Ackland, Women’s Center, Botanical Garden face new leadership

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 06:12 PM

UNC-Chapel Hill officials are in the process of replacing the leaders of three campus institutions: the Ackland Art Museum, the Carolina Women’s Center and the N.C. Botanical Garden.

Carol Tresolini, vice provost for academic initiatives, said in an email that the timing of the searches is a coincidence.
At the Ackland, Emily Kass was director from fall 2006 through July. She said she was terminated with 90 days’ notice and doesn’t know the reason for her termination. 
“I had recently completed a five-year review with a committee that included community leaders as well as university leaders and that was all positive,” she said. “I’ve had positive annual reviews. So obviously the administration wanted a change.”
The museum had launched a new five-year plan at the beginning of the year, she said, which will require raising money. And the university is gearing up for a major fundraising campaign, she said.
She described her role as a growth leader. According to a museum news release, attendance during her tenure grew from 33,000 to 80,000 annual visitors and program participants. The museum also grew the involvement of university faculty and students.
In 2011, the Ackland Museum Store opened at the corner of East Franklin and Columbia streets. The museum acquired more than 2,700 works, and this year, a project is expected to be completed to digitize the museum’s 17,000-piece permanent collection.
“Most of it we did in the face of budget cuts,” she said. “About six years ago, we started losing money from the state, and started raising more money…”
Peter Nisbet, the museum’s chief curator, said he signed a nine-month contract to take on the role of the Ackland’s interim director. He said university officials are in the process of creating the job description and of creating a search committee. He does not believe officials are looking for a change in direction for the Ackland.
“Our engagement with the students, our engagement with the community, our commitment to diversity, and … art across all cultures and continents and periods -- which I think distinguishes the Ackland in the region -- are all being upheld,” he said.
Nisbet also said that fundraising is going to be important for the Ackland in the future.
“It’s no secret that the university is about to embark on a quite substantial campaign to get money … and the Ackland is determined to be an important part of that,” he said. “And I think we’ll build on the success that Emily Kass had in raising money.”
Tresolini said the university is not looking to change the museum’s mission.
“It’s done a wonderful job of collecting and conserving and presenting art,” she said.
In addition to a change in leadership at the Ackland, Christi Hurt, director of the Women’s Center, has taken a position as assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff in student affairs at the university.
Hurt led the task force that worked to overhaul the university’s system for investigating and judging student-on-student allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. She also was the school’s interim Title IX coordinator until the position was filled.
Tresolini said Hurt will split her time between her new role and the women’s center while the search for a new director is underway.
“I’m very sorry that she’s leaving the women’s center, but I’m also very pleased that she’s staying with the university,” Tresolini said. “She’s just a great resource.”
And after 28 years as the N.C. Botanical Garden director, Peter White is moving into a full-time faculty position in the biology department. White directed the garden part time while also holding a part-time faculty position. Tresolini said the university will be hiring a full-time director for the garden.
White said in an email that it was a good time to make the move with changes in the last five years, including the opening of a new, privately-funded education center.
“After 28 wonderful years and with a garden that has become really a spectacular institution, I announced July 11 that I will move full-time to the faculty at UNC effective Jan. 1, 2015,” he said in an email.
He said the timing of his departure with the others was a coincidence. Tresolini said none of the departures is related to budget pressures that centers have been under in the past six years. 
In reaction to state budget cuts made during the economic downturn, centers faced steep cuts as officials looked to protect academic programs, she said.
“The garden and the Ackland have been very successful in bringing in external funding (grants, gifts),” she said. “The Women's Center is a smaller operation that focuses more on the campus and less on the community -- though it does have community connections -- and relies less on external sources.”
Tresolini said additional proposed cuts to centers and institutions in the UNC system are still in flux.
According to information provided to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors finance committee Wednesday, the state’s budget contains a provision to allow the system’s board to consider cutting state funds for centers, institutes and other activities by up to $15 million.
That would be in addition to $15 million allowed by last year’s bill. Savings from the cuts could be used for other purposes including for the system’s strategic plan.
System officials are reviewing the centers on each campus. At the committee meeting, W.G. Champion Mitchell asked when that report will be available.
“We need to set a date certain by which we’re going to reach a decision” he said. “This is one of those things that people can drag out forever. It is a hot button for the people who appropriate our money, and we can’t let it drag.”