On Tuesday, March 23, NC State will host a farewell reception to honor and celebrate Chancellor Jim Woodward, whose higher-education experience and calm demeanor helped bring an air of stability and transparency to the university he first served as an engineering professor six decades ago. The free event is open to all NC State faculty, staff, students, fans and alumni, and will begin at 4 p.m. in Talley Student Center’s second-floor lobby.
In advance of Tuesday’s celebration, Dave Pond of University Communications asked Chancellor Woodward to reflect on his return to campus, and the future of NC State under the guidance of Chancellor-elect Randy Woodson, who will assume office on April 5.
You returned to NC State during a time of crisis – what was the key to your success in helping to calm the seas and right the ship, so to speak?
I’m always hesitant to talk about my success, because any accomplishments that have happened since I’ve been here have been achieved through the involvement and the support of many people. You pick any topic, and it’s not my success, but our success. I found an institution with very, very good people committed to it, committed to its future and a willingness to work – whatever the topic was – to deal with it. So, the key to the success is what you find in many organizations, and that’s good people. Clearly, that is the case here at NC State.
I had an advantage over others who might have been asked to come in. First, I knew the University of North Carolina system, and I knew the state. But more importantly, I knew a lot about this university. I had great respect for the people that were here, and great respect in aggregate for the university, so I came here understanding on day one that there were good people to work with. I made the comment many times – especially in the early months – that the good people who did the real work of the university here on May 1, 2009, were the same people who were here on June 1, on July 1, and so on. The only thing that changed is the person in the chancellor’s office.
Your tenure as UNC Charlotte’s chancellor spanned three decades. Notable differences in tenure aside, was there anything about the chancellorship at NC State that was surprising or different than you expected?
There were no surprises in the sense that though UNC-Charlotte is a smaller university, it is a university, with similarities in system, structure and in activities. I believed that there were very good people here at NC State. I had over the years watched the hires and the ability of this institution to attract and keep outstanding faculty. What I found was a better faculty than I had recognized.
The measure of that has to do with the very dramatic growth in research grants and contracts this year. We’re up more than 20 percent – discounting government stimulus money – in a year following no salary increases and a reduction in the number of people here. Yet our faculty, with the support of everybody else on campus, has dramatically increased the proposals submitted and the grants and contracts received. I expected to find a great faculty, but this is certainly a better faculty than I realized before I got here.
As you reflect on your time as NC State chancellor, how do you feel about what you’ve been able to accomplish?
I feel good about what’s happened. My major responsibility in working with colleagues on campus was to bring an environment of stability to the university so that people would wake up in the morning and feel good about going to work, work all day and go home, thinking, “Boy, I had a good day today.”
We brought back an internal environment that was supportive of our people doing their work, and that returned very quickly here. Did I contribute to that? Probably, but let me say again – many people were engaged in that. That was the most important achievement, because this university is here for core purposes – that’s teaching, research and service – and if the people who do those tasks devote themselves totally to those tasks, then our university will have better served the state of North Carolina.
There were other projects such as the chancellor’s house, and the very important renovation and expansion of the student center was critical. We have to continue to build our fund-raising activities. I’ve been especially pleased with the relationship of the Faculty Senate and other groups on campus. It’s been a good nearly 10 months, but if I look back and think about what was the most important thing, it was the early reestablishment of a stable, positive environment in which the people of NC State could do their work.
Is that what you are most proud of as well?
[Laughing] Well, I’m very proud of that, but I am also very proud of the fact that I’m the only chancellor that has never lost a football game to UNC-Chapel Hill, never lost a home basketball game to Duke, and the only chancellor that has a better-than-.500 batting average in both men’s and women’s ACC basketball tournaments. That’s my real legacy.
How would you like to see the university continue to grow under Chancellor-elect Randy Woodson?
This is a university with great opportunity, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility. NC State is the most important university in the state of North Carolina, and to carry out those responsibilities and take advantage of the opportunities, we have to continue to grow our research and outreach programs. We have to grow in size and continue to strengthen those areas that we know are important to the future well being of the state.
I am confident that Randy Woodson brings an understanding of what needs to be done here. Quite frankly, it was those opportunities that attracted him here. I would hope to see, and fully expect to see, a continued development across the board for this campus – research, size, reputation and so forth – under his leadership.
What advice would you, or have you given, the incoming chancellor-elect?
Don’t lose any football games to UNC-Chapel Hill or basketball games to Duke. All kidding aside, I really think highly of him and his wife, Susan, and they are going to be a great addition to this community. What I’ve told him is that I would give him advice on any subject, but he would have to ask me. Furthermore, I would respond to a request only if he promised me that he would ignore the advice if he didn’t like it.
Clearly, I’ve talked with him, at his request, about many of the issues, topics and opportunities for NC State, and would fully expect to continue to do that after he assumes office here.
As your time on campus draws to a close, do you have any advice for NC State students?
Be proud of being part of this university. Be excited about the fact that you’ve entrusted your education to the university, and be assured that the university will fulfill its obligation to provide you with a superb education and therefore a superb opportunity for a rich, full personal and professional life.
What would you say to NC State faculty and staff members?
I’ve always thought that there were two principal criteria in considering a job, no matter what level. Number one: Is the job worth doing, and can it be done? You look at any job at NC State – and that includes the chancellor to any other position on campus – these are jobs worth doing because of the importance of this institution to the state, to our country and to the world. For this university to do what it needs to do, everybody here has an opportunity and an obligation to contribute. So, it’s a job worth doing – no matter where you are at NC State.
The job can be done because of the leadership that this institution has enjoyed, and because we are in a state that understands the importance of higher education to its well-being.
Regardless of where you are at this institution or if you are considering a job here, come to NC State – this is a place where you can succeed in a job that’s worth doing.
A year from now, five years from now, or twenty years from now, how would you like to be remembered by NC State faculty, staff, students and alumni as it pertains to your time as chancellor?
It’s so hard to talk about legacies. I really hope Randy Woodson is remembered as the chancellor who really accelerated the development of NC State. To the extent that I’m remembered, I hope it’s that I came in, helped stabilize the university and maybe nudged it a little bit along the direction that it needed to go, but then Randy Woodson took up the position and truly accelerated that development.
What’s next for you?
It’s back to the lake house. Right now, I’ve got a two-week hiking trip planned for Scotland – my son and I have hiked somewhere in the world every year for many years – and then for each of two granddaughters, I’ve got a trip lined up to take them someplace special. They are 14 and 16, and for several years, I’ve let them pick out several places they are interested in, but I won’t tell them where we are going until we get to the airport. It’s a lot of fun to talk to them about where they want to go and them try to guess, but they don’t find out until we get to the airport. So, I’ll take each of them on a trip this summer, and I look forward to being in Scotland for a couple weeks in the latter part of June and the beginning of July. I’m ready to go.
Going forward, will NC State remain a big part of your life?
Well, I have a red jacket and I need opportunities to wear it, so I fully expect to be invited back to many of the ball games and social functions. Certainly, I hope I’ll be invited back when the new chancellor’s residence is dedicated and fully expect to be invited back when the Talley expansion is completed and we celebrate those projects.
NC State has always been an important part of my life and my wife’s life. Though we haven’t been here full-time for many, many years, when we were here, it was our first job out of the Air Force. We came here with three small children, we bought a house, and some of the most memorable photographs we have are those of our children playing in the snow out front of that house. There are emotional ties to this institution for my wife and me that go back many, many years, and certainly, those emotional ties have been strengthened during the past 10 months.