Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center interviews new UNC system Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith.

What are your highest priorities for the board going forward?

I think we will take a hard look at what we can do to position the UNC system for long-term sustainability. We can take a look at the overall landscape of higher education, including the $1.2 to $1.3 trillion in student debt. And then what does it cost to get one of our citizens through the public schools system, which is what we are.

I’m also an advocate of always running our business effectively. We will take a look at efficiency, effectiveness, affordability, and how we can be quicker, smarter, faster, and better in the entire system. Part of that will be developing 17 distinct strategies. Each one of our schools has a geographic area they serve to some degree. They serve a purpose in helping us battle a lot of the rural challenges we have in a lot of those areas. What strategies can we develop to help all 17 be successful? Right now, we have a one-size-fits-all strategy, and so we will be developing strategies that will be more focused toward individual campus success. So, really a holistic approach on what I would say, “running the business,” and a focus on sustainability.

Are those 17 goals defined yet?

No, one of the things we’re doing that I think everybody likes is that we are putting the data analytics on financial performance on the schools together, so you can actually quantify how a school is performing. We’re going to quantify the actual performance in key and critical areas at all of our institutions and then bench mark them against 20 years of history so that we can develop trend lines. What we’re looking for there is opportunities for us to implement policy that would solve a particular problem at a school. Or, to be proactive at a school that may be facing challenges instead of being “reactive.” A great example of that is: how did we let Elizabeth City get bankrupt over 20 years? All of the indicators were there; we just didn’t map it out.