DURHAM — James W. Dean Jr. was ceremoniously installed Friday as the University of New Hampshire's 20th president, a job he began this summer.

Dean, who succeeded 11-year President Mark Huddleston, came to UNH from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he was executive vice chancellor and provost and a professor of organizational behavior. Before serving as provost, Dean was dean of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where he was credited with launching an online MBA program that increased revenue by millions of dollars.

This week, Dean discussed a range of issues with Seacoast Media Group:

After a series of racial incidents on campus, UNH's Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate in April of this year made 15 recommendations aimed at building a more inclusive community. As the new leader at UNH, what is the work you see that needs to be done?

It's the work of every university, and particularly every public university, to build an inclusive community. It's work that's been going on for decades and it's work that will probably continue for decades more. We've had a lot of changes in the leadership team at the university. We have Monica Chiu in an interim role as (associate vice president for community, equity and diversity). We have Wayne Jones in an interim role as provost (and vice president for academic affairs). We have me as only getting sworn in (Friday). With all of that, in fairness, we've probably been delayed a little bit in taking a look at those recommendations. Having said that, it's something that's really important to us, and we're going to see ongoing commitment to trying to make sure we build the most inclusive community we can here at UNH.

Seacoast NAACP President Rogers Johnson said at the time of your hiring that you should be helpful in dealing with racial issues, noting 39 percent of the University of North Carolina population is African American. Do you agree, and what about your past experience do you carry with you into addressing racism or issues dealing with race?

If you're specifically talking about race, having lived in the South for 20 years is a pretty good training ground. You see those issues called out because of the history of the South. I dealt with them, certainly, as provost at UNC, and those issues are continuing there today.

I also grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, which is a very racially mixed area. I've grown up in an area where lots of different kinds of people live and work next to each other, and that's probably a benefit at some level in understanding some of the issues that any university would face.

Attracting and retaining faculty members of color is seen as key when it comes to supporting students of color on campus, and also in fostering a culture that gets diverse students to want to attend UNH. What initiatives can be put in place to ensure a more diverse staff at UNH?

It's early for me to talk about specific initiatives. I'm probably a few months away from doing that. What I'm doing right now is talking to a wide range of people across the university, just to try to understand where things stand now. I gave myself six months – starting in July and ending at the end of the calendar year – to try to reach some understanding.

Since you specifically mentioned staff, I think I've met with about a half dozen different staff groups so far, trying to understand what issues there are and how people feel. I would say, while I'm sure we have issues to address, by and large people seem pretty happy to work here. As well they should – it's a wonderful place doing a lot of very good things. Like any large organization, we're going to have issues that need to be addressed. What I'm trying to do now is trying to understand what those issues are.

On the student side, you didn't ask that question exactly, but I've been trying to do kind of the same thing. I've been to three different dorms in the last couple of weeks, meeting with students at night, talking to them about their experience at UNH. I also initiated student office hours. I've had two different sets and met a total of 14 students, which has been fun and enlightening.

I'm also in the process of setting up appointments with certain specific groups of students. For example, I have a meeting with some student-athletes coming up soon. I have a meeting with some of the Chinese students, some of the LGBTQ students. So I'm doing everything I can to meet as many people as I can to understand what concerns are there and try to put together some plan for what we can do to continue to move the university forward. 

New Hampshire ranks 50th in state funding for its state universities and UNH has a sometimes adversarial relationship with the Legislature. Is it a big priority for you to get the state to increase funding for UNH, and how will you approach it?

I agree with you that the relationship between the university and the state is not what anybody would want it to be. Everybody I talk to, from the board of trustees, to Gov. Chris Sununu, to people in Concord and the Legislature in both houses, everyone really wants it to be better. And certainly the people in the community here in Durham want it to be better.

I've been going to Concord and meeting with people from the House and Senate. I've had the opportunity to meet several times with the governor. I've met both of our U.S. senators, trying to understand how the university is seen – what they understand and what they don't understand – and trying to increase communications. I've sat in a lot of offices and said, 'Let's talk about what we can do to make it better.' I'd say the reception has been great – everybody has been really willing to make it better. I'm doing a lot of listening, not a lot of talking at this point. Will it result in increased funding? I don't know. It's too early to say that. But even if it doesn't, I think that the flagship university of a state and the leaders of a state should have a collaborative relationship. I think we're in the early stages of rebuilding that.

For the past few years, UNH has been assessing several of its schools and colleges. Some programs have been reorganized, downsized and in at least one case eliminated – some two-year programs at the Thompson School of Applied Sciences. What is your sense of those changes and the process going forward used for making such decisions?

That's a good observation. That process has been going on at virtually every university in the country. Universities – as their name kind of implies – try to do a really wide range of things. And the people working at universities are always looking for ways to do more – to study more, to teach more, to open up the aperture and serve the state, the country and the world even more.

Having said that, it's still a financial challenge to try to find a way to do that. So universities, including this one, have basically looked at the academic quality of programs and also the market viability of programs. You really want to have programs that are both high academic quality and viable from a marketing standpoint. You can have the greatest program in the world, but if you have five professors and one student, it's not economically viable. We have to continue that analysis. Just like any organization would do – if there's things that you're doing that you can't justify in terms of money or profitability, if you will, their ability to at least cover their costs, you have to take a hard look to decide if resources might be better applied elsewhere.

What changes must UNH make to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education?

We've certainly been talking about one of them – taking a hard look at programs and understanding that with current levels of funding, you just can't be everything to everybody. You probably have to make some hard choices. And it's not that the university hasn't. I think under President Huddleston's leadership, the university did make some hard decisions about what we can do and what we can't do.

It's also possible, though, that there may be some things we can do that we haven't done yet. For example, under the leadership of interim provost Wayne Jones, we're looking at new master's programs – things that we might be able to put out there that would be of great academic quality and would be able to cover their costs from an economic standpoint. So there could be some growth opportunities, as well as opportunities to take a hard look (at).

I also think universities – especially public universities – need to continue to keep in mind our responsibility to the public who supports us, and try to make sure we're doing everything we can. We're fortunate, as a land-grant university, to have a wonderful cooperative extension service, which is out there in all 10 counties and every part of the state and doing work of real value to people. There shouldn't be any question that we're really joined at the hip with the state. I just recently participated in a ceremony of signing the agreements for all of the extension organizations across the state. It was great to see hundreds of people interested in what the university's doing in each one of the 10 counties. So that's going to be part of our future as well. 

In recent years, the percentage of out-of-state students at UNH has increased, in part, to subsidize the cost of attendance for in-state students. UNH officials have contended this was driven by lack of state funding. Critics have argued it is because UNH refuses to keep costs down. A specific target of critics is the number and salaries of middle management. What is your view?

I can't say that I've done a really deep dive on that one yet, to talk about anything specific. But I will tell you that the university has a really well-thought-out process of setting salaries. The people in HR use benchmarks from across New England and across the country to try to understand what the market rate for a certain position is. We basically pay right about at the middle of the distribution. So if you see someone who's a "dean of School X," and they're getting paid whatever the salary is, that salary is probably somewhere near the median, and probably a little below the median, of comparable schools nationwide. So it would be really surprising to me if we were paying above market wages, really, for anybody, because of that process, which I take no credit for. I inherited it. But I think it's a very mature business process, and one that I think results in fairer salaries.

Having said that, there's a competition for academic leaders across the country. When we're thinking of leaving of hiring a dean, we might be competing with a number of other schools across the country. So, you have to pay what the market demands, just as you would in any other industry. I'm really quite impressed, as I inherited this role, of the systems that have been set up to make sure that we are paying reasonably good market salaries across the board.

Universities are criticized in some corners for liberal bias. Is this a real concern?

It's certainly a perception that's out there about universities across the country. I think that people make a little bit more of this than it really is. I've had this conversation with the head of a very conservative think tank. I wanted to have a deep conversation about this, because I wanted to try to understand what the concern was. I asked, what percentage of courses do you think are dominated by liberal bias? This individual told me about 90 percent. Well, that would include physics, biology and math. It's really hard for me to imagine that there's anywhere near that kind of bias.

I think that people talking about this, they're talking about maybe some corners of the humanities and perhaps some corners of social science. Having said that, a university can't ask people about their political belief when we hire them. That's illegal. It is true that there are more professors in the world who would self-identify as "liberal" than would identify as "conservative." Having said that, there's lots of conservative professors here on campus. What you don't want is for professors, whatever their political beliefs are – conservative or liberal or somewhere in between – to create an atmosphere in the classroom where students' ability to learn and express themselves are really constrained by that. My sense is, we do a reasonably good job of that.

That's one of the things I want to talk to students about – do they ever feel as if they're uncomfortable because they can't express their opinions. So far I haven't seen any of that. But it's early, and I still have much more to learn.