GREENSBORO — Chancellor Frank Gilliam thinks UNC-Greensboro is heading in the right direction, but it must take some giant steps forward this year.

In a back-to-campus address to faculty that lasted nearly an hour Wednesday, Gilliam didn’t lay out a lot of specifics. The details, he said, will become more clear after the university unveils its newest strategic plan this fall.

Gilliam hit several highlights of his first year on campus. UNCG’s enrollment is up this fall for the third straight year. The Kaplan Center, the new student recreation center, opened. Voters approved the Connect NC bonds that gave UNCG $105 million for a new nursing and science building. The university got state and national recognition. The worst of state budget cuts seem to be over.

“The state of the campus is good,” Gilliam said. “Let me talk about the future.”

And so Gilliam did.

Gilliam, who celebrates his first anniversary at UNCG on Sept. 7, said universities face issues that threaten their existence.

“There are unprecedented questions being asked of higher education and public education in particular,” Gilliam said.

“Is the debt worth it?

“Will a degree actually help a student get a job in their chosen field?

“Is it the sort of career that a degree will help me … in a changing economy and a changing world?

“... Rising students and family debt is not a good thing. Longer time to completion (of a degree) is not a good thing. Making sure our students have a set of skills that we can vouch for when they get a degree from this university is a serious matter.

“I don’t think you can just dismiss these questions as politically motivated or by capitalists or kooks. There’s a kernel in there we have to pay attention to. ... It’s an opportunity for reflection and maybe help us think how we take these giant steps.

“... I’d rather take giant steps and fall rather than say, ‘Wow, let’s be 1 percent better than we were last year.’

“We’re not going to respond to these challenges taking little baby steps, little incremental steps that are safe.”

To take those giant steps, Gilliam said, professors, administrators and staff members will have to work together. There must be clear expectations and accountability. And there must be big ideas.

“I think we’re going to take giant steps. I’m confident of that,” Gilliam said. “Maybe I’m a nut, but maybe I’m not. Maybe we’re on to something.”

Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

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