Public higher education is at a critical juncture in America, Frank Gilliam, the new chancellor of UNCG, told faculty, staff and students at Alumni House on Friday.

“How do we continue to deliver a high-quality educational experience for our students while the business model is changing beneath our feet?” Gilliam asked. “As you all know, across the country states are disinvesting, if you will, in public higher education. And this troubles me, of course, because as probably most of you in the room know, the prosperity of states like North Carolina, or California, or Wisconsin are directly attributable to the institutions of higher learning in those states and the human capital that it produces.”

Gilliam, who currently serves as dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, starts his new job leading UNCG on Sept. 8.

The search for a new chancellor took place quickly. Gilliam succeeds Chancellor Linda Brady, who took medical leave in March following heart surgery. The instability at the end of Brady’s tenure created anticipation and anxiety about her replacement, setting a high bar for the 24-member search committee.

Susan Safran, chair of the board of trustees, joked that the search committee felt like it needed to find a chancellor who was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” The quip inspired US Rep. Alma Adams to dub Gilliam “the superman chancellor.”

Gilliam said the university must stay focused on preparing students to meet the needs to employers, but he added, “We also have to create thinking, intellectual beings. We have to produce young people who are engaged in the discussion about the critical issues of the time, who understand what it means to be a citizen both here in Greensboro and in the world.”

Gilliam projected a friendly and approachable persona, and his sense of humor delighted the faculty and students who received him at Alumni House.

“I understand what it’s like to have what you all call ‘general administration,’ what we at the University of California call ‘the black hole,’” Gilliam joked. “I can say that now that I’m not in Chapel Hill.”

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