(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Distinguished Service Medal Citation
In 1985 a 37-year-old utility contractor made his way from the North Carolina coast to Raleigh to take his seat in the state Senate. His penchant for wearing Outer Banks argyles—a polite-company term for bare ankles—may have raised a few eyebrows. But it wasn’t long before Marc Basnight’s colleagues felt the presence of a man seriously devoted to improving education in this state.
Where Marc comes from, you can always taste the salt air of the Outer Banks. You never are without nature’s most stunning beauty, nor are you sheltered from her most devastating storms. He knows how it feels to grow up in an area so remote, so disconnected that it was more a part of Tidewater Virginia than its own state. He knows the business of representing people who historically were not avid participants in the government or the life of that state. He knows, too, the value of leadership—how it can change all that. He never went to college, but he knows volumes about the University that produced the lion’s share of North Carolina’s leaders.
Marc’s beliefs and his tactful leadership are everywhere in the quest to make education in North Carolina more progressive, and not just at the college level. He is a champion of a system of incentives and accountability in the public schools. He has led the way toward a system of rewards to individual schools for academic achievement. He sponsored measures to raise teaching standards and teacher salaries. And he is a tireless advocate for public bond money to enable schools to keep pace with growth.
The Senate’s leader demands results. As he will tell you, at the week’s end he wants you to tell him what you’ve gotten done.
One need only stroll through this campus to see the fruits of his efforts in support of the 2000 construction bond referendum, which is providing $3.1 billion to help the state’s universities and community colleges build for growth, modernize for 21st century teaching and learning, and refurbish aging facilities. This crucial moment in the history of education in this state, which brings some $500 million in growth funds to the Chapel Hill campus, was not an easy sell in the legislature.
The leadership both in Raleigh and in the academies will tell you it would not have happened without Marc’s influence and guidance.
Today Marc is in his tenth term. Not only is he the longest-serving Senate president pro tempore in state history, he is the first North Carolina lawmaker to lead a chamber of the legislature for more than four consecutive terms. Even more important for us today, he is the best kind of friend the University of North Carolina can have. His understanding of the value of higher education to young people, and the value of research universities to the state’s economic engine, is contagious in the state capital.
In the words of Chancellor James Moeser, Marc “has been a true friend of Carolina, even in the most difficult of budget times. His advocacy has and will benefit generations of students, faculty and staff in the years to come. Carolina would not be where it is today without Marc’s support and keen appreciation for the teaching, research and public service activities that take place on our campus.”
Marc is not a stranger to recognition. He is a recipient of the William Richardson Davie award for extraordinary service to the University and to society, the highest honor given by Carolina’s trustees. He also has received awards for his contributions to higher education from N.C. State University and UNC-Wilmington. He’s been honored by the state’s public libraries. The nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research chose Marc the most effective state senator in four different years.
Marc Basnight knows the meaning of the concept of opportunity better than a lot of people with lists of advanced degrees by their names. In his own humble words, “Having never had the opportunity to attend college myself, I can perhaps appreciate better than most the importance of a quality higher education, and I want to continue to work to make sure that Carolina remains strong so that others will always have available to them the opportunities that I never had.” In 2001 Marc’s daughter Caroline graduated from Carolina.
This is the University of the People because of self-made people such as Marc Basnight who recognize that our state’s future is as bound with Chapel Hill as our past has been.