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Posted on Dec 10, 2014

Leadership and Prosperity: 5 Questions for Chancellor Woodson

Leadership and Prosperity: 5 Questions for Chancellor Woodson

“Having a clear plan and a strong sense of focus has helped us remain on track during some difficult budget years.”
– Chancellor Randy Woodson

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Chancellor Randy Woodson stepped into one of the top leadership roles in higher education in the fall of 2013 when he was elected chair of the board of directors of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).

Over the summer, APLU included NC State in its second class of Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities, recognizing its commitments to public- and private-sector partnerships and to economic engagement in the state and across the country. NC State was one of 14 institutions recognized this year and reinforces the school’s mission to foster a culture of innovation on campus and strengthens the impact it makes on the communities of the state.

Woodson discusses some of the issues APLU addressed during his year as chair.

Chancellor Randy Woodson

Chancellor Randy Woodson served a year leading the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Q: First, explain what serving as chair meant to you.

APLU is the leading organization in the country representing public and land-grant universities. It’s the professional organization that all of us who serve in public higher education, particularly those of us who have the land-grant tradition, have always looked up to as representing our interest broadly in Washington. For me, personally, it’s an organization that I have always been affiliated with in different capacities, and to be elected to serve as chair of the board is for me a great honor. It’s also great for NC State because it puts our university in a position to be front and center as we discuss all the issues we face in higher education.

Looking back on the past year as chair, I believe and I hope others would say that it’s elevated NC State’s visibility to our public university peers and strengthened our reputation as a leading public university. I also think it’s given me a chance to talk to other chancellors and presidents about what NC State is doing to address some of the most pressing challenges in higher education and demonstrate that NC State is making a huge difference in our own state but also in the nation as a research, teaching and service university. It’s given me a chance to serve NC State and our fellow public universities and move us forward during a critical time in history of public higher education.

Q: What were the most pressing issues for APLU and all of higher education?

One of the reasons I was so excited to serve in that position was that there has never ever been a more critical time in the history of public universities. There are a lot of issues we are grappling with, so I think we are going to continue to be focused on affordability and how public universities can continue to be accessible and affordable to the citizens in their states. In the national debate we are currently having about return on investment, we need to ask whether colleges and universities are doing all they can to produce graduates who are valuable to the marketplace. This has become a national issue because President Obama and the Department of Education are really focused on being very transparent on the success rates of graduates of various universities, what their starting salaries are, what their job prospects are. It’s a very important time for public education and public universities to continue to remind the citizens of their states, and in APLU’s case, the nation, about the value of higher education. It’s all about the value proposition of affordability versus return on investment.

During the year, APLU worked with President Obama and the Department of Education to improve the affordability, accountability and accessibility of higher education and to continue to improve the education students receive. Many APLU members met with President Obama and his key advisors at the White House in January to announce new programs to make public universities more accessible to students and families. APLU and member universities are also in the midst of an ongoing conversation with the Department of Education about how to better measure and rank universities in terms of outcome and value. It’s important to get those metrics and measurements right, because public universities and students will react to those rankings. APLU and the member universities are also implementing new programs to improve graduation rates, learning outcomes and produce graduates that are ready for the marketplace and to be informed and engaged community members.

Q: APLU has asked Congress and the president to address the “innovation deficit,” as federal research dollars are now becoming more limited through budget cuts and sequestration. What clarity are you looking for on behalf of APLU on the research side?

I think this is the other big issue we have to address. On the education side, it is affordability and access, and on the research side, it is the key role that public universities historically have played in the “innovation economy,” that is producing not only graduates but also, through the research that they do, stimulating the economy, particularly in areas of technological innovation. So APLU is concerned about the lack of consensus in Congress on budgets for various agencies and whether Congress will pass budgets that will allow the critical investments that our government makes in research.

APLU continues to advocate for growth in federal research funding and partner with other organizations like the Council on Competitiveness that can give a strong business case perspective on why federal investments in research are critical for future economic growth and prosperity. But it goes beyond research and extends to all forms of scholarship in the humanities and the arts. APLU continues to advocate for humanities, arts and social science scholarship as well. APLU is doing a lot in this area because continuing to do fundamental and applied research and scholarship is critical to our nation’s future economic prosperity and national security.

Q: The challenges of education and research are fairly constant. What new concerns are coming over the horizon?

I think a third issue where APLU will get involved is in immigration. That’s been a big topic of conversation as people come from all over the world to study in America and then don’t always have opportunities here because of challenges with immigration. Frankly, we are facing challenges because people have come to America to work and find themselves not in the position to benefit from higher education.

APLU has engaged on the importance of high-skills immigration and the importance of making it easier for U.S.-educated students to stay and work in America. Many in Congress agree with that view. Our continued success as a country is tied to bringing the best and the brightest to stay and work in the United States.

Q: How does NC State’s strategic plan and its implementation mesh with the broader challenges and issues facing APLU?

I think it is right smack dab in the middle when you think of what we are trying to do at NC State: putting our students first, making sure they are successful and giving them the skills they need to be successful in the marketplace. We are structuring the university in a way that gets the best value out of the dollars that are invested by the state. We are working hard to have organizational excellence so that the money that we get from tuition and from state appropriations can be used as much as possible for our educational mission. And we are working hard to hire and retain faculty and staff who can move the research agenda of the university forward. I think the issues we face in the state, the strategic plan of the university, are very consistent with the issues we face nationally.

Having a clear plan and a strong sense of focus has helped us remain on track during some difficult budget years. Our Faculty Excellence Program has brought amazing talent to North Carolina to join our current faculty in moving us forward in a number of emerging fields.


Centennial Campus: Economic Engine

What do you give the research campus that has everything? In the case of Centennial Campus, nothing fits better than an award honoring the science campus as one of the nation’s most innovative and productive economic engines.

That’s exactly what North America’s oldest higher education association delivered to NC State just ahead of Centennial’s 30th birthday.

APLU, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, announced the four winners of its second-annual Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards. Georgia Tech, the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of Houston also received honors.

NC State was singled out for the “Place” award, given in recognition of “its reinvention of the very notion of what a research park should be.” Judges lauded the university for “creating a self-sustained city” on Centennial Campus, where residential and retail establishments are located near NC State research labs and industry facilities to spur collaboration.

Arial view of Centennial Campus

Judges cited Centennial’s new housing options and the Hunt Library.

The award also praised the ultramodern Hunt Library — the centerpiece of Centennial Campus — calling it “a smart library for the 21st century.”

NC State’s research chief, Terri Lomax, said the “Place” award makes perfect sense for a campus where collaboration between students, faculty and industry partners often spills out of labs into restaurants, coffee shops and greenways across the 1,200-acre campus.

“There’s no place like Centennial Campus,” she notes. “This is the place to live, learn, work and play — all in one location.”