After heavy budget cuts from the state and an unprecedented leadership crisis last year, N.C. State University has become "risk averse," said incoming NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson, vowing to jolt the university out of that defensive posture.
Speaking to a group of News & Observer editors and writers Wednesday, Woodson said he'll lead a campuswide discussionover the next year about what directions the university should take, with an emphasis on lifting its national and international reputation.
That would mean taking bold academic risks, he said, such as identifying colleges, schools or departments that will get more funding, even at the expense of others.
"The grand challenges of society now - water, climate, energy - have science and technology issues that have to be resolved, and N.C. State is in a tremendous position to be among the leading institutions in the country that address those challenges. But we can't do that if we're not strong in engineering, the physicalsciences and mathematics," Woodson said.
"So academic risk is when you step up in front of your colleagues, and put a stake in the ground and say, at the risk of offending another discipline, we're going to the next level in chemical engineering or we're going to the next level in molecular biology and the life sciences."
Woodson won't officially start work until next month, but he has identified some other goals: among them, more than tripling the university's endowment to $1 billion. NCSU has one of the smallest endowments of any research-intensive, highly-ranked university in the nation, he said.
The university's last major fundraising campaign was a success, but it focused on facilities rather than endowments to support faculty, scholarships and programs. In an era when state allocations are getting tighter, the endowment must be a high priority, he said.
The university also must increase the size of its faculty, which Woodson said is simply too small given enrollment growth. By 2017, some projections predict NCSU could have close to 40,000 students, he said.
"The size of the faculty relative to our competition and student enrollment, and the salaries of our faculty compared to our competition are two concerns right now," he said.
Asked his views on the public university system's legislated 18 percent enrollment cap for out-of-state students, he said 9 percent or 10 percent of NCSU's freshmen come from outside North Carolina.
"Do I think 18 percent makes sense?" he said. "I'd like to be there."
It's important to serve North Carolina students, he said. But one way to serve them well is to expose them to the diversity of thought that outsiders bring.
Newcomers can also be a long-term benefit to the state, because they're often fine additions to the population.
"This is a great place to live, and you can recruit talent here you wouldn't have otherwise."
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