By Emily Bruzzo, Editor-in-Chief
Published in print Apr. 22, 2015
Chancellor Linda P. Brady’s seven years at UNC-Greensboro were far from smooth.
With the crushing weight of the 2008 recession ushering Brady into the position and the constant push back from a faculty that lionized her predecessor, even Brady admits that her time at UNCG, marked by scandal and protest, has been difficult.
But the time has come for a new chancellor to lead UNCG and as Brady waves goodbye, the campus prepares to wave hello to her successor.
Brady, who went into early retirement due to a heart surgery, is under strict orders to rest for the next three to six months. After that, she will take the next academic year off as a sabbatical and then return to UNCG in Fall 2016 to begin teaching international relations courses in the political science department.
It’s only fitting that her story in academia ends in political science, because that’s where it started.
Brady began as a professor at Vanderbilt University in 1973; she would spend the next 20 years rising through the ranks and in the 1990s she assumed an administration role.
However, she took a hiatus from academia and worked under both the Carter and Reagan Administrations. She was a member of negotiating teams in Vienna and Geneva to help the effort to advance arms control policy.
But her time working in policymaking came to an end and she soon returned to academia. Brady says her time in international relations shaped her dramatically, and it was those experiences that help explain the pragmatism and realism with which she embraced her various leadership positions.
“Having had the experience in government, and especially having been involved in international negotiation, really helped me understand the importance of learning about the culture of the people that you’re dealing with. That, I think, served me well in each of the administrative roles that I’ve had,” Brady said.
But it’s precisely the disconnect from culture that has fueled many UNCG faculty and staff members to fight Brady and question her every step of the way.
This disconnect from culture seemed inevitable, however.
Brady says Erskine Bowles, the UNC president at the time, UNCG’s chancellor search committee and Board of Trustees were very clear about what they wanted; the issue was, the community didn’t seem to want the same things.
“They made it very clear that they wanted me to work to raise the visibility and competitiveness of intercollegiate athletics— that was something that came through loud and clear,” said Brady.
But the UNCG campus community wasn’t having it, and it didn’t take long for Brady to learn faculty and staff were discontented.
“I think after the first year or so, it became pretty clear to me that there was some incredible disconnect between what the board of trustees, the search committee and President Bowels expected to accomplish and the traditional culture of the university,” Brady explained.
“There was not a consensus around what needed to be done,” she asserted.
Brady intimated the pressure was challenging, saying, “Change is hard, no matter what. But it just became very clear after that first year; I was hearing: ‘Too much change. Too fast.’ And at the same time, I’m hearing from my boss: ‘You gotta move faster.’”
She continued, saying, “I think that the lack of consensus around the challenges facing the university and around where the university needed to move exacerbated the tensions that will always be there.”
Brady admits the miscommunication wasn’t entirely due to the lack of consensus; she takes responsibility for the gap between administration and faculty.
“An area where I believe I just was not able to be successful was to convince the campus, particularly faculty, of the need to make changes. Part of it was the budget, but part of it, frankly, related to the fact that there were, even then, beginning to be greater pressures on universities across the country,” Brady said.
“I don’t think that I was ever really able to convey that message about the importance of change and the urgency around change,” she asserted.
Change seems to be something with which UNCG struggles, and the university community’s aversion to it is almost idiosyncratic to UNCG.
“Based on my experience,” Brady said, “I have not experienced the kind of fear of change that I have experienced at UNCG. I’m not sure why that’s the case.”
Brady argues that the economic crisis put her in a weak position and the fact she followed a beloved chancellor that the community idolized certainly didn’t help.
Brady says she’s concerned for her successor, arguing that the campus community has fallen into a vicious circle of miscommunication and tension.
She says that the principle of shared governance must be upheld, but for the next chancellor to succeed some serious conversations about the extent of shared governance must be had.
“It is very clear that there are certain matters that fall strictly within the purview of the faculty,” Brady said, “But there are so many other aspects to the operation of a university that I don’t personally believe were ever intended, particularly at large institutions, to fall to faculty.”
“It is not always possible to consult everyone on the campus before making a decision, so I think part of what has to happen is a very frank and serious and open conversation, which is tough to have in the current environment, between faculty and staff and administration about the various responsibilities of each group.”
Brady contends she isn’t the only one with whom faculty members have been frustrated. Brady said about some faculty members’ feelings as regards Faculty Senate, “Their response is they don’t believe, particularly in the last few years, the senate has really focused on the core academic issues that are critically important…I think there is a sense on the part of some faculty that the senate has become so politicized that they’re just not willing to move into that environment.”
Moving forward, however, Brady says the university needs to revolutionize how it communicates with community members, not just on a philosophical level but also on a technical one.
“Clearly, sending out emails and putting things on the website isn’t efficient,” Brady asserted.
Regardless of the strife and the contention, Brady says she feels she’s taken away quite a bit from the last— far from smooth—seven years.
“I think part of what [the experience] has done is it has really reaffirmed the decision I made back in the late 1990s to go into administration in a serious way. I think for me, despite the struggle….it has really reaffirmed my belief in the value of public higher education and the importance of continuing to fight for that.”