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Sunday, December 4, 2022
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NCtrend: Western chief

Mary Grant was installed as the seventh chancellor of UNC Asheville in September, following 12 years running the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Both schools are in fairly secluded, mountainous areas and both embrace liberal arts as their core mission, bucking higher education’s trend towards specific career training. Grant, 54, was selected from about 120 applicants to lead UNCA, an important economic force in Asheville. UNCA has 3,800 students, a total staff of 760 and an annual budget of about $90 million. She also oversees lots of smart students  —SAT scores of freshmen is third-highest among the UNC campuses.
How do liberal arts schools prepare students for tech-oriented workplaces?
The foundation of liberal arts education is critical thinking, curiosity, problem solving and working in teams. These skills are critical in a global, tech-driven economy. Science and business are part of a liberal arts background, and we have strong programs in those fields. Thinking broadly and problem solving is the best education for a changing world.

What is UNCA’s best attribute?
What I see as a particular strength of the institution is the one-on-one work between faculty and students, preparing them academically and professionally. We have world-class faculty who bring their very best. We have a terrific faculty-student ratio [14-1 for the 2014-15 academic year] and we don’t have large lecture halls.

Has UNCA lost professors to other states because of UNC pay levels?

That’s certainly going to happen, but it happened in Massachusetts, too. Just like the private sector, we need to compete for the best and want to keep them. A lot goes into a faculty member’s decision to stay. Compensation is an important factor, but it’s only one of many. We have faculty who have been here for many years because of the mission of the institution and the opportunity to engage so significantly with students. My job is to make this the best place for faculty and staff to do their best work every day.

How many applications does UNCA receive for professor openings?
My understanding is that we can get 100 applicants for a position. When we do have openings, we get a terrific selection of interested candidates from across the country.

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