Feature

When the provost of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, took a position at another university last year, Chapel Hill officials were prepared to conduct a yearlong, national search to fill the top-level vacancy. But within a week, it became clear that a search would be a waste of time and money: The school's vice chancellors, Faculty Advisory Committee, deans and Board of Trustees all wanted unsuspecting psychologist Bernadette Gray-Little, PhD, then dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences.

"They managed to truly surprise me," says Gray-Little, recalling the day colleagues gathered in her office to encourage her to accept the post. "And I try not to be surprised too often."

But it's no surprise that Gray-Little-who accepted the job-is popular among those who work for and with her. As Gray-Little has worked her way up the UNC-Chapel Hill administrative ladder-moving from psychology professor to department chair to dean before taking the provost job-she's operated on the idea that being a good leader means getting the resources faculty, students and staff need to perform at their best and creating opportunities for people to shine.

For example, as dean she launched the First Year Seminar Program, a series of in-depth, low-enrollment undergraduate courses designed by faculty to showcase their specialty areas, such as "The Physics of Musical Instruments," team-taught by physics and music faculty. She also established an office on undergraduate research and a new undergraduate curriculum, and she raised funds for more international study for undergraduates. In another popular moveamong faculty, she's pushing to boost salaries and resources for travel and research.

To be sure, being privy to the range of faculty research Tar Heels faculty conduct is the high point of her job, says Gray-Little. At the same time, those talented and saavy faculty members sometimes prove to be tough negotiators over such topics as research budgets and faculty personnel policies, she says. To navigate such challenges, Gray-Little is sure to engage her colleagues in the decisions at hand, and establish trust and respect among them, she says.

"Being attuned to interpersonal relationships is key in a setting like this, where you are a leader among a community of peers," says Gray-Little. "You need to be able to work with others in a collegial, cooperative and respectful way."

--J. Chamberlin