Chancellor Holden Thorp Installation Address, October 12, 2008

Thank you, President Bowles, for that introduction and for the confidence that you’ve shown in me. My campus colleagues and I thank you for all you do for Carolina and the UNC system.

To members of our General Assembly, including Marc Basnight and Joe Hackney, thank you for your generous support. We know these are trying times, and we pledge to be your partners as we help lead North Carolina into the future.

Thanks also to members of the UNC Board of Governors, chaired with great skill by Hannah Gage, and Carolina’s Board of Trustees, led so ably by my good friend Chair Roger Perry.

I also want to acknowledge the University’s outstanding leadership – our vice chancellors, Cabinet and deans.

I appreciate all the support that I’ve received these last several months. One message came from my fourth-grade teacher in Fayetteville, Mrs. Van Stryck. “Dear Holden,” she said, “I’m happy and not surprised that you have become the chancellor. However, I haven’t changed my mind about the fact that your handwriting could hold you back one day.”

I’m grateful to have my family here. It’s been on my mind for months how it would feel to put my hand on the Thorp Bible, which goes back to my great-grandfather, Judge William Lewis Thorp, mayor of Rocky Mount. In the late 1800s, the judge read for the law under Judge Battle at what later became the Carolina law school.

And I’m so happy to be joined by my magnificent wife, Patti, who – in addition to supporting the chancellor – as Erskine said is full of enthusiasm for the University and this community. And to my children, John and Emma, the president was right. You have the best basketball tickets of any kids in Chapel Hill.

I’m so proud to see my academic mentors here. Harry Gray – my Ph.D. advisor from Caltech – has trained 125 future college professors in his lab, including five university chancellors or presidents. That makes him the Dean Smith of chemistry. My postdoctoral advisor, Gary Brudvig, is also here from Yale. Gary taught me to love biochemistry and showed me the greatest job for a young person – that of a faculty member at a research university.

To Pat Timmons-Goodson and Allan Gurganus … I dreamed that both of you would be here since that first time I heard from the search committee. …

And to our former chancellors, thank you all. You understand this, but in the last three months the extraordinary admiration that I had for all of you has risen even higher. I see Bill Aycock, Paul Hardin, and James Moeser. And I see Carmen Hooker Odum, Diane Taylor, and Barbara Fordham. Thank you for all you have done for our University. James, I thank you especially for many things, but most of all for this wonderful football team. As we say in the theatre, timing is everything.

And to President Friday … Sir, without you, none of us would be here.

So to the other platform party members and distinguished guests, our elected officials, members of the Carolina community, alumni, and friends:

Thank you all for joining us on this special day – Carolina’s birthday – to honor our University’s great traditions and celebrate together the promise of the future.

Most installation speeches describe the University’s history – sometimes at great length. I need my time today to talk about the future. So – with apologies to Bill Powell – I give you “The History of the University of North Carolina, Abridged.”

Our founders went down to my hometown of Fayetteville and convinced the General Assembly to charter the University. Davie hitched his horse in Chapel Hill, and we were off. Hinton James left Wilmington on foot. He turned left at Benson. Eventually, he made it to class. We closed the University, and then we opened it again.

Frank Graham went to the U.S. Senate. Before he left, Mrs. Graham made cookies. Bob House played the harmonica. Bill Friday, Bill Aycock and Fayetteville’s own Paul Dickson got the Speaker Ban Law overturned. We admitted women and we integrated. James Taylor went to Abbey Road Studios and recorded “Carolina in My Mind.” Michael Jordan made the shot, and here we are. …

But here’s the serious part: Throughout our history, our leaders have held true to a concept so bold, so audacious and so challenging – to aspire to global academic eminence while focusing our teaching and our service on North Carolina’s students and people.

We’re the university of both – and: Both academic prominence and a commitment to our state.

If William R. Davie had known how hard it was, he never would have tried it. Thank goodness he had no earthly idea. And thank goodness for the last 215 years we’ve had leaders who refused to choose between knowledge and service.

I’m so proud to stand before you today to talk about how we can nurture this audacious idea and do even more for the people of our University, for our state, and for our world.

‘The people of Carolina’

Our institutional saga is one of courage and conviction, of thirst for knowledge and creativity, and of love for education and enlightenment. But no matter how enjoyable it may be to relive our storied past, it’s not my topic for today. Today we must show the discipline not to revel in our past, but to live in the present and look to the future.

These last several months, I’ve experienced the deep feelings that folks have for our University. I’ve heard a few opinions about this policy or that policy. I’ve heard about favorite professors. And I’ve heard concerns about the future location of Time-Out and its chicken biscuits.

But what I’ve heard most is an acute awareness that Carolina is about our people: our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We all share the belief that the people of Carolina can transform the future – with our minds, with our willingness to confront challenges, and with our hopes for our state, nation, and world.

To advance as a campus community, we must deepen our collective commitment to the people of Carolina. We must motivate and nurture our students academically – and we must provide them with the right environment to find and follow their dreams. We must expect our faculty to succeed in the classroom and in research and service – and make sure they have the resources they need. We must enable our talented staff to provide these resources for teaching and learning – and attend to their circumstances to make this an even better place to work.

In short, we must make Carolina the best place to teach, learn, and discover.

We don’t need a magazine to devise a formula to tell us how to do that. We don’t need a blue-ribbon panel of academics to write a lengthy report. And we don’t need a snazzy tag line.

We just need to take care of our people. If we do that, then the students’ successes, the big ideas, the recognition, the grant dollars, and the solutions to society’s greatest problems will take care of themselves.

So how do we make this the best place to teach, learn, and discover?

‘Attract and inspire’

First, attract the best students and inspire them. We want students who demonstrate a high level of academic work and commitment to original thought. We want students who embrace risk and meet challenges. And we want our undergraduates to reflect our state’s growing and diverse population. We cannot realize the transforming power of higher education unless everyone participates.

For more than two centuries, we have had the luxury of assuming that the best North Carolina students will come to us. But our advantaged position with these high-achieving students is at risk. Financial aid practices of the top privates have made it easier for students to choose excellent universities outside North Carolina. When that happens, they are less likely to come back and contribute to our state and our economy.

We want outstanding students from beyond North Carolina to enhance our campus and benefit from our University.

We’ll meet this challenge by raising funds for merit- and need-based aid to make Carolina even more financially attractive. We’ll meet it by more actively recruiting the students we want. And we’ll meet it by looking carefully with the faculty at our academic programs to make them more attractive to students’ interests while enhancing their academic rigor and challenging the extraordinary minds of our young people.

Carolina’s approach to undergraduate education will continue to embrace our commitment to fostering students’ curiosity and passion, recognizing that building their capacity to learn is our primary objective. In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s not always possible to choose something to study when you’re 18 that’s where you’ll make your mark when you’re 30.

You can’t time the market. That’s why Carolina’s proud liberal arts tradition is more relevant today than ever.

Alongside this commitment, we recognize that the arts and humanities provide vital perspectives and skills that differentiate American higher education. And they provide fertile ground for our students to find their passions and to gain an understanding of the human condition that will inform their future life and work.

It’s on us to do more than teach, more than educate. We must inspire our students to reach beyond themselves and take on the great problems facing the world.

The competition for graduate and professional students is no less severe or important. The assistantships offered for graduate study at our private peer campuses pose similar threats to our excellent Ph.D. programs that define Carolina’s academic reputation. We will respond similarly – with greater support for our most promising graduate students and redoubled efforts at getting the students we want.

No effort goes more directly to the heart of Carolina’s academic reputation and prominence than the work we’ll do to attract the best graduate students to Chapel Hill and to support them in their scholarship.

‘Recruit and support’

Second, recruit and support our stellar faculty. The national esteem for Carolina arises principally from the work of our outstanding faculty. Carolina’s faculty determine and execute our academic agenda. Their research informs our teaching, elevates our graduate programs, and defines our service. Experiences shape teaching, so we must have a diverse faculty if we want to inspire a diverse student body.

The defining principle of a research university is that teaching and discovery are done by the same people. Those who do both well are scarce. But not here at Carolina. We need to support our gifted teacher-scholars – and attract their new colleagues to inspire our students.

Nothing enhances Carolina more than supporting our faculty. That’s why we must do more – with professorships, funds for research, and support for graduate students. It’s why we instituted the Center for Faculty Excellence to provide our colleagues with the assistance they need. And it’s why we must continue to work with the Town of Chapel Hill and our region to make this the best place for a professor and her family to live.

‘Serve and elevate’

Third, serve and elevate our region, state, and beyond. Our guiding principle calls us to aspire globally while serving locally. And when we think about engaging with communities, we have to start with our own region of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County, and Durham. Who can imagine Carolina without Franklin Street, the Hula Hoopers of downtown Carrboro, or Mack the Knife’s two-dollar haircuts?

Carolina can’t serve the state and the world if we don’t succeed in our own backyard.

We have much to work on with our colleagues in local governments. Our employees struggle to get to campus and find places to live nearby; fewer than half of them live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Empty storefronts sit too long on Franklin Street. Our neighbors worry about the growth of our campus.

But there’s hope on some important fronts. Our partnership with Chapel Hill Transit sets a standard for college communities across the country. The UNC Foundation will acquire the University Square property and partner with local government on downtown revitalization. And the vision for Carolina North has evolved significantly, for the better, thanks to the town and the University talking – and listening – to each other. Plans are progressing for the Innovation Center, and we’ve begun discussions about a zoning district for Carolina North.

With these successes as starting points, all we need to do is muster the collective will to share responsibility for our local vitality.

On the state level, our service begins with attracting and inspiring the smart young people of North Carolina who will graduate and contribute to the economy and society here at home.

Just imagine the history of North Carolina without Carolina alumni. Nothing we do contributes more to our state than providing an accessible and affordable education to North Carolina’s students and turning those bright young people loose to lead us.

But we can do more for North Carolina. We will work closely with President Bowles, and we will partner more with our UNC sister institutions. I’m so pleased to see so many of the system chancellors here today. I know how busy chancellors are, so thank you. Since July first, I have visited nine of you on your campuses, and I’ll be calling on others soon. There’s so much we can do together for our state.

One of the most critical issues facing our university system is how to educate an estimated 80,000 additional students by 2017. At Carolina, we have spent much of the past year studying potential enrollment growth. We have a responsibility to do our part.

But we have to be smart about growth. We have to determine how to grow and enhance our quality. So, we are launching some important initiatives.

First, Roger Perry and I have asked Trustees John Ellison and J.J. Raynor to lead a campus-wide conversation about how Carolina can be an even better university.

Their work will inform an update of the Academic Plan that Provost Gray-Little will lead. Both of these efforts will help us determine our priorities for private giving.

Finally, I have asked Director of Admissions Steve Farmer and Associate Dean Steven Reznick to lead a task force to explore ways to strengthen the Carolina undergraduate experience.

This is the right time for a Carolina education. It may be the most challenging period our state and nation have ever faced. But thanks to my years at Carolina, I am filled with an enduring hope that derives from the unquenchable idealism of our students and their interest in the world’s great problems.

So imagine that a student could come to Chapel Hill to major in Mandarin and international studies while addressing global health. Or major in chemistry while addressing global warming. Or major in American Studies while addressing poverty or youth violence.

We can come together as an intellectual community to address the world’s great problems. We can do it without dismantling or realigning our existing academic structure. And students can do their work on the great problems inside the classroom and as part of their academic life. Because of our guiding principle of academic excellence plus service, Carolina is perfectly suited to redefine higher education in this way and to leverage our young peoples’ interests in the great problems to enhance their academic success and position them to lead us.

This is critical, because our greatest contributions are the UNC alumni who go on to be leaders in communities across North Carolina.

‘You can get there from here’

So, what are the characteristics of a university that attracts and inspires the best students, recruits and supports the best faculty, and serves and elevates our region and state? Yes, we can get there from here.

First and foremost, Carolina must feel safe. Neuroscience shows that people are more likely to have new insights when they feel secure. So if we hope to produce the ideas we need, we must ensure that our faculty, staff, and students are intellectually secure and free to dream about new solutions and observe our proud tradition of open inquiry.

They also need to feel safe physically. That starts with campus security measures. I’m so confident in our public safety department and Chief Jeff McCracken. He and his officers are profoundly committed to the security of our campus. We continue to enhance campus lighting and evaluate late-night shuttle service.

But we can’t stop there. We will continue to look for new ideas. And while more officers, lights, and shuttles can help, in the end, the big gains will come when we realize that we must all be part of the solution. Today, I challenge all of us to look out for each other.

Next, Carolina must be a great place to work for staff. That’s why, last week, we raised the minimum annual salaries of our lowest-paid employees. We won’t stop there. We’ll continue to advocate for competitive salaries and health benefits.

I’ve also asked the Office of Human Resources to develop a comprehensive management development program for our supervisors. Our managers play a critical role in the University’s success, and we need to make sure they have the tools they need. This new training will focus on applying good management and leadership practices in daily interactions with staff members.

Next, Carolina must remain committed to the environment, which has been a topic of research here for nearly two centuries. Our faculty’s expertise spans global warming, alternative energy sources, clean air and drinking water, the health of our marine ecosystems, and sustainable development – issues that affect everyone. And with programs in the Institute for the Environment, the College and Public Health, we are even stronger. We must keep pushing these strengths – to lead in the study of the environment and its problems and in devising and providing solutions.

On campus, we will continue to demonstrate a humble respect for the environment. Sustainability is not just an academic topic. It’s part of our culture. It’s reflected in everything from our construction program to how we conduct business every day.

Carrington Hall’s addition was the first building in the UNC system to receive LEED certification, and at least five more are planned or currently under construction. New approaches to managing the University’s water needs will greatly reduce our community’s daily demand.

Finally, Carolina’s health affairs schools and the UNC Health Care System must remain committed to pursuing ambitious curiosity-driven research, translating new discoveries to patients, and providing high-quality health care to North Carolinians – regardless of their ability to pay.

‘We are the light on the hill’

It’s not the easy way to pursue global eminence in our academic programs while drawing the majority of our students from a single state. It’s not the easy way to build world-class research programs in our professional schools and direct our clinical efforts to North Carolina. It’s not the easy way to commit ourselves to affordability while competing with our national peers who charge high tuitions.

It’s not the easy way to be Carolina. But over the centuries, we have shown the courage of our convictions. So, though it may not be the easy way, it’s the only way we know. And that’s why our loftiest and most idealistic objectives make perfect sense.

We can attract the best students from North Carolina and beyond to Chapel Hill. We can have the best faculty ready to teach and inspire them when they get here. And we can make our campus a cohesive community that contributes to the vitality of our region and state.

We know we can, because we always have.

Our motto is light and liberty. And that light has shined brightly throughout our history. It shined brightly when our founders invented public higher education. It shined brightly when Hinton James attended his first class. It shined brightly when Kenan, Morehead, and Venable ignited the industrial revolution. It shined brightly when we integrated and when we admitted women. And it shined brightly when we redefined access with the Carolina Covenant. …

But think how much more brightly our light will shine when our students, faculty, staff, and alumni deepen our collective commitment to the community that is our campus and town, the university system to which we proudly belong, the state that feeds and nurtures us, the nation and world we seek to strengthen, and the love we have for each other and this hallowed place.

This little light has just begun to shine.

We’ll let it shine in our classrooms when we embrace new ideas, describe the human condition, and pursue the truth. We’ll let it shine in our hospitals and our laboratories when we care for and cure the people of North Carolina and beyond. We’ll let it shine on our coast where rising waters threaten our state. We’ll let it shine in the streets of our cities and here in our community. And we’ll let it shine in the hearts and minds of the best students, the best faculty, the best staff, and the best alumni in the world.

People of Carolina, we are the light … on the hill.

Let it shine.

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