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New UNCW Chancellor Dr. Aswani Volety working on strategic plan, campus town halls

UNCW Board of Trustees on July 29, 2022. Seated L-R: H. Carlton Fisher, Henry E. “Hank” Miller III; Chancellor Aswani K. Volety, Gidget Kidd, and Robert S. Rippy. Standing L-R: Frances “Perry” Trask Chappell; Jimmy T. Tate; Hannah-Valentina Horowitz; Jeffrey D. Clark; Malcomb D. Coley, Sr.; Kevin H. Sills; Earl F. “Hugh” Caison II; and Yousry Sayed. Not Pictured: Agnes R. Beane PHOTO BY UNCW/JEFF JANOWSKI
UNCW Board of Trustees on July 29, 2022. Seated L-R: H. Carlton Fisher, Henry E. “Hank” Miller III; Chancellor Aswani K. Volety, Gidget Kidd, and Robert S. Rippy. Standing L-R: Frances “Perry” Trask Chappell; Jimmy T. Tate; Hannah-Valentina Horowitz; Jeffrey D. Clark; Malcomb D. Coley, Sr.; Kevin H. Sills; Earl F. “Hugh” Caison II; and Yousry Sayed. Not Pictured: Agnes R. Beane PHOTO BY UNCW/JEFF JANOWSKI

On Friday, July 29, 2022, Dr. Aswani Volety gave his first chancellor’s report to the University of North Carolina Wilmington Board of Trustees.

Alongside the new chancellor, UNCW's board of trustees also saw some new appointees and a new chair, Hank Miller III, who also serves as Mayor Pro-Tem of Wrightsville Beach and vice chair, H. Carlton Fisher. The newest members are Perry Chappell, who was appointed by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, and Kevin Sills, who was appointed by North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore.

To start his first report, Volety — a UNCW former dean, faculty member, and researcher — said returning to the university was both “gratifying and humbling.” He said moving forward, his reports would be more streamlined and wouldn’t have detailed charts, tables, and statistics because he wanted to tell more of the university’s stories to the trustees. But they would continue to receive more detailed information and reports in their committee meetings and throughout the year.

Volety started his first four weeks as chancellor by going on a listening tour with students, faculty and staff, alumni, and other community groups. Volety said in the future he’d like to engage with the UNCW Faculty Senate.

“I wish we had a magic wand to give everyone what they want; but unfortunately we don’t, but nonetheless, there are things we could do collectively to make progress,” said Volety.

Following these conversations, Volety reported that those on campus and the community-at-large want him to be student-centered, extend resources and support for faculty and staff, and to engage with the community through athletics and the arts.

Volety reviewed his top priorities for the university, including holding “a lot” of town halls with the community — and establishing a strategic plan building off the work that had been started under former Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

For this strategic plan, which he plans on completing by the spring of 2023, he’s considering having a 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans, which are connected to the goals of the UNC System.

In order to measure his success toward the plan and to ensure accountability, Volety said he'd like to develop public dashboards that have specific measurements of those goals — and the costs associated with them.

Volety said it’s important that these plans be “our plans,” not just what he wants to see.

He then transitioned to explaining the UNC System’s revised funding formula.

This is funding per credit hour. Dollars in (parentheses) is negative.
This is funding per credit hour. Dollars in (parentheses) is negative.

Volety said this revised funding formula would increase support for undergraduate students and summer school; however, funding for Master’s and Doctorate programs will be significantly lower.

In his view, the university will have to evaluate the students in these levels of education — and how these new funding formulas might dictate that these programs “may need to change.”

“I know people hate it when I say this, at the micro scale, it is not a business. But at the macro scale, it is a business. Right? There are so many moving parts and a finite amount of resources. How do we optimize the use of these resources to make this institution as best as possible, recognizing that the focus is on the students?” said Volety.

A new software program, Anaplan, will help Volety and his staff to figure out the impacts of these revenues, which in turn will allow them to figure out enrollment options in the future.

Additionally, Volety said he’s turning his focus to interdisciplinary programs. He gave an example of drug development — those future workers would need to have knowledge of, for example, biology, chemistry, and data analytics in order to bring a new pharmaceutical to market.

“Whether we like it or not, analytics will permeate every aspect of our lives,” said Volety.

He’d also like to see growth in the marine science program, computer science analytics, and healthcare programs, which would produce more nurses, physician assistants, and physical therapists. He also mentioned his aim to increase the university’s financial technology programs so students are ready to join companies like nCino and Live Oak Bank.

On improving education in medicine, Volety said, “Who knows, we might have a medical school down the road.”

He added, “there is a clear sightline between curriculum and the career, bring the walls down, bring the practitioners onto the campus, which I know faculty already does."

Volety said his guiding principles are first and foremost whether his decisions are “good for students.” He also said that it’s a priority for him to ensure that what the university invests in is good for the “taxpayer who is funding us.”

Other imperatives for Volety are honing in on enrollment numbers, financials, student experience, mental health and well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

On DEI, Volety said, “I want opportunities for every individual to succeed.”

And the connection between enrollment and finances are important to Volety, as he cited that demographic trends are likely to show that student numbers will start to decline starting in 2025.

Volety ended his presentation by making commitments to faculty and staff and the overall campus community.

“I promise to listen to every perspective, take all that information into consideration and make a decision that is in the best interest of this institution. And I will give you the rationale behind the decision. Many times we will agree, but sometimes we may look at things differently, but my promise is, every decision I make is in the best interests of this institution,” said Volety. “My primary role is not to tell faculty and staff what to do; they already know what to do. My role is to work with all of you to set the vision and the direction for this institution. I will do my best to get the resources for faculty and staff, get out of their way, and let them do the job.”

Volety also took questions from returning trustees Dr. Yousry Sayed, Malcomb D. Coley, and Dr. Jimmy T. Tate. Sayed asked which programs the chancellor wanted to focus on — Volety reiterated his commitment to medicine and financial tech. Tate asked about expanding his outreach to rural areas and Coley said that his recruitment and outreach measures should extend beyond the state of North Carolina.

Newly seated Chair Hank Miller said it’s the board’s job to help Volety be successful. He then announced that the trustees were going into closed session but did not give the general statute. But did say that during this session he wanted “to hear something about you [other trustees] that nobody else knows because that's going to make us more vulnerable and more open and honest. And I look forward to serving with each and every one of you.”

Krissy Vick, media relations specialist, sent an email to clarify the statute for the closed session: “the written motion was ‘a motion, as allowed under the Open Meetings Act, to convene in closed session to prevent the premature disclosure of an honorary award or scholarship; to consider the qualifications, competence, performance, condition of appointment of a public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; to establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiations of the amount of compensation or other terms of an employment contract; and to consult with our attorney to protect the attorney-client privilege.’”

Vick said the trustees approved the personnel items and the honorary awards as discussed in closed session — but the items are not public record.

Click here to view the chancellor’s report.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR