University appoints new chancellor

UNCA Chancellor Anne Ponder poses in front of Ramsey Library. Photo by Jorja Smith – Multimedia Editor

By A.V. Sherk – asherk@unca.edu – News Editor | Aug. 27, 2014 |

After nine years of service as UNC Asheville’s chancellor, Anne Ponder announced her plans to retire and passes the position to Mary Grant, currently president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Grant assumes her new post Jan. 5, 2015, leaving behind her a 12-year legacy with the MCLA.

“What’s really one of the most exciting things about this opportunity to me is that it’s all about where you’re going. UNC Asheville is a very strong institution to build upon and that’s what exciting; to come in, to learn a place, to get to know the people, to find the opportunities ahead and to do that together. I’m just eager to get there, to take this very strong place and work together, collaboratively. Because one thing that I know — and I know Chancellor Ponder knows it very well — is that you don’t do this work alone,” Grant said.

Ponder said her excitement about the decision stems from the announcement of chancellor-elect Grant, and mentioned she had envisioned Grant as her replacement early on.

“I am delighted with the appointment of chancellor-elect Grant. When I announced my retirement, back in the winter so that we would have time and the opportunity to seek the next generations of leaders for UNC Asheville, Mary Grant was one of the people that I had in mind,” Ponder said.

Ponder also said she saw Grant’s experience and passion for liberal arts education well-fitted to UNCA.

“She is one of the finest leaders in higher education. She understands the public liberal arts university and she is excited and ready to get going,” Ponder said. “(Grant) has a big chunk of the most influential and powerful years of her professional life ahead of her and I am very excited that she’ll be able to bring not only that vigor but also dedication. She’s already been president of a COPLEC institution for a dozen years and has some stunning experience before that. She is really an extraordinary and perfect choice for Asheville at this point. I know that you will make room in your heart for her just as you have for me.”

James Whalen, president of UNCA’s Student Government Association, said certain key skills make up an ideal chancellor for UNC Asheville.

“The new chancellor must understand that the university exists to serve students and must be primarily concerned with student health and success. She must understand and effectively communicate the value of the liberal arts. Finally, in the current climate she must have the experience and know-how to raise money and work with politicians to grow and strengthen the university,” Whalen said.

Summarizing her nine years into the corporeal and conceptual, Ponder said some of her accomplishments range from residence halls to the Sherrill Center.

“The building of Zeis science and multimedia building – its completion and equipping. The building of the Sherrill Center and what that means for the campus. We invested, in the last nine years, over $100 million in building and infrastructure. We also acquired 58 acres of additional property which is great,” Ponder said.

The careful design and completion of Overlook Hall became the environmentally-friendly residence hall to Ponder’s personal favorite achievement, according to the chancellor.

“But then there are the things that I’m proud of that are really important culturally to the university that you may think of as intangible. We are much more sustainable university, we’re a much more diverse and inclusive university than we were nine years ago. We have during that time doubled the endowment despite the recession and the quality and competitiveness of our students and our graduates and alumni are moving forward nationally.”

Since Ponder accepted the position as chancellor, the number of enrolled minority students has nearly doubled, from 262 in 2005 to 427 in 2013. Minorities make up 11.8 percent of the 3,628 total headcount, leaving considerable room for improvement. Even with the strategic plan goals put in place by Ponder in 2008, the few benchmarks UNCA continues to fall short of include the retention of underrepresented faculty and students. The gap from the goal number of “underrepresented students, faculty and staff describing UNC Asheville as a ‘welcoming place’ to learn/teach/work” is more than 5 percent, according to the UNCA website.

Whalen said he sees room for growth in UNCA’s future in safety and assault prevention as well.

“The university could benefit greatly from more organized student involvement, doubling down on liberal arts as our image, increasing our competitive edge, expanding physically and academically, and a reinvestigation into the meaning of ‘public university.’ New ideas on student costs, university funding, campus safety and sexual assault prevention could all go a long way at UNC Asheville,” Whalen said.

According to Whalen, the biggest threats to students fall under debt and violence.

Grant said her college experience as an undergraduate at MCLA gave way to a path of leadership.

“I am a graduate of the institution I now am president of, so, like my students, like the students in Asheville, one of the things that just made all the difference in the world to me was the ability to get to know who my faculty were and for them to get to know me.”

Grant also said she never consciously planned on becoming a chancellor, but instead looked for her best opportunities to make a difference.

“I think I learned it was by working to change the conditions under which our communities operate and our students are educated. One of the things I know firsthand, I just know it deeply, is that public higher education, public liberal arts education, is an education that changes lives. It changed mine. I see it happen with my students and I know it’s happening at Asheville.”

As time went on, Grant said she felt inspired to become the source of positive change within her community and, eventually, as an administrative leader, according to the chancellor-elect.

“Education became a real passion for me early in my career and I worked within it in different ways. As I got deeper in, I thought, ‘You know, there are ways I could make an even bigger difference.’ So I moved into the opportunity to make a difference in how an institution works, how you get resources and how to support the people doing that work. It became one way to continuing to support my passion — the transformation that happens when people have access to excellent education.”

Grant said she is not only excited to begin her career as chancellor, but also to explore Asheville and enjoy the atmosphere of Western North Carolina.

“Some of the things that I love to do are to hike, to bike and to be outside. To me, getting to know the people who are part of a community, and when I mean community I’m talking about campus, I’m talking about the city, I’m talking about that area. To me, getting to know the people who are there, the people who care about this place, that is fun.”

 

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