Growing With Care

I once attended the celebration of the founding of one of our campus’ fraternities. During that celebration, I talked with an alumnus who had not been back to Chapel Hill in nearly 30 years. He volunteered that he had returned with some anxiety because he was concerned that we might have “ruined” Chapel Hill and our campus during the intervening years.

Naturally, I asked him what he had found. He noted that he had walked down the 100 block of East Franklin Street and then turned south to walk through McCorkle Place past Silent Sam and the Davie Poplar and on to the Old Well. He crossed Cameron Avenue and stood on the steps of South Building facing Wilson Library. He walked through Polk Place with a sense of relief, observing that the path he had just taken was the Chapel Hill and UNC campus that he remembered most fondly, and it seemed not to have changed.

Many alumni are concerned as we hear about a call from the UNC System to indicate how we plan to respond to a record increase in the number of North Carolina students who will be seeking admission to one of the UNC System’s 16 schools over the next decade. None of us wants the beauty of our campus and of Chapel Hill to be lessened by the addition of several thousand new students. There are those who worry that our present size of 24,000 may be too large. Most important, each of us wants the quality of the student experience to be preserved or even enhanced, and we especially want the quality of their educational experience to remain high.

Recognizing the importance of enrollment issues to our entire University community, UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker ’69 wisely appointed an Enrollment Task Force, which included faculty, students, staff, trustees and alumni. It was thoughtfully led by Provost Richard Richardson and included the following members of the GAA Board of Directors: Anne Wilmoth Cates ’53, Thomas W. Lambeth ’57, Richard “Stick” Williams ’75 and me.

After several months of work, the task force submitted its report to the UNC Board of Trustees in November. With encouragement from faculty and others in our University community, we enthusiastically recommended that Carolina grow by as many as 6,000 students over the next decade. The task force insisted that any growth must be preceded by the provision of the substantial resources that will be required to prepare the campus to accommodate these students. We estimate that 600 new full-time faculty positions and 1,500 staff positions will be needed, requiring an additional $300 million per year. Further, we must be provided resources to build dormitories and additional classrooms and support facilities. The one-time cost of these new facilities exceeds $1 billion and does not include the costs associated with parking and transportation needs.

The task force developed a set of principles that guided its work. Among them were:

  • Sustain quality.
  • Maintain the residential character of the campus.
  • Maintain small class size.
  • Maintain the enrollment percentage of 82 percent in-state and 18 percent out-of-state.
  • Maintain commitment to a distinct mission for graduate education and the present percentage of 60 percent undergraduates to 40 percent graduate students. (It is proposed that our campus would accommodate 50 percent of the growth experienced systemwide in professional and graduate education.)
  • Increase enrollment from the top of the enrollment pool (This would involve expanding the Honors Program, participating in the National Merit Scholarship program and using faculty in recruiting top prospects.)
  • Seek to improve the five-year graduation rate from its already high rate of 80 percent.
  • Enhance diversity.
  • Grow library resources to accommodate additional students.

Provost Richardson noted that what has been submitted is intended to be a 10-year plan but that without resources it would become a 30-year plan. Under the plan, in the next decade the campus would grow by the same number of students by which we have increased since I graduated in 1970. (No enrollment increases are proposed for the next two years, allowing time to secure needed resources.)

Each of us believes that Carolina and Chapel Hill were exactly the right size when we were students. Our challenge in accommodating this significant increase is to ensure that these new students look back and feel as we do. The quality of the student experience largely determines our participation and interest as alumni . Alumni should be reassured that we will not grow unless the resources are provided that will be essential if we are to retain and enhance the quality of educational experience for all Carolina students.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

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