NCSU set to announce chancellor

Randy Woodson, Purdue University's provost, is UNC President Erskine Bowles' first choice.

Staff WritersJanuary 7, 2010 

Randy Woodson

  • CAREER: Provost, Purdue University, since 2008; Dean of Agriculture at Purdue, 2004-2008; Associate Dean of Agriculture and Director of the Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue, 1998-2004; various faculty and administrative positions, Purdue University and Louisiana State University.

    EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in horticulture from the University of Arkansas; master's degree in horticulture and a doctorate in horticulture/plant physiology from Cornell University.

    FAMILY: Woodson and his wife, Susan, have three children.

A longtime Purdue University administrator is expected to be named the next chancellor at N.C. State University.

William "Randy" Woodson, Purdue's current provost, is the top choice of UNC President Erskine Bowles and will likely be hired Friday morning by the UNC system's Board of Governors, four university and government sources confirmed. The sources did not want to speak publicly about the selection until after the board's vote.

For months, a search committee has conducted a secret process to find the next leader of the state's largest university following last year's shakeup at the highest levels of the campus.

Board chairwoman Hannah Gage declined to comment on the status of the search Wednesday, but the university system released an updated agenda for Friday's meeting that includes a chancellor election. No other university system campus is on the cusp of hiring a new chancellor.

Members of the NCSU search committee have also declined to comment this week.

Woodson, 52, reached Wednesday night by a reporter with the Lafayette Journal & Courier, declined to answer questions about the NCSU job. "I am not able to comment," Woodson said.

He said that he was traveling, but when asked whether he was in North Carolina, declined to say where he was.

Purdue is in central Indiana and, like NCSU, is a large, public, land-grant university. Woodson has been Purdue's chief academic officer since May 2008; prior to that he spent four years as dean of the agriculture school there. He began his Purdue career in 1985 as a horticulture professor.

He would succeed James Oblinger, who resigned last June amid questions over his role in the hiring of former first lady Mary Easley. James Woodward, the former UNC-Charlotte chancellor, has served as NCSU's leader in the interim and has been a steadying force.

Oblinger was paid $420,000 a year. Woodson's current salary is $309,000. His pay is unchanged from last year due to a university salary freeze to help cope with the budget problems.

If hired, Woodson would come to NCSU following a tumultuous year for the university. Because of the fallout from the Easley hiring and a related federal investigation, NCSU suffered a blow to its reputation and a crisis of leadership. Besides Oblinger, the provost and trustee chairman also resigned. At the same time, North Carolina's public universities endured staff layoffs and cuts during the state's budget crunch. Funding difficulties are likely to linger for the university system and for NCSU, which has more than 31,000 students and 8,000 faculty and staff.

As provost, Woodson oversees Purdue's academic enterprise, hammering out department budgets and directing campus deans. But he has not had experience at the helm of a large campus, answering to competing interests, including legislators, alumni, students and athletic boosters. A colleague said Wednesday night that he will surmount that challenge.

'Universally respected'

"Randy is, I think it's fair to say, universally respected and liked here and it's a significant loss for us, and a big gain for you," said Michael Dana, a professor in Purdue's Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. He has known Woodson since 1985, when Woodson first came to the university.

Woodson's talent and charisma are so obvious that he rocketed up the career ladder at Purdue, seldom being able to settle into a new role long before being plucked for a higher post, said Dana.

Woodson is particularly skilled at the delicate job of forging consensus among headstrong academics, said Dana.

"He's very good at bringing these strong personalities together and taking their input and making everyone feel like they're on the same page, whether it's about hiring decisions, new departments, or whatever," he said. "And he values people's opinions, but isn't afraid to make a decision."

Woodson is familiar with budget turmoil: He's one of the point men in Purdue's fight to handle a projected $30 million deficit in its next two-year budget cycle, which starts in 2011, according to stories in the Journal & Courier. And it may have its current budget cut too, as state leaders are expected to announce cuts soon of $45 million spread across the university system. Woodson is co-chairman of a Purdue committee charged with finding to cut spending.

As a researcher, Woodson has done extensive work in the field of plant science. He and his research group have published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, according to Woodson's biography on the Purdue University Web site.

Woodson has proven a popular provost because of the emphasis he has placed on the value of teaching and research, said Howard Zelaznik, chairman of Purdue's faculty.

Zelaznik, who could not confirm Wednesday that Woodson was taking the NCSU job, said faculty members at Purdue were happy with Woodson's leadership.

"I can say with full confidence that there is never a negative word about him," said Zelaznik, a health and kinesiology professor.

"He's been a wonderful provost. He thinks like a faculty member first and like an administrator second. It's a great thing from a university's perspective."

Woodson became Purdue's agriculture dean in 2004. He was an associate dean before that, during which time research money from external sources increased from $25 million in 1998 to more than $40 million in 2004, according to a Purdue news release.

Staff writers Rob Christensen and Jane Stancill contributed to this report.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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