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July 2003
E3 Engineering Educational Excellence
By Susanne Deitzel

     Behind the academic machinery at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is a visionary who reaches for the seemingly unattainable and makes it a reality. An engineer by degree, he is every bit the calibrator of disparate forces, and calculator of alternate resources, turning working capital and human resources into top-notch intellectual capital.

    Jim Woodward is Chancellor of UNC Charlotte, the equivalent of a CEO to the Charlotte campus. Woodward has an exalted mission for this school: to be one the finest publicly funded research institutions. He also has a fierce commitment to the city that supports it, believing it to be pivotal to the university’s success. It is very clear that his vision for the university is viewed through the pane of strategic business processes. He sees the financial fluidity of the region, its major industries and political backbone as the primary vehicles for UNC Charlotte’s growth. In turn, the university provides the research and human talent that enable the economic community to prosper and continue to fuel the institution. Woodward’s vision can be attributed to an unusual combination of impressive academic achievement and deep immersion in private sector business. He joined UNC Charlotte as its third Chancellor in 1989 after serving on distinguished faculties including the U.S. Air Force Academy, N.C. State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

     In some of his most valuable work experience, Woodward used his doctorate in Engineering Mechanics to consult several years for Rust Engineering Company, an international engineering and construction firm. This position solidified the union of his engineering discipline and business expertise. It also allowed him to keep his feet planted in the private sector. According to Woodward, “The position required me to interface between the engineering plans and the funds analysis of projects. I spent a lot of time providing capital expenditure analysis.”

     Woodward returned to the University of Alabama, serving as dean of engineering and senior vice president of Academic Affairs for five years, before accepting the chancellorship of UNC Charlotte. He recalls, “I was attracted to UNC Charlotte because it wasn’t fully developed. I saw a huge amount of potential in Charlotte, and I wanted to work hand-in-hand with its business leaders to recognize that potential.”

     Woodward places a lot of responsibility on the campus to serve its local citizens. Of the administrators who will admit to having ‘customers’, many believe the customer is a combination of the student and parent choosing the school. But Woodward says this definition is far too narrow. “The most important concept in a public institution is the word ‘public,’” he explains.

    “UNC Charlotte is here not just to educate the students and set them loose to go wherever. We have a heavy commitment to make sure that our programs are in the best interest of local industry, and that we are providing top-notch intellectual capital for businesses. The citizens of North Carolina have invested heavily in UNC Charlotte and the onus is on us to make sure we are contributing back into the local economy, thereby making it attractive for our graduates to stay in Charlotte and the surrounding areas.

 

Using Resources Wisely

     In 2000, the citizens of North Carolina voted for a $3.1 billion bond referendum for Higher Education Improvement. Of that, $192 million is currently being used to add 600,000 square feet to the campus, including 180,000 square feet designated for state-of-the-art science and technology buildings that will support and enhance The Charlotte Research Institute. The institute focuses on three programs: Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, Precision Metrology and eBusiness. These programs were thoroughly researched and designed to generate talent that will feed directly back into the state economy. With North Carolina’s preeminence in the glass fiber market, its numerous banking institutions relying heavily on security, privacy and systems, plus textiles, manufacturing and the motorsports industry, it is evident that the strategy for UNC Charlotte’s expansion was methodically engineered to the area.

     Woodward points out, “With these programs, UNC Charlotte is optimally positioned to provide the finest education, and the finest candidates in their fields, nationally and internationally. We anticipate that this will feed directly back into the regional economy.”

     Woodward has spent a lot of time developing UNC Charlotte’s size, programs, amenities and buildings to nurture its vision. In addition to the three buildings within the Research Institute, a humanities building, an admissions building, a College of Health and Human Services, a new student union, a formidable College of Education building, plus parking and facilities management buildings are planned. Add to that a chancellor’s residence, alumni center and residence halls, and that’s a lot of bricks.

 

Expanding with Growth

     Chancellor Woodward works diligently to secure funding and continue planning the programs and facilities to serve and enhance the experience of the ever-expanding enrollment at UNC Charlotte. This year the campus will accommodate more than 19,000 students, and enrollment is expected to rise to 25,000 students by 2008. Compare that to the 12,500 students at UNC Charlotte when Woodward started in 1989, and the need for expansion is evident.

     The improvements are not just for the students, however. Woodward explains, “This expansion is significant on several scales. One, these projects demonstrate a significant commitment to the community. Two, they help provide a larger pool of talent for local industry. And three, and very importantly, the new programs and space enhance the prestige of the campus, thereby making it more attractive to faculty talent.”

    He adds, “The bottom line is, you have to be able to attract good people. We compete nationally for every faculty position we have to fill. Last year we had a net gain of 50 faculty members; this year we will have a net gain of 55. If you look at our professors’ qualifications, you can’t help but be impressed. Our faculty members have superior credentials, and many of them choose this university for its vision and commitment. They see that UNC Charlotte is an institution growing in size, programs and prestige. They want to share the experience of building something important, to have their intellectual and personal vision influence the character of the university, the intellectual community and the regional community.”

     One of the ways that Woodward sought to increase the stature of UNC Charlotte on a national scale was to introduce doctoral programs. In fact, he credits this as his most significant accomplishment, as well as his most challenging. “Financing doctoral programs is incredibly expensive because of the resources necessary to run them – the equipment, technology and project funding. However,” he adds, “without the Ph.D. programs, we would not have the research base necessary to support the economic development of Charlotte.”

    Securing approval for these programs is no easy task. Adds Woodward, “The review of Ph.D. implementation must be approved by the Board of Governors for the North Carolina University System. It is my responsibility to assure that we select the right programs for proposal, to submit compelling justifications for approval, and to see that once they are created they are operating optimally.”

     UNC Charlotte started three Ph.D. programs in 1994, and has expanded to eleven to date. It has awarded 111 Ph.D.’s. Woodward anticipates increasing doctoral offerings at the rate of one program per year.

 

Raising the Stakes

     Critics say that overemphasizing research can dilute student education due to the redirection of resources and faculty. Similarly, many disagree with the idea of education being run as a business, believing that learning should be undertaken as its own reward. Woodward maintains, “I think you run the enterprise as a business. You plan properly, invest your resources in concert with that, hold people to high standards and reward them when those standards are accomplished. Then, you undergird them with an efficient management system.”

    Woodward continues, “This in no way detracts from the core nature of the university, which is to discover and communicate knowledge. Research is the discovery, teaching is the communication. There is no conflict between that core activity and running an efficient business.”

    It is difficult to argue with this. Since Woodward has been chancellor, he has secured significant resources for UNC Charlotte. Though his efforts the university’s Silver Anniversary fundraiser garnered $32 million – twice the university goal. He has raised millions in bond issues and appropriations funding, and most recently has met $90 million of a $100 million fund drive over the past three years.

    And he can ‘show you the money’. Among the results of his fundraising efforts are the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center, Irwin Belk Track and Field Center, the doubling of the Atkins Library and doctoral programs in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Biology and Information Technology, not to mention the “master plan” for the current expansion.

    He also laid the groundwork for a competitive intercollegiate athletics program. UNC Charlotte is now a member of Conference USA, which has garnered UNC Charlotte national exposure. “Athletics are the most visible university activity to the public. It’s been said that ‘Athletics are the lens though which the public sees a university.’ It is essential that we build and maintain a successful and honest athletic program, as it puts us in the spotlight and then reflects upon the whole university.”

    In addition to the buildings, programs, athletics and faculty, a consistent management style has also enabled the university to complete a totally revised General Education Curriculum. This revision was a major accomplishment, which required each department to reevaluate its own curriculum. For the project to be successful, a great synergy and cooperation was needed in what is often a very combative arena. Each department fears losing resources, especially funds, to another. To finalize this objective is remarkable; Duke University attempted it five years ago and eventually abandoned it.

 

The Budget Bear

     It is certainly no secret that the current state of the economy and deep state budget cuts are taking their toll on public universities. Yet, Woodward remains steadfastly focused on the task at hand. “The current financial difficulties will in no way impact the scope, vision or commitment to our master plan. Our plan is the right one for UNC Charlotte. It may be implemented at a slower pace than we had originally anticipated, but we fully intend to become the next major publicly funded research university.”

     He adds, “There is, interestingly, a positive side to budget cuts. Of course they are bad, because they are cuts, but they also require you to streamline the processes, and eliminate unnecessary expenditures, which increase the operational efficiency of the university. By focusing resources and increasing efficiency I believe that we have effectively minimized the impact of the budget cuts.”

     Woodward admits to some sacrifices, “We have had to increase class size, and we have had to reduce the number of sections in some offerings, which can make meeting graduation requirements more complicated. I am worried about this, but I don’t believe there has been any permanent damage. However, if these cuts were to continue I believe we could begin losing our most valuable asset – our faculty. Faculty talent is highly mobile, and UNC Charlotte educators haven’t had a decent raise in four years.”

    Woodward maintains, “If you can predict your financial situation, you can manage it. We have the highest quality, and strongest strategic planning process around. By making our own predictions from our own data, we will work to fend off any lasting damage.”

    Turning back to the positive, he adds, “Right now though, there is a very high degree of morale on campus, and the general attitude is that our expansion is making the campus and the institution a place to be proud of, and a place people want to work. The growth is a symbolic commitment to our faculty and to our city that we are going to answer the call and become a national leader. UNC Charlotte will be a distinguished university that properly serves the needs of the citizens of North Carolina and Charlotte.”

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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