New UNC Asheville Chancellor On Liberal Arts Education, Balancing Campus Life (And Those New Dorms)

Aug 20, 2018

Monday is the first day of classes for the fall semester at UNC-Asheville.  It also marks the beginning of Dr. Nancy Cable's tenure as the 8th chancellor at the school.  She takes over for Dr. Mary Grant, who left the school at the end of 2017.  Dr. Joe Urgo served as interim chancellor until Cable's arrival.  Cable comes to Asheville from the world of philanthropy, having served as the president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations since 2012.  Cable's first few days on the job were hectic - a complaint from the North Carolina Department of Insurance forced the university to close its five new residence halls to students last week after 59 of them had already moved in.  Late Friday night, The Woods complex was re-opened, but the concerns of the DOI remain.  Firefighters will live in the complex until the lingering issues regarding standpipes and sprinklers in the buildings are resolved.  Cable discussed that and a number of other topics with BPR's Matt Bush.

What has the university done to address the concerns of the Department of Insurance over The Woods complex? - The first is a fire watch with four competent firefighters housed within the complex as a ready force should there be any hazard.  We also have a fire truck from the Asheville fire department on campus and close and adjacent to the residence halls.  Furthermore in the coming days and in a period of time that will be weeks not months, we will convene a small group of experts that can address some of the issues related to standpipe location and standpipe valve locations.

What attracted you to the UNC-Asheville chancellor job? - I worked in North Carolina for a total of 21 years before I went to work for the University of Virginia, and then to Maine to work at Bates College before taking the position at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (in October 2012).  I have been interested in any possibility that would allow me to return to North Carolina.  I thought I would be at the Foundations for the rest of my career, but when this opportunity was presented to me (in early January) I said at first 'not interested' or 'not sure.'  Then I had an opportunity to meet some of the search committee and I was drawn forward.  I'm very thrilled to be back in North Carolina.

UNC-Asheville is the designated 'liberal arts' university of the UNC system.  What is the role of liberal arts education in today's society? - There's a public misunderstanding of what about the liberal arts actually is.  It's actually a concept that derives from early higher education in Europe.  And it's based in the notion that we believe in the education of the intellect and the whole person.  And in that we believe there is a discipline of the mind that comes from learning how to write well, how to read critically, how to think critically and strategically, how to convey yourself as well as possible verbally, and how to create new ideas while understanding great ideas over time.  

What do you say to people who think the culture of a campus is too isolated from the surrounding world, while also ensuring that the hyper partisan world we live in does not infect a campus where anyone should be able to express themselves freely? - We have a responsibility that seemingly is in conflict with itself.  We have a responsibility to make sure our campuses have access to real world discussions and participate in them in our own way.  Whether it's in the classroom, or political discussions, or in leadership and discussing what is great leadership or great leadership qualities.  We need to resonate with the world if we are to be doing our real work, which is to be preparing our students for the world.  We're not a cocoon.  We will not protect our students from the matters of real life.  That's part of their education.  That said, there are also things we need to do to make sure the classroom is a place to ask their questions and get answers, not just from the faculty but from their peers.  So we need to be porous and resonate with what's going on in the greater political divide.