Nov. 18-19, 2015

Initial meetings were held across the UNC Asheville campus on November 18-19, 2015. The Chancellor, along with planning consultants Elaine Kuttner and Jane Fisher of Cambridge Concord Associates, discussed the upcoming planning effort with a variety of campus groups. Note: These groups are listed in the order that the meetings took place.

  • Chancellor’s Senior Staff 
  • Academic Deans 
  • Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Council 
  • Faculty Senate Executive Committee 
  • Representatives of Trustees and other Boards 
  • University Planning Council (UPC) 
  • Center Directors 
  • Student Government Association Representatives 

These conversations not only provided valuable early input on some of the issues and opportunities facing UNC Asheville, but they also helped guide decisions about the planning process itself, particularly as it relates to engagement and communication.

Highlights of each of these discussions are included below. Each group explored broad topics most relevant for them. While some categories remained the same across all groups, others varied based on the constituency and its perspective.


Senior Staff

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Diversity: Although we have had some success in increasing UNC Asheville’s diversity, we need a strategy that will have significant impact over the next several years. The strategy will need to address recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students of color and other underrepresented backgrounds.
  • The Student Experience: How can we continue to build and strengthen the student experience? We need to look both internally and externally, engaging students on campus and providing them opportunities to interact with the community. Our students come from diverse backgrounds, and many do not live on campus. How can we build greater institutional pride?
  • Recruiting and retaining students: How do we best attract students to UNC Asheville? How can we help them see themselves here? How do we attract first generation college students and help them see that a public liberal arts education is for them?
  • Graduate programs: What should UNC Asheville offer in the way of graduate programs? Are there ways to advance that discussion and choose a couple of programs that we can do very well and that respond to market analysis? What is the impact of graduate programs on the institution and on undergraduate retention
  • Communication/building awareness: UNC Asheville does many things well, but too often we are not known in the wider community. A strategy is needed to let people understand and appreciate the value of UNC Asheville to the city, the region, the state, and the nation. UNC Asheville does not have a bad reputation, it is simply not known as well as it could be. We have an opportunity to build more visibility.
    • Some building blocks/strengths on which to build awareness include undergraduate research, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institution (OLLI) and the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness.
    • Focus on outputs: What are our alumni are doing and what impact are they having on their communities and the world?
  • Alumni: How do we best engage alumni? This is a relatively new area of focus for UNC Asheville and one that needs to be modeled on national best practices. We also need to reach out more to parents of students.
  • Campus Sustainability: As we develop the master plan, we need to focus on how we can have the best possible buildings and sustainable infrastructure. The master plan is a critical part of building for the future.
  • Relationships with the community: The community desires to have a strong relationship with UNC Asheville. We have the opportunity to use this plan to identify ways to help both the University and the community.
  • Community connections sustainability: UNC Asheville is doing a lot in the community but needs to be more visible in its actions. Recent land acquisitions offer opportunities to build more community connections.
    • Housing is a major challenge in Asheville,with lots of new families coming in and many UNC Asheville graduates who would like to stay but can’t afford to. Can UNC Asheville help? If so, how?
    • There are few entry-level jobs other than service jobs in Asheville. UNC Asheville is getting intentionally involved in conversations about economic development and jobs. As companies consider moving to Asheville, the University must be part of those conversations, showing that we produce graduates who can support new businesses.
    • Asheville is trying to develop additional economic drivers beyond tourism. Are there opportunities for internship programs, alumni engagement, or other ways to raise awareness of what the University can offer to prospective businesses?
    • UNC Asheville has traditionally been very internal looking. What can we do to ensure that our students and faculty can engage in meaningful, deep, ongoing civic engagement?

Comments on the planning process: 

We must develop common language for aspirations and focus on those areas where we can be excellent. We need to avoid being too broad, but instead look for where we can go deeper and create centers of excellence we can promote. We also have to understand how we will work together and agree on how we will measure progress.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force:

  • Encourage people to think broadly, to avoid looking only through their “silo.”
  • Pay attention to the UNC strategic plan and our role as part of that system. Take the opportunity to define UNC Asheville as the new system President comes on board in March 2016. Address issues of importance to the system, such as economic development and job creation, and demonstrate how UNC Asheville links the liberal arts to economic development, civic development, intelligent development, and social development.
  • Continue to invest in our Mechatronics program and the links between engineering and liberal arts.
  • Build good will on campus and in the community through engagement in this planning process.
  • Set appropriate expectations for what a strategic plan is, and what it is not.
  • As ideas emerge that are good, but not appropriate for the strategic plan, create a “parking lot” list so that these ideas are not lost.

Academic Deans

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Undergraduate research: This is a major strength and there are opportunities to build on it and develop a more systematic approach. Undergraduate research should be explicit in recruitment efforts, including transfer students, so we attract students who value that experience. Should UNC Asheville adopt a graduation requirement that includes undergraduate research, experiential learning, a project-based internship, or service learning?
  • NEMAC: As the world’s largest repository of climate data, we have a unique strength. How can we build on this strength?
  • Mechatronics: Our joint engineering program with NC State is a significant innovation that should be better known.
  • Our public liberal arts mission: We all need to embrace and understand the mission; it sets us apart. We need a state-of-the-art fine arts facility for our liberal arts campus and also to be a bridge to the community.
  • Engagement: How is UNC Asheville serving more than students, but also the community, region, state, and nation, in conceptual and applied ways?
  • Community presence: Students are increasingly engaged in community work. UNC Asheville could benefit from a physical presence in the community to allow for interdisciplinary collaboration with the community—a downtown presence that is a lab space, art gallery, exhibitions place, a place for community engagement with marginalized communities.
  • Diversity: There is an ongoing interest and need to respond to diversity in all of its dimensions. Some progress has been made, but we need to continue and expand these efforts. What strategies do we need to build diversity across all parts of the institution?
  • Academic programming/graduate programs: Students expect and demand certain types of programming and curricular experiences, and we need to respond. Liberal arts institutions are increasingly offering graduate programs that build on their strengths and respond to the needs of their communities. Students and alumni want that type of experience here, and it could have significant benefits for the University. Continuing to strengthen undergraduate research and build internships will naturally feed graduate opportunities for our students to move into.
  • Identity/branding: We need to know who we are and define what is unique and distinctive about UNC Asheville. This will require both internal and external conversations. What does it mean to be a public liberal arts institution? How is UNC Asheville different from other COPLAC schools?

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Meet with the full Faculty Senate for their input and to respond to their questions.
  • Listen as broadly as possible, cast a wide net, but have a small group for the in- depth, serious conversations.
  • Help people see themselves in the future. Some may be anxious about change, and the process needs to help them to see how their aspirations may contribute to building the future.
  • Although outside factors must be considered, articulate a vision that is good for the University, not reactive to the system and the economy.
  • Engage external audiences including the Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, Legislators, local business leaders, alumni, etc.
  • The Strategic Planning Task Force should not represent constituencies, but rather have the best thinkers who can look at where the rest of the world is heading and how we move forward.
  • Be aspirational! It’s better to fall short of a big goal than succeed only at small goals. Big bold ideas can attract funding.

Chancellor's Staff Advisory Council

Comments on planning:

The existing strategic plan was viewed as positive; people used it and referred back to it regularly.

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Growth: Does UNC Asheville need to grow? Growth increases revenue, but without needing to grow the staff too much. We should continue to purchase land to support expansion.
  • Reputation/visibility: UNC Asheville has a better reputation outside of Asheville than in town. When people visit they are impressed because they had no idea we were doing so much. We need to communicate more so that people understand all that we do.
  • Defining liberal arts: Some people assume it’s a political statement, “liberal.” We need to educate the community on what a liberal arts education is and the benefits it provides.
  • Evaluating results: Education is changing and there is more demand for evidence, results, and outcomes.
  • Diversity and inclusion: In addition to embracing the diversity of the student body, it is critical to have faculty and staff that reflect that diversity. Asheville isn’t diverse in a multicultural way, but the student body has had a big increase in multicultural students who need to feel welcome.
  • Salaries and benefits: It is difficult to recruit and retain people if salaries are below market target rates. Benefits have been reduced and aren’t as attractive as they could be. Asheville’s cost of living is high and housing is expensive, but UNC Asheville’s salaries do not match that standard. Sometimes people are willing to take a pay cut to move to Asheville, but that’s not an effective long-term strategy. People stay because it’s an amazing institution with amazing students.
  • Technology: UNC Asheville has been building a technological infrastructure that can support growth. Over the next 5 years there will be a need for additional growth, more technology to adapt to changes in teaching style, more bandwidth because of the increased number of devices. Attracting and retaining employees in areas like IT is challenging, and it will be important to address this to keep up with changing needs.
  • Generational change: Significant retirements are expected among faculty and staff in the next few years, and we need to do more succession planning for generational turnover.
  • Transparency is critical; keep the process honest and open.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Communication is very important throughout the process.
  • This is a good time to be planning; people are more open to change. The Chancellor is a dynamic presence and people are waiting to follow her in new directions.
  • Keep the plan simple and recognize the challenges of implementation.
  • Make everyone feel they are part of the new plan. Hold open forums, as they did with the Chancellor hiring process. People want to participate and make their voices heard. Plan for lots of involvement and multiple sessions.
  • Have input, and then use that information to inform closed discussions of the smaller Strategic Planning Task Force. At the same time, keep everyone updated on the process. Build trust so people don’t feel closed out.

Faculty Senate Executive Committee

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Growth: How do we grow but keep being a close-knit community? We need to hold on to what makes UNC Asheville special. We also need to define our centers of excellence and focus on them.
  • Community relations: How can we continue to strengthen and expand our relationships with the community?
  • Changing student body: We need to address how the composition of the student body is going to evolve. What will be the balance of residential and non- traditional students? How do we meet their different needs? What is the best way to admit freshmen and get them through the first year successfully?
  • Undergraduate research: Undergraduate research is a significant strength. How can we build on that and continue to improve it?
  • Affordability: How do we keep this education affordable? Related to that is the fact that Asheville has a very high cost of living. Faculty and staff are under financial stress because of the cost of living here.
  • Relationship with the UNC system: How do we best take our mission to the state, and how much do we need to negotiate our mission with the state? With this plan we have a great opportunity to lead, and to be clear about our mission and roles.
  • Evaluation: We need to look at ourselves more critically and be sure that we are evaluating ourselves realistically. The dashboard, while well intentioned, was not very useful to most people; we need measures that will allow us to do things such as promote more rigor in undergraduate research. How can we build on our faculty strengths in learning outcomes?
  • Faculty: How can we use faculty time efficiently and productively, and evaluate faculty fairly? How can we become more efficient and create some relief for faculty?
  • Understanding a liberal arts education: We need to help people understand that faculty members are both scholars and educators, and they need strong support for both teaching and research. The University needs to support both senior and junior faculty, and find ways to use time efficiently and keep workloads manageable.
  • Visibility: We have a lot of good will. How can we build on this strength? How can we ensure that everyone knows about UNC Asheville? We have a significant strategic opportunity to take what we are already doing well and make sure people know it better.
  • Resources: We need to identify ways to attract more resources. Class sizes are going up, and we are asking a lot of junior colleagues. We need to use resources wisely and ensure that when we have things like sabbaticals and other people aren’t penalized.
  • Quality: We should aim to be the #1 public liberal arts college in the country. How should we do that?

Comments on the planning process:

  • Faculty who are involved in the process should encourage colleagues to come to this with an open mind and bring their own ideas, stories, and aspirations.
  • Identify meaningful ways to engage faculty. Some examples:
    • Attend a chairs’ meeting, but also organize small group faculty conversations, where people might talk more openly and take risks.
    • Offer talking points for departments/subgroups so that everyone has the same points and can bring up topics at different meetings. Have the same conversations across departments and funnel back the information.
  • Ensure that there is follow through, and meaningful ways to measure progress. Annual updates and discussions will be important to assess how we are doing.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Be bold and inspirational.
  • Use the UPC and engage faculty.
  • Opportunity: Two new administrators with fresh eyes. This presents an opportunity to change things that might have held us back. Recognize that it’s good to question what and how we do things.

Trustees and Other Boards

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Leverage the acquisition of new property: UNC Asheville has recently acquired a significant amount of property, with a state appropriation. We need to think about how to use it. The land is highly visible, and we have the opportunity to use it strategically, showcase what we do, and partner with the community.
  • Alumni: We have the opportunity to do more with alumni, who haven’t kept up with how relevant UNC Asheville is today. Many alumni stay in state, and we should connect with them and involve them in things like capital campaigns.
  • Liberal arts education: We need to do more to promote the value of a liberal arts education and articulate the practical and creative advantages of a liberal arts education. We also need to get more people to think of UNC Asheville as the people’s liberal arts university. People need to understand that the student gets a complete experience that includes such topics as healthcare, mechatronics, or engineering. We need to be both the public institution that serves Asheville and the mission-driven public liberal arts institution of North Carolina.
  • Visibility and communications:
    • We need to reach out to the Governor and the general assembly and make sure that we have effectively communicated that UNC Asheville serves the whole state, not just western North Carolina, with a top quality liberal arts education.
    • Although there has been progress in communication and branding in the past five years, we need to do more, track more and see what is making a difference.
  • Community connections/external opportunities:
    • We need to find more ways to connect with people in the community who think that education is important. We need a consistent message for the Foundation, for trustees, for other supporters.
    • Chamber of Commerce meetings are focusing on high tech, a perfect match for mechatronics. We can develop students for the labor force and attract businesses here with high paying jobs.
    • Get the Chamber and other groups to campus more often, perhaps they could meet on campus, so they can know our faculty and students and our strengths
    • Make UNC Asheville a convening entity around real issues that relate to what’s going on in the world, in our programs, in cutting edge thought, in the community.
    • Should we start a leadership development program for businesses to send people here? Perhaps partnering with Biltmore’s Center for Corporate Development
    • Kellogg Center: this could be a center of excellence, perhaps used for leadership development. It is a resource and we need to find a strategic way to use it.
    • The Key Center for Service and Civic Engagement is important. Can we partner with Biltmore and others?
    • Focus on excellence: What are the areas in which we are or can become excellent? How do we leverage them
    • NEMAC information is only available here;that’s a significant asset.
    • North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness:There are many opportunities to grow this, but we have to earn the right to that name and build recognition for what we do.
  • Student experience: We must ensure that the student experience is exceptional, at a price that is affordable. How do we define a stellar student experience? It must include connections with the larger community.
  • Growth: We need managed growth that gives us the best in both academic programs and finances/resources to give us sustainability and prosperity to continue to do what we do well.
  • Graduate programs: There have been many conversations about graduate programs. It is time to identify graduate programs that meet the needs of students and also respond to the community. What programs are in keeping with our mission and areas of expertise? What strengths can we leverage to create graduate programs that serve the needs of the community?
  • Foundation: We need to identify ways to engage the Foundation board more, and engage the Foundation and the University in working more closely together.
  • Ambassadors: We have many ambassadors, including the Board of Trustees, the Foundation board, the Bulldog Athletic Association, the National Alumni Council, and the Parent Council. How can we best engage them?

University Planning Council (UPC)

Comments on planning:

The last plan took a long time; it’s good this process is shorter. This plan needs to include meaningful ways to measure progress.

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Diversity: There was a strong focus on diversity in the last plan, and this is still needed. UNC Asheville has made progress, and this plan needs to pick up on that and leverage it. It is essential that the campus be welcoming to students and faculty of color and to other underrepresented populations.
  • Master plan: UNC Asheville needs a comprehensive master plan, and this should be derived from the strategic plan. It is essential to focus on the master plan and physical and infrastructure needs, as well as developing a case statement for capital campaign.
  • Implementation: How do we make sure that this plan is realistic and is implemented? We need to ensure that the plan is operationalized and allows for ongoing assessment of progress on larger goals.

Comments on the planning process:

  • Have a couple of open student forums, at the beginning of the process and when there is a draft to review, to solicit their input. In addition, maintain ongoing communication with students on progress.
  • Use technology to reach out to students (and others). Is it possible to identify a couple of key questions people could respond to on line, or by accessing a screen in an area of high traffic? Any outreach would also need to reach commuter students.
  • Engage students in thinking big about the future of the institution, and encourage them to come with aspirations and their best ideas for future. This process is not about fixing problems, but about agreeing on a desired future and creating a strategy for moving in that direction.
  • Reach out to faculty in multiple ways:
    • Department meetings, meetings of division chairs, Faculty Senate, etc.
    • Once there is a draft, go through the chair and program directors meetings to department for feedback
  • Involve staff, especially front line. There is no real forum for them to meet, so we will have to reach out to them, including different shifts as needed.
  • Use technology to get input, foster participation from all appropriate audiences.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Be true to our roots as a public liberal arts institution.
  • Identify a manageable number of goals, or pillars of excellence to focus on big items. Recognize that we cannot be good at everything, and we must make choices. Keep those goals in front of people.
  • Consider social responsibility, reputation risk management.
  • Be the healthiest campus in the state.
  • Be global, but don’t lose the fact that this is Asheville, we want to be connected at the local level.
  • Use the strategic plan to drive all other planning efforts.

Center Directors

About Centers

Centers are different than academic departments or staff functions, and their roles and relationships are important to UNC Asheville’s identity and programs. Centers have some unique needs that should be addressed:

  • Coordination: Outreach efforts are not consistent and coordinated across centers, and sometimes one group doesn’t know what another is doing. This can look disorganized to the community, where the University is considered a single entity. This is a problem for fundraising, when a center approaches someone and is told we already gave to UNC Asheville.
    • There is room for more collaboration, opportunities to do more collectively. How do we orchestrate that for maximum effect, while still providing the centers with autonomy?
    • We need a consistent message across centers. We are the community’s window into the University and the University’s window into the community. Many people are looking for ways to connect with the University, and centers provide that.
    • There is a need for greater coordination among centers. NEMAC’s downtown center has been open for six years. How can other centers use this location and space?
  • Funding: Centers have different funding mechanisms and need to focus on their own needs. It can be challenging to look beyond that.
    • Are there ways to collaborate on funding streams?
    • Can centers provide consulting services, take the centers’ expertise and sell it back to the community?
  • Role within UNC Asheville: Centers need a clear and shared understanding of how they fit with the rest of the University and how to work more closely together. Center members need to be more aware of connections and opportunities, such as for students to do research or internships or be mentored. Center leaders need to know the University better and be better known within the University community.

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Community connections: A huge percentage of graduates stay in the area, so there is a growing need to keep our connection with them. Centers can be a portal for connecting, linking with the community.
  • Convener role: The centers and UNC Asheville can be a convener of community conversations, focused on issues facing the community and the nation, from kindergarten through retirement. This could include issues such as affordable housing, the Black Lives Matter movement, research, etc. UNC Asheville could be recognized for having the conversations that lead to solutions.
  • Diversity: UNC Asheville needs a multi-pronged approach to recruiting and retaining more students, faculty, and staff of color, and more Jewish students.
    • Focus on student recruitment; build a critical mass of students of color.
    • At the same time, focus on recruiting and retaining faculty of color, and their families. This will require working broadly with the community to ensure that faculty and staff families have appropriate opportunities for professional and social lives.
    • Recruit and retain more Jewish students, and consider a Jewish Studies program in the curriculum. This ties in well with the University’s history, and provides opportunities to support diversity efforts and engagement of Jewish students.
  • Future of liberal arts: UNC Asheville has the opportunity to define the future of a liberal arts education and what it means in the 21st century. It is not just problem solving and critical thinking, but also the ability to apply those skills to different areas, to connect with business and the community. CEOs want to hire people who can think, problem solve, and communicate.
  • Academic programs: Should we have an urban studies program, given our location? Should we have a Jewish studies program, given our history? How do we focus on both the global needs of the disciplines and the local needs of the disciplines?
  • Libraries: Libraries are still intellectual centers of universities but their roles and approaches are evolving. How can our library be leveraged to relate to new student paradigms? How can the library be more closely associated with the whole of UNC Asheville?
  • Student experience: Students are experiencing huge pressures: the desire to do good things in the world, the desire to do well in classes, the need to support themselves, the need to manage technology. All of these things interrupt their ability to focus. It’s overwhelming them, and we need to help them think through the demands on their lives. Do we have a new model for students? It is more important than ever that students have strong role models and wise counselors to help them navigate this complex reality.

Student Government Representatives

Topics that will be important in planning:

  • Strengths: UNC Asheville has several significant strengths that will be important to preserve and enhance as part of planning.
    • The most significant strength comes from the strong relationships between professors and students.
    • The quality of the professors and the education offered is excellent, and this needs to be supported and encouraged.
    • Student research is excellent, and closely related to the relationships between faculty and students. If you have a mentor, s/he will work closely with you.
    • Student Affairs programming is great for those who choose to be involved.
    • The University’s new leadership is more inclusive to diverse people, including diversity of race, background, and gender orientation.
  • Weaknesses: At the same time, several weaknesses should be addressed in planning.
    • Overall communication across boundaries, on the macro level, is inadequate. Dissemination of information from the administration and faculty to students as a whole is inconsistent.
    • There is an inconsistency in the quality of courses and teaching.
    • Lack of accessibility for disabled students.The physical campus is challenging to those with disabilities.
    • It can be difficult to find a mentor when you come in, and students could use help figuring this out.
    • Student Affairs needs to do more to reach out to students who don’t live on campus and engage them.
      • We need ways to ease the transition of transfer students
      • It would be helpful to create a more inclusive community for non-traditional students. They have different needs and require different resources than students who live on campus.
  • Racial diversity: This is a major challenge for faculty, staff, and students. Students of color don’t always see themselves fitting in here, even though the number of families of color has increased. Students of color don’t feel the University has made this a priority. Although the current Chancellor has a vision of a more diverse and inclusive community, this vision is not understood across the campus. There are few opportunities for Native American students, although this has improved somewhat. What would make a difference?
    • Inclusion, in the classroom, in sports, the cafeteria, the bookstore. More offerings should be inclusive, appropriate for people who come from different backgrounds.
    • Rework the curriculum to make it more inclusive.
    • Make marginalized students know they are represented, through the music played at sports events or in the cafeteria, etc.
    • Increase and improve wheelchair access on campus.
    • Teach people to practice diversity. Diversity intensive classes should relate to the diverse people on this campus.
    • Ensure that people feel safe in the classroom and on campus.
  • Future of UNC Asheville: Some aspects of the desired future should be considered in planning discussions. For example:
    • Ways to increase dramatically the number of people of color.
    • Greater sense of community, school spirit, university ownership.
    • Maintaining the sense of community, with some growth to provide more resources, but only growth that will continue to support the sense of community and the close relationships between faculty and students.
    • Environmental sustainability in our infrastructure and operations.
    • Cost effectiveness – the knowledge that the money spent on a degree is well spent, and the degree is valuable and will yield a high return.
    • Improved visibility and reputation.

Comments on the planning process:

  • Convene student forums in multiple locations, at multiple times. Consider tying to curriculum or providing food/drink as incentives to participate.
  • Use technology to get input from students (the Chancellor search used an electronic survey, which was appreciated).
  • Approach student organizations to ensure a cross section of input.
  • Provide venues where students can complete an online survey, or talk with a member of the Planning Task Force

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Involve the community of Asheville.
  • Show what the University has to bring to Asheville.
  • Provide advance notice for students. Inform them this process is happening.
  • Communicate clearly, concisely, and often.
  • Use students to communicate, like SGA. People respond better to student led initiatives and they will respond if we say we want this information.