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Outgoing Faculty Chair Lloyd Kramer reflects on his term, including joining the Tar Heel Bus Tour, transitioning to remote learning and presiding over the first virtual meetings of Faculty Council.

(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In Lloyd Kramer’s year as chair of the faculty, he was part of the University’s transition to remote learning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, oversaw the first virtual Faculty Council meeting and advocated for faculty concerns in key University issues.

Kramer’s term ended June 30. Mimi Chapman, a professor of social work and associate dean for doctoral education in the School of Social Work, succeeds him.

A professor of history and director of Carolina Public Humanities, Kramer was appointed by the Advisory Committee to succeed Leslie Parise, who stepped down May 8, 2019, before her three-year term was completed.

The Well recently talked with Kramer, who reflected on his term and the events of the past year.

You often began Faculty Council meetings by adding historical perspective to the day’s events. What historical quote would you use to put your time as faculty chair in context?

One of the people who has helped me gain perspective is Michel de Montaigne. He lived during the wars of religion in France in the 16th century, and there was tremendous uncertainty and conflict in his society. In an essay “Fear,” he discussed how people felt fear of their enemies and fear of death in recurring waves of the plague. He wrote:

“I have hardly any idea of the mechanisms by which fear operates in us; but it is a very odd emotion all the same: doctors say that there is no emotion which more readily ravishes our judgement from its proper seat. I myself have seen many people truly driven out of their minds by fear, and it is certain that, while the fit lasts, fear engenders even in the most staid of persons a terrifying confusion.”

I like that quotation because we have been dealing with so much fear about different dangers. The feeling of fear is something that we are all having to live with. And when we think of our own lives in modern times, so much of what we’ve tried to do is to reduce those forces that cause fear in our lives, like health issues or economic issues or political issues or even the violence of war.

And yet I think that this year has reminded us that there are so many things we can’t control, and when we can’t control something, it deepens our fears. We’re all feeling this as the new semester begins. There’s a greater sense of uncertainty than most of us have ever faced as we begin a new school year.

You stepped in to fill the last year of Leslie Parise’s term. Knowing what you know now, would you still say yes?

Yes, I would. I had run for faculty chair two years earlier and lost to Leslie. Before that election, I thought about why I might want to be chair of the faculty and how I might serve the University in this position. But of course, I had no idea that we would be facing such an upheaval this year.

When I said yes, I knew that something would happen that I hadn’t imagined. It just kept snowballing in ways that went beyond anything we had had to face in previous years.

The University faced unprecedented times during this spring semester with remote learning implemented for the remainder of the semester and over the summer. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that time?

The faculty did an amazing job of adapting to this situation. It was difficult for everybody. I think a lot of the students felt somewhat disengaged from the learning process because it’s hard to feel connected if you don’t have any in-person interaction. People began using their creative skills to make the new teaching viable. The faculty, staff and students coped with it as well as we possibly could.

Our first response was ‘we’ll just have to do this for a short time and then things will be normal again.’ Now it’s more like a marathon of adjustments and changes. In my own program, Carolina Public Humanities, we had to cancel all of our public programs and reconfigure them as Zoom conversations and webinars. This upheaval changed the way we think about teaching, but it has also changed the way we think about our engagement with the state, our service to people outside the University and our research. We can’t travel to conferences or go to research centers. The first task, however, was simply to figure out how to get through that spring semester.

I worry about the burnout from the struggle to cope with the uncertainty. I think that everyone has learned new kinds of resilience, but the challenges are more difficult than anything we’ve had to deal with during our time at the University.

What are you most proud of during your time as chair of the faculty? And what would you like to do over?

I am most proud of my efforts to represent the faculty’s anger about the UNC Board of Governors’ agreement to pay the Sons of Confederate Veterans to take away the Confederate Monument. I was proud that I was able to help the community formulate its concerns in a resolution from the Faculty Council and that Faculty Council offered a forum where these issues could be debated and addressed. Faculty governance is important because it provides a framework for giving voice to the concerns of the faculty.

I don’t know that there’s anything that I would do over. I wish I had understood more clearly the enormity of the challenge we were facing as the pandemic developed. It was uncharted territory. I wish that I had been able to provide better counsel to administrative leaders in terms of what the faculty were concerned about and how they were coping with this situation.

You held Faculty Council’s first virtual meeting and the first hybrid meeting. Looking back, what are your perspectives on those?

I think these meetings worked a little better than I had anticipated. I should stress that they were only possible because of the amazing work by the Office of Faculty Governance staff and the Chancellor’s Office.

It takes a village to create a virtual Faculty Council meeting when nothing like that has ever been done before. The hybrid meeting, which was the first one where some of us were in the room and many more were on a Zoom call, was more successful than the completely virtual Zoom meeting. We were able to address important issues at each meeting. The greatest drawback to the all Zoom meetings is that it’s much harder to have a fully engaged discussion when all the participants are Zooming in.

Build Our Community Together is the first strategic initiative in Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, the University’s strategic plan. What role will faculty play in that initiative? What are the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities?

I think this strategic initiative is important and it’s even more important when we’re looking for ways to manage uncertainties. To prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion means thinking about hiring and personnel decisions, public programs and curriculum decisions. Build Our Community Together is a multifaceted project and it has to include faculty at every step of the way. Faculty colleagues of Color have put forward a ‘Road Map to Racial Equality,’ which must be recognized and included in the planning for our strategic goals. We’re living in a time where we have no choice but to be more broadly engaged with building our community together, even though it’s not easy to confront the legacies of institutional racism.

Build our Community Together must begin with a sustained and ongoing engagement with history. And faculty need to play a constant role in that process.

You were a participant in the Fall 2019 Tar Heel Bus Tour. What did you learn from the tour?

This was my first time to participate in the bus tour, even though I’d been at the University for over 30 years. I did not understand how deeply we are involved in communities around the state. I learned about collaborations that went far beyond my sphere of activity. I learned a lot more about what health affairs, the business school and the law school are doing to support people around the state.

Although we think of ourselves as faculty at the University for North Carolina, the bus tour reminded us that the way we serve our students is only part of a much wider engagement with the public health and well-being of our state. We have to protect that service and build on it. And the bus tour helped me understand that better than I had understood it before.

What are you going to do with your newfound time?

I’m trying to figure out how to manage everything that’s changing. What I’ve learned is that I’m always busy. I’ve recharged my intellectual energy by working on a journal article. I’m teaching a European history class that’s going to have almost 100 students.  I’m also committed to the outreach work of Carolina Public Humanities and our service for public school teachers, Carolina K-12.

I would like to find more time to travel but it’s hard to go anywhere right now. I still want to have fun because I believe that if you can’t enjoy yourself or enjoy some laughter, then you’re not really living a good life.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

By Jane Calloway, The Well 

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