Regular readers of our alumni publications will remember the March and May issues of the University Report newspaper which contained extensive discussions of the University’s commitment to the people of North Carolina. Without attempting to capsule those provocative articles and letters, I do wish to address some of the implications which these matters hold for the University and for alumni.
Universities are generally evaluated and ranked for the quality of their research and teaching. Increasingly, public universities must demonstrate the service they provide to the people whose tax dollars support this research and teaching. As the First State University, UNC-CH has for nearly 200 years been providing a better life to all the people of the state of North Carolina.
Of increasing urgency is the need for alumni and friends to stay informed about the breadth of public service performed by our university. The May University Report described the extensive activities of the Institute of Government and its outreach into all 100 North Carolina counties, effecting better government across the state. In previous Reports Chancellor Fordham has reviewed the University’s long-standing partnership with the state’s public schools. There is the University’s AHEC Program, a model for the delivery of health care to rural areas. The list is long — striving daily to improve the quality of life for every North Carolinian are the Child Development Research Center, Highway Safety Research Institute, Institute of Nutrition, Institute of Environmental Studies, Institute of Marine Sciences, Institute of Outdoor Drama, Center for Alcohol Studies, Cancer Research Center, Biological Sciences Research Center, Carolina Population Center, Hearing and Speech Center, Hemophilia Center, and the Executive Program — to name only a few.
In addition, UNC-CH contributes directly to the economic well-being of the state. Besides the teaching and training it provides to the business sector and its role in the phenomenal success of the Research Triangle Park, the University at Chapel Hill attracts over $115 million each year from outside North Carolina. With only 39 percent of its budget provided by the state, the University provides North Carolina a nearly 2 to 1 return on the state’s investment in our campus.
All of us — faculty, students, administrators and alumni — have been guilty of assuming without question that our good works are known and appreciated by the people of North Carolina. I would suggest that this is not always the case.
UNC-CH is no longer one of a handful of institutions which used to provide all post secondary education in North Carolina. Today, in addition to the 16 campuses of the UNC system, of which the Chapel Hill campus is but one, there are 58 community colleges and technical institutes and 38 private colleges and universities, all seeking public support. Indeed, many of us have dual allegiances, supporting not only Carolina but also our hometown community college, technical institute, private college or another campus of the UNC system.
There is a serious threat posed by these two conditions: I) the mushrooming of institutions providing post secondary education and, 2) the limited understanding and appreciation of the public service performed by our alma mater. Carolina could be left to fend for itself, and North Carolina could lose its most precious resource its first-rate, nationally renowned public university. Having survived the myriad of challenges over our nearly 200-year history to secure and preserve the finest university in the South and one of the finest anywhere, we cannot assume now that we are assured the continuing resources to maintain the University’s excellence.
Our challenges are clear. We must become better informed about the University’s range and depth of public service. University faculty and administrators must become more aggressive in communicating with alumni and the public about this public service so that their friends can assist in procuring sufficient resources to secure the University’s continued excellence. Carolina alumni should assist the University in early recruiting of outstanding students. It is essential that the quality of our students remains high. Above all else, an informed alumni family must sing Carolina’s praises — to friends, community leaders, legislators, newspaper writers and publishers and others. Eternal vigilance will be necessary if we wish to preserve North Carolina’s “priceless gem.”
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70