James July-Aug 2021 web - Flipbook - Page 23
radar back then. But the educational
experience that I received, and which
we ensure that Piedmont students
receive, gave me the framework for a
PK During a time when many smaller private colleges and universities
are struggling, Piedmont is enrolling
record classes and making campus improvements in Athens and Demorest.
What makes Piedmont different?
JAMES MELLICHAMP BEGAN HIS
CAREER AT THEN-PIEDMONT COLLEGE IN 1982
AS A MEMBER OF THE MUSIC FACULTY, AND
HE HAS HELD POSITIONS AS DEAN OF THE
SCHOOL OF ARTS & SCIENCES, VICE PRESIDENT
FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS AND PROVOST
BEFORE BEING NAMED PRESIDENT IN 2012.
DR. MELLICHAMP, HEADQUARTERED AT THE
300-ACRE MAIN CAMPUS IN DEMOREST
IN THE NORTH GEORGIA FOOTHILLS, IS
INTERVIEWED BY PUBLISHER PHIL KENT.
PHIL KENT Piedmont entered a new chapter this
year by dropping the name “college” and adding the
word “university” to reflect its growth and transformation. What is your vision for Piedmont
University, and what are the main
advantages of a private university
as opposed to a public one?
JAMES MELLICHAMP In recent
times there has been an increase
in competition for students
which, coupled with the financial
crisis of 2007-2008 as well as decreasing numbers of high school
graduates, resulted in a lengthy
period of stress for colleges and
universities. The fiscal impact
upon state budgets was palpable
and the 2020 health pandemic added to the severity of the
crisis. To deal with the impact
of those severe cuts, schools in
JULY /AU GU ST 2021
many states have been forced to eliminate academic programs, athletic programs, and other important offerings. I
do not foresee a reversal anytime soon in that sector.
While independent colleges and universities have
been hit by the same negative forces, the primary difference is that— unlike their public counterparts— privates have been free to plot their own course of action in
responding to these stresses. In other words, independent
institutions have more control of their own destiny.
At Piedmont, we have used this situation to
our advantage. For example, we have continued
to expand our academic programs and student
services, as well as our athletic programs,
during a time when others were cutting back.
We have been fiscally conservative during
good times as well as during challenging
times, and that philosophy has allowed us to
continue investing resources when many of
our peers were unable to do so.
PK Piedmont also unveiled a Brand
Promise. Can you tell me what the
Piedmont Promise is?
JM The Piedmont Promise is to
provide an educational experience
that is personal in approach, passionate in application, and practical in impact. This isn’t really
a departure from our previous
way of doing things. It’s just a
more concise explanation of
the value of an education that
is informed by, or grounded in,
the liberal arts. My own background was spent in the study
of classical music. I never
took a class on how to operate
a university; being CEO of a
university wasn’t even on my
JM There is an easy answer to that
question in one word: strategy. At any
given moment, there are anywhere from
15-20 strategic initiatives under consideration or in the implementation phase.
Early in my tenure we worked with a highly-recognized
national consultant on strategic planning. The lessons we
learned enabled us to continue on our own. My team is
tired of hearing me say it, but “hope” is not a strategy.
There is a significant book— “The College Stress
Test”— by Zemsky et al which narrows the dashboard
down to about five important measures. Since then,
Zemsky has further refined the number to about three:
first-time, first-year enrollment; retention from freshman to
sophomore year; and market price. We monitor those key
And we have embraced change here in the broadest
sense possible by making changes in curricula, student
services, and in many other areas.
One of the chief concerns I had early on about
faithfully applying the strategic process was that our
employees, who sometimes wear multiple hats, might
experience fatigue. But in reality the opposite has occurred— faculty and staff have become energized by
the clear results tied to our strategic initiatives. We have
had, for example, an initiative underway for the past five
years to boost student retention. The positive data from
those improvements are incontrovertible.
PK What campus curriculum and other changes occurred since early 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19?
And regarding the return to in-person classes with the
necessary health precautions, how is that working? Are
you concerned about a lack of academic rigor with online courses?
JM Piedmont University operates one of the largest
graduate programs in teacher education in Georgia.
We have graduate programs in other academic areas as
well. Our foray into online instruction has been slow and
measured in comparison with others. However, we had
begun an initiative to move most graduate programs to a
hybrid or totally online format prior to the pandemic. As
part of that effort, we established an Office of Academic
Technology to oversee the migration of courses to these
new modalities. In addition, our provost, and the deans
of our colleges offering online instruction, have set basic
parameters for every course regardless of modality.
In August 2020 we were able to return to traditional
(face to face) instruction for our undergraduates; graduate students continued in either hybrid or totally online
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