October 12, 2011
Thank you so much for that kind introduction. I want each of you here to know how pleased I was when Chancellor Thorp asked me to help celebrate this 218th anniversary of the University with you. As a graduate of Carolina’s law school and a former member of its Alumni Association board, as a former member of the faculty at the School of Government and its Foundation Board, and as a past member of the Board of Visitors, this is truly a homecoming for me. I am particularly honored to be here with you this morning as President of the University of North Carolina. As you may have heard me say before, I love this State, and I took on my new responsibilities just over nine months ago because I care deeply about education and the difference it makes in the lives of individuals and in our communities. It changed my own life—and I know it changes the lives of others every day.
I also love what this University—and particularly this campus—stands for. As it has been for more than two centuries, it is proudly a PUBLIC university. And it is—and has always been—the University of the People.
As I said last week during my inaugural address, we must never lose our clear focus on the University’s duty to contribute to the common good, to develop leaders for our communities, and to serve those communities in ways that enhance the quality of life for the people who live in them. After all, it is that commitment to the common good, to the PUBLIC good, that is central to being a great public University.
Like industries and businesses all across North Carolina, the University is suffering from the effects of this prolonged economic downturn. As you are likely tired of hearing, in July we allocated more than $400 million in new permanent cuts to our base budget that were assigned by the 2011 General Assembly. With these latest reductions, the University system has received more than $1 billion in budget cuts and reversions over a five-year period. I have talked at great length about the cumulative impact of those cuts elsewhere, and could do so again here today, but I prefer to spend my limited time applauding YOU and the phenomenal teaching, research, and outreach that is taking place on this very campus on a daily basis, despite these cuts.
As our faculty and staff have done throughout Carolina’s proud 218-year history, you have rallied to keep things going and to help carry out our mission, even in these very tough economic times. And as a result, under Chancellor Thorp’s strong leadership, UNC-Chapel Hill continues to set—and to raise—the bar for what it means to be a premiere public University.
This occasion is typically a day to celebrate the history and PAST achievements of this great University, but today I want to use it as a way to celebrate the dedicated, talented people who make this place so special RIGHT NOW. I will share just a few examples of the many amazing accomplishments of the people who live, learn, and work here. Please know that there is much more to the story than I have time to share, and as we sit here together, I ask each of you to pause and reflect on how fortunate North Carolina is to have the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So, here’s how I see it happening on this campus, each and every day:
Carolina continues to be a national leader in higher education because of its commitment to academic excellence and student success.
- The Carolina Covenant, for example, is part of the commitment to making college possible for qualified students regardless of their financial means. Many universities nationwide have now followed Carolina’s lead.
- At Carolina, research is a way of learning. While we most often associate graduate students with hands-on research, our undergraduate students also benefit. In fact, more than 60% of students who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2009 had received credit for at least one research-intensive course. That same year, faculty in the College mentored nearly 1,500 undergraduate research projects.
- When I visited UNC-Chapel Hill in January, shortly after I became president, I met with several students to hear about their Carolina experience: Students like Rhodes Scholars Paul Shorkey and Laurence Deschamps-Laporte, now alums pursuing graduate studies at Oxford University. We can be proud that over the past 25 years, Carolina has produced more Rhodes Scholars than any other public research university in America. I also met with students like Jerry Bowens—a junior business major from Charlotte who realized his dream of attending Carolina thanks to a Carolina Covenant Scholarship. Students like Katie Weinel of Raleigh—a junior taking part in the Public Service Scholars program. And students like Burlington native Roy Dawson, a participant in the C-STEP program, which helps talented low-income students transfer from a community college to Carolina and graduate on time with little or no debt. Roy was then a 29-year-old senior who got a late start on college because he dropped out of high school at age 16 in order to get a job and help support his family. Today he’s enrolled in law school right here at Carolina.
Carolina is also recognized for its commitment to faculty excellence in both teaching and research. For example:
- Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, the Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History, was just inducted as a fellow in the American College of Arts and Sciences, one the nation’s most prestigious honor societies. Dr. Hall is a pioneering scholar in Southern women’s history and founding director of the Southern Oral History Program. I love recognizing Professor Hall, not be because we have met or know each other, but because we can never focus enough attention upon or sufficiently celebrate inspiring, outstanding teaching like that in which she is engaged every day.
- David Margolis from medicine, microbiology, and immunology is leading a national team that was recently awarded a $32-million federal grant to help develop a cure for HIV.
- Another team of Carolina researchers led by Ned Sharpless of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center is working on a simple, non-toxic pill that could help cancer patients avoid some of the worst side-effects of chemo- and radiation therapy, as well as help victims of radiation disasters like the one that took place in Japan last year. A spin-off company based on this research recently won a $3-million federal grant to help bring its products to market.
- Hurricane forecasts are getting more accurate than ever, thanks to a team of Carolina researchers including Rick Luettich, who directs our Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. While tracking Hurricane Irene, UNC-Chapel Hill scientists put years of computer modeling development to the ultimate test by accurately forecasting the storm surge and flooding that would occur from North Carolina to New England.
- And just last month, Professor Keven Guskiewicz, a national expert on sports-related concussions, won a coveted MacArthur Fellowship. Better known as the “genius award,” this $500,000, no-strings-attached grant goes to those who have shown extraordinary originality, creativity, and the potential to make important future contributions. Dr. Guskiewicz, who plans to apply part of the award to the study of brain injuries our soldiers have sustained from bomb blasts, is a wonderful example of how innovative faculty research—both in the lab and in the field—advances knowledge that saves lives.
We know that faculty and students couldn’t be so successful were it not for the dedicated staff members who help keep this campus running. I’m talking about employees like Tom Sudderth, one of Carolina’s landscape supervisors who was honored last year with the Massey Award. Tom has contributed to the beauty of this campus for the past 26 years, and more recently has implemented landscaping for a campus master plan. I’m also talking about employees like Reuben Gonzalez-Cresp, another recent Massey Award winner who brings comfort, care, and compassion to patients and their families through his work as a Spanish interpreter at the UNC Lineberger Center and the NC Cancer Hospital.
As one would expect from the University of the People, the impact of Carolina’s teaching and research is today being felt through service to people and their communities all over North Carolina and around the world.
- Through the AHEC program, the UNC Health Care System provides outreach and clinical support in all 100 counties. Last year, our hospitals and affiliated practices served over 694,000 patients and provided more than $300 million in uncompensated care.
- The Build-a-Block project led to Carolina’s selection as Campus Chapter of the Year by Habitat for Humanity International. This project, started last September by then-senior Megan Jones, was a way for the Carolina community to help provide affordable housing for employees of UNC-Chapel Hill. To date, more than 1,400 Carolina students, faculty, and staff, have spent more than 7,000 hours constructing 10 Habitat houses in Phoenix Place in Chapel Hill.
- This year, Carolina moved up to 4th on Teach for America’s list of top schools contributing the greatest number of graduating seniors to this phenomenally successful program.
- UNC-Chapel Hill ranked 3rd among large U.S. colleges and universities for the number of alumni volunteering for the Peace Corps in 2011. This year, 94 undergraduate alumni and another six graduate alumni are representing the United State abroad.
- Today Carolina is partnering with NC State, North Carolina Central University, and Duke—as well as the Center for Entrepreneurial Development—to create a network of entrepreneurial assistance similar to those found in Silicon Valley and the Boston Corridor. The Blackstone Entrepreneurial Network will help identify and mentor 150 start-up teams over the next five years. Working together, our universities can drive our economy forward. We have people with great ideas, and this new network can connect those smart people with the expertise needed to help get their ideas off the ground and into the marketplace.
It is no secret that public universities across the nation are having to place greater reliance on private donors to fill in growing gaps in state funding—gaps that have been exacerbated by the ongoing economic recession. Because of the remarkable teaching, research, and engagement that happens EVERY DAY on this campus, more than 77,000 Carolina alumni, parents, and friends gave $277 million in private gifts in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s the second-highest annual total in the campus’ history. Those would be great numbers in ANY year. But in the current economy, that level of support—that tangible vote of confidence—is EXTRAORDINARY.
In my remarks in Greensboro last week, I acknowledged that we are at a defining moment in our history—a time marked by challenges and uncertainty. But I also indicated that this is, nonetheless, OUR time, and what we do with it is up to US. It is OUR time to redefine ourselves as a University and to decide how to retain the essence of what we do best—teaching, research, and public engagement—but to do so in new and different ways that are relevant in the lives of our people and that add real value to the state and to the nation.
Today and in the years ahead, we must recommit ourselves to being the University of the People. In doing so, we must continue to accept nothing less than the same excellence that exists today at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But on THIS day, it is important that we pause to celebrate all that this University means and all that it does. We are truly blessed to have this place and the people here in our lives. Reminding ourselves of the real VALUE of what we have is critical to maintaining our commitment to PRESERVE it. Thank you for giving me the privilege of being a part of this special day, and I thank all of you for the enormous good each of you do—and do so well—on behalf of our students, each other, our University, and our state.
Today is a Day to be Proud! Today is a Great Day to be a Tar Heel!