‘A wonderful opportunity’

Already a department chair and distinguished researcher, Leslie Parise is ready to serve the institution she loves as new chair of the faculty. In an interview, Parise talked about why she chose to run for chair, what she envisions her role to be and, yes, how she will find the time.

Leslie Parise poses in front of brick building
Since being elected faculty chair, Leslie Parise has been studying the history of Carolina. Here, she stands in front of Person Hall, which has a monument listing the names of the University’s first leaders.

Leslie Parise is ready to serve the institution she loves as new chair of the faculty

Messages of congratulations have poured in to Leslie Parise ever since she was elected chair of the faculty this spring.

But she also received – mostly from colleagues who know her best – expressions of pure amazement, bordering on disbelief. They were too polite to say it directly, but Parise read between the lines: “Are you crazy?” and “What were you thinking?”

“I think they wondered how I could carve out time from an already intense schedule to take on these additional responsibilities,” Parise said.

And with good reason, she acknowledged.

After all, Parise is professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and a joint professor of pharmacology and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and McAllister Heart Institute. She also works closely with basic and clinical units in the School of Medicine and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

All the while, she has received funding from the National Institutes of Health as a highly published and internationally recognized researcher in the areas of thrombosis, sickle cell disease and cancer.

In a July 28 interview, Parise talked about why she chose to run for chair, what she envisions her role to be and, yes, how she will find the time.

Finding the time

So how will she find the time?

“The job will be a balancing act,” Parise said. “However, I have excellent administrative support both in my department and the Office of Faculty Governance who will help me make this work.”

In recent years, she’s had had plenty of practice juggling official duties with extracurricular obligations she has taken on.

For instance, as a member of the Faculty Executive Committee, she pushed for improvements to the campus work-life environment and partnered with the Carolina Women’s Center to advocate for making more private lactation rooms available for new mothers returning to work or the classroom. In the past year, with help from UNC’s leaders, seven new lactation rooms have opened, although more are still needed, she said.

From 2014 to 2016, she served as co-chair of the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), a crucial component of the University’s regular reaccreditation process through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The intent of the QEP is to make measureable improvement of student learning in the sciences – a goal that aligned with the University’s strategic priorities and involved broad-based campus participation.

One agenda – to serve

Parise came into the job as chair of the faculty thinking about all the things she would seek to accomplish. In her first weeks of the job, though, she has already learned how fast “issues can come your way that you didn’t know would be on your radar screen.”

She cited as an example the Board of Governor’s proposal to remove legal counsel and litigation rights from the law school’s Center for Civil Rights. The center’s core mission, she said, speaks to one priority of hers, which is to ensure fair treatment and expanded opportunities for the diverse populations that make up UNC.

“When issues come up, it will be really important to obtain diverse points of view from faculty and others,”Parise said. “I hope to be the eyes and ears in facilitating communication between our excellent faculty and campus leaders.”

To be an effective liaison with campus leaders, she knows she must serve as the “voice of the faculty,” Parise said. But to communicate effectively with all constituent groups, she also knows she must find – and use – her own.

As a co-founder of a startup focused on developing new drugs for the treatment of cancer, she often listens to podcasts about entrepreneurship and how to run businesses on her morning runs. A department chair for a decade, Parise would like to spread her passion for increasing efficiency in her new role.

“UNC is a pretty lean machine, but there is always room for improvement, to make various processes easier for faculty, staff and students,” she said. “We should push for that improvement, whether it is in my unit or elsewhere.”

Toward that end, Parise remains open-minded about a new incentive-based budget model that the University is planning to roll out in the next year or two.

“There is a nervousness on campus because people at the department level do not yet know how this new budget model will affect their bottom line,” Parise said. “But the intent is good, which is to make sure resources are distributed fairly.”

Parise joined Carolina in 1988 after receiving her doctorate from the University of Illinois Medical Center and completing her postdoctoral work at the Gladstone Foundation/University of California, San Francisco.

This spring, as she approached her 30th year at Carolina, she was nominated to run for chair of the faculty. She accepted the nomination, despite her busy schedule, because she wants to give back to an institution that has given her so much.

“When I learned that I had been nominated for the position and was asked if I’d be willing to run, I thought this could be a wonderful opportunity to help an institution that I care deeply about,” Parise said. “So of course, I said, ‘yes.’ It is such an important role for the University and I am really honored to do it.”