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thorp3At the start of each school year the chancellor holds an all-day retreat with the deans and vice chancellors.  It is different every year and they have struggled to find the right format.  From my perspective today’s retreat was one of the best and I hope that we continue the same general approach in future years.  It essentially was a high-level seminar with assigned readings and discussion leaders.  Rather than have a presentation from an outside expert, we used the amazing expertise around the table to focus the discussion and generate ideas.

 The day was divided into the following four themes: (1) Operational Effectiveness: Building a More Collaborative Culture; (2) Health Care: Value, Comparative Effectiveness, and Accelerated Translation; (3) K-12 Education: Can We Provide a Rigorous Basis for All of the Ideas Out There? and (4) Innovation and Creativity: It’s Not Just about Tech Transfer.  There was a discussion leader for each theme along with a panel that started the conversation with their observations about the readings.  These broad topics are Holden’s priorities and he was using us as a focus group to generate ideas for his State of the University speech in October.  He wants Carolina to become the best managed university in the country, and he believes that collaboration is a key to making it happen.

 It is impossible to summarize a day’s worth of wide ranging discussion, but let me highlight a couple of points that seemed relevant for the School.  One of the readings that resonated with people was a short article in The Washington Post called “10 Take Aways From the Bush Years” by Bob Woodward.  It generated discussion about the need for collaboration and teamwork, along with greater truth-telling and transparency within organizations.  The School needs to continue making progress in those areas.  The Deans’ Advisory Council (DAC) tentatively has agreed to recommend that we adopt the proposal to improve our internal communication and develop more team-based and cross-functional approaches to our work.  I am glad that the University is focusing on these same issues.  The School will not reach its potential for helping state and local governments without adopting strategies that are more collaborative.  I made the point that collaboration needs to include staff and EPA professionals, not just faculty and administrators—I mentioned that one step in that direction for us was to have those folks represented on the DAC.  Several of the deans indicated that they had not included staff representatives on their senior advisory committee and now they would consider it.

 Two final points.  As we discussed health care and education, it was interesting (and disturbing) the number of times that different deans identified academic research that definitively resolved policy questions and yet either was unknown or ignored by policymakers.  This is not surprising, but it reinforces the need for an effective mechanism to link public policy research and practice.  I continue to believe that the School can help to make those connections.  The afternoon session on innovation and creativity included a discussion about how to encourage high-risk research that holds the promise of significant breakthroughs.  It was spurred by an interesting article in The New York Times called “Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe.”  There was a consensus that Carolina’s tenure and promotion system somehow needs to give people credit for “smart failures,” and it must embrace new forms of scholarly communication.  The Provost’s Office is working on the latter piece this year, which is critically important for the School as we look increasingly to different instructional technologies and online strategies.

2 thoughts on “The Chancellor’s Retreat

  1. Mike,

    Thank you for this blog. I’ve always wondered what you folks did at those retreats! I’m not surprised that you were ahead of the curve in including staff and EPA’s in senior advisory committees. Your influence with other UNC senior level administrators has always been a positive force – this is just one more example. I’m also encouraged by the themes on the Chancellor’s radar.

  2. To pick up on a response from the previous blog post made by Glen and Mike’s observation , do we need to find mechanisms to disseminate in some manner research from academia or other sources that would be of value to our clients even when it is not ours? Most traditional academics don’t get rewarded for dissemination of their work as opposed to publishing. So when Mike mentions the interesting (and disturbing) lack of connect between research and policy work, at one level I’m not surprised. Twenty-five years ago when I was in DC I worked for a consulting firm where one of our federal contracts was to try to help disseminate health policy academic research to policy makers.

    We’re used to touting our work as in Popular Government. But could we use alternate forums to more broadly highlight/point out/discuss academic work in our respective areas that would be of interest to NC practitioners? Not just our work but much more about the breadth of what is out there that we pick up on in our readings. Maybe we could have one or more blogs for dissemination of good policy research and evaluations that might be of interest to our clients. Something that might be a couple of paragraphs mentioning key findings but leave it to the reader to pursue further if they want to dig into the detail. Maybe from time to time it might be something broader such as what are the 5-10 key things academic research is able to tell us about X but which many practitioners don’t seem to know. Sort of a “This I Know..”

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