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Q&A with new University of Cincinnati President Gregory Williams

We asked our readers to submit their burning questions for UC's new leader. Here are his answers to your best inquiries and a few of our own.

 Big picture

What is the future of public higher education?
The future of public higher education is very strong. In fact, it is probably more important to society than ever because increasingly we live in a technology-oriented world that requires significant skills in terms of developing careers and moving forward in life. Obviously, issues, such as financing, access and that type of thing are a concern, but the future is secure. The core issue is making sure that we continue to have resources that allow us to develop the programs that folks need and are attracted to.

What is UC's most important role in the world?
That is pretty clear: First of all, we are an academic institution, so our No. 1 objective and role in the world is basically transforming student lives -- in other words, helping students develop a foundation that they are going to need as they develop their careers and achieve the goals they have established for themselves.

What is UC's most important role in the region?
Our role is providing the knowledge base, skills and ability needed to allow the community to have a solid education, which will enable people to go forward and do what they want with their lives. More than half the doctors in this region are University of Cincinnati doctors. That's a good indicator of a high-quality program. Look at the UC engineers in this community. Look at the important role all our graduates play in the community, the region, the state and the nation. Those are positive indicators.

How does a large public university remain committed to both accessibility and excellence at the same time?
You are making an assumption that those are mutually exclusive. I don't think that's the case. The university, for instance, has many points of access. Some students come with less preparation than others and, as a consequence, may need assistance in other ways. In fact, programs at Raymond Walters and Clermont Colleges and our connections at Cincinnati State present unique opportunities for students to be able to do the preparatory work they need to be successful. You can have access and you can have academic excellence at the same time in the same place.

Do you think universities have lost public confidence?
So many indicators show there has been no loss of any public confidence whatsoever. Our enrollments have continued to soar because students understand the University of Cincinnati is an important place in terms of developing their future and helping them meet the goals they have established for themselves. Just look at the increase in students who have come here. There is no loss of public confidence as far as I'm concerned.

Views on Cincy

Have you given any thought to how UC can help the city of Cincinnati to continue to repair race relations?
The No. 1 job of an institution is academics, and we will focus on academics. We can try to be a model with regard to recruitment of students, faculty and staff and to try to deal with the issues of diversity on campus. Hopefully that will be a model for the larger community. Being a model in terms of diversity presents advantages not only for people of color, but for everyone, because our students will be working in a world that is very multicultural. To have that kind of experience while they are students is important.

How will UC continue to partner with the community to move it forward?
No institution is an ivory tower separate from the community in which it is located. Universities are place-bound, so we want to be good citizens. Having community connections provides mutual advantages in understanding community concerns. The university has an opportunity to provide important assistance in addressing particular community problems and meeting health-care needs through our faculty and health program.

Let's get personal

What is your leadership style?
I try to not run everything. I am not a micromanager, but obviously I need to know what's going on. I try to delegate authority, but realize that the ultimate responsibility for the institution rests with me. So I expect to work extremely hard in getting good people in positions as deans and vice presidents, people who can do their jobs, yet keep me aware of issues and keep me involved when it is appropriate. Like I said, I have ultimate responsibility for this institution, and I take that very seriously.

What is the coolest perk about being a university president?
It is great being the president of the University of Cincinnati because it is such a great institution. So many people are excited about the institution and really are pleased with the tremendous strides it has made over the last 10 years. Being a part of something that is on such an upward trajectory is extremely enjoyable.

Out of the many people you have met since arriving, has anyone stood out?
I had always wanted to meet Oscar Robertson since we both grew up in Indiana. I have met him and had some nice conversations with him. I have also met a lot of people who really care about the university, and that has been quite gratifying. One person whom I would like to meet is Joe Steger, one of my predecessors. He sincerely worked hard to create a great university. But there are obviously a lot of people who were central to the growth of UC with whom I'd love to have a chance to visit.

Everyone is asking

UC just passed the halfway mark in its $1 billion campaign goal. What will be the key to reaching the magic number?
I think it is going to take the same type of thing that helped us reach halfway toward the goal. Working with donors, talking about our programs and having graduates and others who are interested in those programs be involved with what we do -- that makes a compelling case for support. I have no doubt that we will successfully reach the $1 billion goal.

Discover Gregory Williams best-selling book
More info and videos featuring President Williams

-- Interviewed by John Bach