By Jim Woodward
Chancellor Emeritus, UNC Charlotte
The mission of the 17-campus University of North Carolina can be summarized with the following statement:
Public universities exist to serve the public good.
This goal is pursued through the teaching, research, and service programs conducted by their faculty, staff, and administration. Many of these programs and, hence, those who present them, are widely recognized as among the best in the country. Following are several examples that illustrate the resulting contribution to the “public good” for the people of North Carolina.
Since this country’s first public university came into being over 200 years ago, the campuses of the University of North Carolina have graduated many of the state’s political, business, and community leaders. UNC Charlotte is one of the system’s youngest campuses. Yet it has graduated over 125,000 men and women, with some 85,000 still living in North Carolina, including 65,000 in the Charlotte region. Many of these alumni hold key leadership roles in the public and private sectors. For example, the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and the General Counsel of Lowe’s, a Fortune 100 company headquartered in North Carolina, are all graduates of UNC Charlotte.
The demand, and need, for higher education continues to grow in our state and country. The effect on the private institutions, community colleges, and UNC campuses can be illustrated by again focusing on UNC Charlotte. In the fall of 2014, that campus enrolled 27,238 students. The freshman class brought an average high school GPA of 3.86. Including transfer students from community colleges and other institutions, 43% of all new undergraduates were first-generation college students.
It must be emphasized that the campuses of the University of North Carolina do not operate “behind ivy-covered walls.” A visit to the hospitals at UNC Chapel Hill and East Carolina University will provide an immediate illustration of the service being provided the people of North Carolina. Different, but important, service is being provided by all of the campuses and is being recognized nationally.
Hopefully, the examples above illustrate the scope and importance of the contributions the 17 campuses have made and continue to make to the people of North Carolina. In all cases, those contributions derive from the work of the faculty, staff, and administrators who have been attracted to those campuses. And the excellence of that work has been widely recognized and honored, as illustrated by a few examples.
Since the early ‘80s, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have sponsored the U.S. Professors of the Year program, which “salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country – those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students.” All faculty members from community colleges and senior institutions who teach undergraduate students are eligible.
Of these tens of thousands of faculty, only four are selected annually as U.S. Professors of the Year. UNC Charlotte has had two faculty so honored and a faculty member at UNC Wilmington received this national honor in 2014. (www.case.org)
To be an effective teacher throughout a professional career, a faculty member must also be engaged in his or her discipline as a scholar. That is, good teaching and good research are intertwined activities, with both required if the goal of properly serving the “public good” is to be achieved.
Gov. O. Max Gardner recognized the relationship and, through his will, established an annual award that recognizes faculty within the University of North Carolina who have “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.” The selection of the honorees is made by the Board of Governors and is considered the highest faculty honor bestowed by the board.
Two honorees were named for 2015, one from NC State and the other from UNC Charlotte. The faculty member from NC State is considered a pioneer in the field of nonwoven fabrics, a technology of growing importance to the textile industry. The faculty member from UNC Charlotte holds an endowed chair, which was funded with a private gift and funds from the state that partially matched that private gift. According to a distinguished cancer expert at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, that faculty member is “one of the most committed and well-respected scientists in cancer research in the national arena today.” (www.northcarolina.edu)
In addition to attracting outstanding faculty and staff, the campuses of the system have also attracted highly talented administrators. Again, consider an example from UNC Charlotte. Four individuals who held administrative positions at the institution during my tenure as Chancellor subsequently served as presidents at other universities. One, Phil Dubois, left a highly successful presidency at The University of Wyoming to return “home” as chancellor of UNC Charlotte.
The collective quality of those who work on our campuses has a profound influence on business location decisions. Research Triangle Park provides a clear illustration. With 50,000 people employed there, it is the largest university-affiliated park in the country.
Another illustration is found in Charlotte. The businesses located in the University Research Park affiliated with UNC Charlotte employ some 30,000 people. This makes it the second largest university-affiliated park in the Southeast. Neither of these parks would have developed had the adjacent universities not existed.
If the University of North Carolina is to properly serve the “public good” in the future, each of its 17 campuses must continue to attract and retain highly capable men and women. To do so, the campuses must successfully compete with other universities throughout the country that have the same goal.
All who serve in elected and appointed positions responsible for the governance of the University of North Carolina recognize the importance of the university to the wellbeing of the state and its people. When facing a policy issue affecting the university in the future, I would urge that each ask himself or herself the following question:
“What impact will a particular outcome have on our ability to attract and retain excellent men and women for the faculty, staff, and administrative positions on the campuses?”
The answer to that question should make the resulting decision obvious.