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New UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Frank Gilliam

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Dr. Frank Gilliam is taking the Piedmont Triad’s largest university down a different road -- and he’s using a different vehicle to do it.

It’s not unusual to find him riding around the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in a golf cart, picking up students, giving them rides and talking to them. He says it’s his way of interacting with them. And it’s helping him get more familiar with the campus.

In September, he became UNCG’s new chancellor. The university’s search for a new leader brought Gilliam to North Carolina for the first time in his life earlier this year. He ended up leaving UCLA where he worked for nearly 30 years as a professor and, most recently, the dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs.

Now, one if his priorities is getting the word out about his new institution.

“We have a world-class business school. We have a world-class school of education. We have a world-class school of music, theatre and dance. We have a world-class museum in the Weatherspoon. We have a world-class school of nursing,” he said. “We are nationally competitive in those areas and that’s what attracted me. We need to continue to build and promote them.”

But he admits his biggest challenge is the business model.

“The dramatic reduction in state support over the last 20 years has meant that we have to find other ways to increase revenue,” he said. “And we don’t want to do it, all things being equal, by raising tuition.”

This strategy also includes saving money. He calls the Union Square Campus currently under construction on Gate City Boulevard a great example of saving costs and “getting entrepreneurial.” UNCG, North Carolina A&T University, Guilford Technical Community College, and Cone Health are joining forces to house joint nursing/health care programs in the building.

But Gilliam's duties go far beyond finding new revenue and controlling costs. For example, he’ll be influential in a possible name-change for the main campus auditorium (Aycock). It’s currently named after a proponent of higher education who was also a segregationist.

“Regardless of what we do, we do need to have an educational piece,” Gilliam said. “We need to have a display in that lobby that gives a full reading of Mr. Aycock’s history and contribution on one hand to higher education in North Carolina and his contributions to segregation on the other.”

Gilliam wouldn’t say whether he personally favors changing the name. “It’s not about how I personally feel. My job is to do what’s in the best interest of the university.”

And those best interests include the students and who they’re about to become.

“Our students are going to be critical thinkers. They’re going to have hard skills. But they’re also going to be of the world. They’re going to have these experiences that enrich them personally, lead them to a life of service to their communities, and enrich them civically.”