As University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton readies for retirement and passing on the torch to Andrew Feinstein in June, one of her final acts as head of the university is to inspire confidence in this change for the campus.
“I will work with him in any ways that he [Feinstein] finds helpful,” Norton said. “I have 16 years of history and actually more than 20 with being associated with the university and the community. I’ll be happy to tell him about the contexts of why things are the way they are, if and when he seeks to find out.”
Norton reflected on her time as president and how she began her presidency at UNC, putting herself in the shoes of Feinstein.
“I would advise him to take a moment because he is going to be drinking from the firehouse,” Norton said. “There is going to be so many things that are bombarding him right in the beginning, and I would hope that he would take the time to think through and set priorities.”
As her final school year at UNC nears its end, Norton joked about looking forward to having a looser schedule and more time to sleep in her retirement. On a more serious note, she said she is excited to pursue new interests in her newly available free time and spending more time with her three young grandchildren in Arizona. Although, she made it clear that she will be available to help Feinstein in any way she can during this time.
“It will always be a big part of my life. You know, Once a bear, always a bear,” Norton said. “It’s certainly the people that I work with on a daily basis, the students and the activities [that I will miss].”
Reflecting on the expected ups and downs of her career as president, Norton said that she could verify that hindsight vision is 20/20.
“I really wouldn’t go back and actually change anything because I certainly always have sought to learn from things that I could’ve viewed as mistakes,” Norton said. “I think failure is a part of success. If you don’t try when you’re not certain of success you won’t actually make much progress.”
The perception of Norton’s presidency has been notably controversial, over the past few years at the very least. But Norton said it is hard for her to know what people’s perception of her presidency was for certain; she “never viewed the presidency as a popularity contest,” as it was not something she was seeking.
“I hope that I am viewed as someone who’s been dedicated to the university, cares for the university and works hard for the university,” Norton said.
One of the complaints that Norton has received on her presidency was how reserved she was in interacting with the university community, which was a point brought up during Feinstein’s meet and greet with students a few weeks ago.
“I think I connected with the campus at a fairly deep level,” Norton said. “A lot of people like the stability that comes with longevity, and I think it does give you perspective, for sure.”
This longevity she spoke of was one she described as a journey of failures and successes.
“Sixteen years is a really long time, and I feel good that I have done my best over time and I am proud that I have learned a lot over time,” Norton said. “Therefore, I think I accomplished some movement towards building community and strengthening the reputation of UNC.”
Saying she doesn’t typically discuss merit badges, Norton said she was proud of UNC taking the intercollegiate athletics program into Division One and the Big Sky Conference.
However, Norton said she was particularly proud of the Campus Commons which “combines our commitment to student success, showcases our world-class music and arts programs and becoming a welcoming entry point to UNC for the whole world.” Norton said UNC’s reputation and the way the campus looks is something to be proud of as well.
The Campus Commons, according to Norton, was in the making for nearly 20 years with a former president heading the project. The idea was to remodel Bishop-Lehr to create student services building, but the lack of state funding ended the project. Later, plans of a music performance hall was in the works, but it was not sufficiently funded by donors either.
Then the idea of having a “gateway to the university” was considered, despite most universities not having one building for this purpose. According to Norton, the Campus Commons combined all these previous ideas into one building for half the cost.
“I think it personifies what UNC is all about,” Norton said. “That we’re not just a series of separate colleges. We are open and accessible to members of both the university community and people outside the university community.”
The perception of the Campus Commons has been very conflicted, surely not helped by the loss of a large portion of the limited parking spots at UNC. Norton said that the negative views of the Campus Commons will likely change once it opens, though.
“It certainly varies to whom you talk to. There are some people who don’t understand the three-part concept,” Norton said. “So I think there’s still some people who are still not certain they know what it is or why it is, and that I think will become obvious once it’s actually functioning.”
She said in the meantime, communication about the purpose of the Campus Commons should be continued.
“I really believed that if I articulated certain things that I believed to be true, and people would hear me, agree with me and we would all move forward together,” Norton said. ‘It’s not that simple. You really have to spend the time to develop trust in a university community, and with trust, then credibility. Universities are complex places with lots of different people, who are all of good will, but may not be viewing things the same way.”
She said obvious actions taken by a for-profit environment or a company become less clear in an educational environment. Norton said she’d like to think she gained that trust she spoke of.
As well as Campus Commons, Norton is attributed to heading the progress on establishing the new osteopathic medical college, which would be privately funded. It would be hosted in Bishop-Lehr once it’s remodeled.
“In addition to it not being an investment by UNC and rehabbing a building that has been shuttered for a long time, there are opportunities for our faculty and students to engage in perhaps expansions or refinements of our academic programs, research opportunities and join appointments with the medical college for some folks,” Norton said. “There’s a lot of potential in the future as that would get going that I think would be very positive for us in terms of both revenue and academic opportunities.”