UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller is headed to Wisconsin.
Monday afternoon, UNCW announced Miller’s appointment as Chancellor-elect of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay.
He officially steps down as the leader of UNCW on July 31st; his job at Green Bay begins August 1st.
The news comes after a month of very public discussions about what prompted the sudden departure.
WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn spoke with Miller about why he’s leaving, his plans at Green Bay, and why he regards his time in Wilmington with a sense of accomplishment.
RLH: What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time at UNCW?
GM: I'm just very proud of what we did. You know, in a time of budget reductions we were able to develop partnerships for community, economic development -- our Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
We were able to fund really innovative academic programs like the Applied Learning Program that we have here and a new online nursing program.
We made some headway -- some great strides down at the CREST Campus -- Marbionc and The Center for Marine Science -- to get it moving with that new facility down there.
We were able to secure full reaccreditation by SACS [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools]. And we put into play some pretty innovative back-room and business operations here which gave us a positive outlook in the Moody's ranking.
RLH: And with this newest incarnation of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, one of the things it's given birth to is Next Glass -- which is getting a lot of buzz. What do you expect to see happen with CIE over the next few years?
GM: You know, when we went to the City to ask them for funding, we said that we wanted to be judged on economic indicators -- not academic ones. And for us that meant creating jobs and creating high-growth, high-impact business and generally in the knowledge sector. And that's what we've been doing.
My expectation is that if things continue like they are, in a very short period of time this will be known nationally as one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial sectors in the country.
RLH: When you think about leaving at this point, what did you want to accomplish while you were here that you feel is unfinished?
GM: These jobs never have an end to them. I think there are some very important parts of higher education -- I'm a higher education professional -- that have to do with providing post-secondary education and specifically college degrees to first-generation students and students with varying backgrounds of academic preparation.
And I think that Wilmington does that pretty well. And I think that one of the opportunities at Green Bay for me is to delve more deeply into that.
RLH: Of course, there's been a great deal of reporting on the rift that developed between you and the Board. And much of the public discussion has centered on the decision not to cut a number of sports programs. With hindsight, was that a strategic mistake? Would you do it differently now?
GM: I think we did the right thing. I think the community clearly told us at the time that they did not want those sports cut and that they would support them. And that's proven to be the case. In fact, this athletics program is on the right foot.
We expected there to be quite a bit of community outcry about any recommendation for cutting sports because I talked to Presidents around the country who've done this, and there always is.
RLH: Is there anything else around the recent reporting of your job search and imminent departure that you think has been mis-characterized or misunderstood that you'd like to clarify?
GM: My job search included discussions with Tom Ross [President of UNC System] and members of the Board of Trustees about where I could best make my contribution and where I wanted to go given the state of higher education in the country. That's the primary driver for this decision. And the other parts of this happened at the same time. But there are always disagreements in Boards and I respect the governance process. And I think that the best thing for me -- with what I want to do with what's left of my career -- is to make a different kind of contribution than I was making here.
RLH: Chancellor Miller, thanks so much for taking the time today, and best wishes to you in your new position in Wisconsin.
GM: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you very much. You're welcome.
The reasons behind what some characterize as Gary Miller’s sudden departure are not entirely clear. While it was widely reported that a rift had developed between Miller and UNCW’s Board of Trustees, there are still questions.
Part of the explanation, according to reports in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, was Miller's decision to keep five sports programs that a committee had recommended cutting.
In hindsight, says Miller, he made the right decision to keep the programs.
"I think the community clearly told us at the time that they did not want those sports cut and that they would support them and that’s proven to be the case. And, in fact, this athletics program is on the right foot."
It’s his interest in developing new opportunities in post-secondary education, says Miller, particularly for first-generation students with varying levels of academic preparation -- that drove his decision to look elsewhere.
"I think that Wilmington does that pretty well. And I think that one of the opportunities at Green Bay for me is to delve more deeply into that and to let the very innovative faculty there start to build models around those challenges that the country has in higher education."
Miller says there are always disagreements in Boards and he respects the governance process.
Miller, who took the post at UNCW in 2011, and was formally installed in 2012, steps down officially on July 31st. He begins at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on August 1st.