Gabriel Lugo said he was never seeking to become the chair of the University of North Carolina Faculty Senate. But when asked to serve in that role, he decided to step up as the representative for the faculty of all 17 campuses in the UNC system.
“It was not one of those positions I was seeking, but it all sort of fell into place,” said Lugo, 64, an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at UNC Wilmington. “As long as the members of the faculty assembly put their trust in me, I’m happy to serve in this capacity. I think it follows a little bit to the experience I’ve had serving as the senate chair at UNCW and serving several years as part of the executive committee in Chapel Hill.”
The native of Colombia moved to the United States at age 14 and attended the University of California at Berkeley for his undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. He taught for three years at the University of Kansas before coming to UNC Wilmington in 1982. Among his many honors, Lugo earned the Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Award in 2006 and was a Carnegie US Professor of the Year nominee in 2005.
The UNC Faculty Assembly leader serves as a liaison to UNC General Administration and keeps faculty representatives on each campus informed of Board of Governors’ meetings discussions and actions.
UNC system President Margaret Spellings said, “The faculty perspective and counsel that Dr. Lugo will provide in his role is invaluable to achieving our overall priorities affecting the academic institution and honoring the tradition of shared governance in the academy. I look forward to working with him and all members of the Faculty Assembly.”
Lugo will replace Stephen Leonard, an associate professor of political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Leonard believes Lugo is well-qualified to take over the position.
“Dr. Lugo been very effective as a faculty government leader for the UNC system, and he’s a very active member of the faculty assembly,” Leonard stated. “He’s a very talented faculty leader.”
Lugo has spent the past year shadowing Leonard to learn his duties and considers his predecessor invaluable in showing how to work with the UNC Board of Governors and state leaders.
“Dr. Leonard is a political scientist who has a very deep understanding of the importance of governance structures in regards to an institution like UNC, which has such complexity,” Lugo said. “I learned from him to be very aware of all instances in which there may be problems in the shared governance structure.”
While the UNC system faculty is a diverse group hailing from different-sized campuses facing different challenges, Lugo remarked that uniting the faculty hasn’t been too difficult.
“I learned from Dr. Leonard how to interact with diverse members of the faculty,” he said. “We do have 17 campuses with a myriad of disciplines. We understand that different campuses have different missions, and it’s important for those campuses to preserve the great wealth that is contained in our mission. We all understand the importance of higher education.”
A key issue for Lugo is making certain the University is able to attract and retain top faculty and staff members.
“It seems to me the main role of the faculty assembly is the protection of tenure and promotion procedures, and academic freedom and the preservation of the curriculum,” Lugo said. “One of the main challenges that we are facing is that we need to do something really quickly to retain and maintain the quality of the faculty and staff. We are beginning to lose faculty and talented staff to competitive markets, which will eventually cause irreversible damage to the University.”
Lugo looks forward to working with University President Margaret Spellings when he begins his two-year term on July 1.
“I think President Spellings brings a fair amount of value in terms of her political experience and her background,” he said. “I think she has shown her willingness to work with faculty and to take the advice of faculty in terms of curriculum, since we have the expertise.”
Lugo said that with new leadership comes new strategic directions for the University, and that faculty needs to be an important voice as those are mapped out.
“Faculty and staff need to have a fair amount of involvement,” he said. “At the end of the day, no strategic plan for the University will work out without the input of the faculty. The faculty are really the central part of the University. They are the ones who attract the students and make the institutions valuable. They are the ones who understand the institutions and the curriculum. Without that, the institution won’t work. When students seek higher education, they want to know the value of the programs, they want to know what the faculty does, they want to know what research goes on. And so, it’s important to maintain that perspective. If your goal is to provide good education to the students, the essential core is the faculty.”
Written by Phillip Ramati