feel that UNC Asheville is their home.
- There are various programs for underrepresented students, but even within those programs there is not a sense of fully embracing diversity.
- Diversity within the faculty and staff is lacking as much as within the student body. “Minority students are sitting in front of white women and men who are telling them about diversity, but it’s not coming through.” It would be beneficial if minority students had more minority faculty and staff to look up to.
- Diversity intensive classes are a good idea, but they should have more impact on students.
- Transgender students also need space to live in the community with which they identify, additional housing options.
- We need to better integrate transfer students into the campus community.
- Desired outcome: see an increase in diversity in all aspects of the UNC Asheville community.