To Be Rather Than To Seem

From the University Report (published by the GAA 1970-94)

Esse quam videri. To be rather than to seem.

North Carolina’s state motto says much about its citizens and our sense of what is important and how as a state we wish to be perceived. This perspective has also affected many of our state’s institutions, including our University.

The University of North Carolina for nearly 200 years has prided itself on serving North Carolina, the South and the nation. Proudly, we devote significantly more of our University’s budget (19 percent) to public service than does any other such institution in the nation.

This focus is driven by what Edward Kidder Graham (1898 PhD) once defined as a recognition that “the boundaries of The University of North Carolina are co-terminus with the boundaries of North Carolina.”

As North Carolina’s higher education has evolved into a statewide system of 16 campuses, occasional tensions among the campuses arise. Many of the other campuses are regionally focused. Some find Carolina’s statewide outreach inhibiting their own ambitions. Regrettably, some have suggested that Carolina should limit our outreach.

Sadly, despite the extensiveness of our service to North Carolina, many may still not be aware of the significance of our public service. Increased competitiveness for state appropriations may require that we devote greater time and attention to emphasizing to the citizenry of North Carolina, and most important those in public positions of authority and influence, our unique, public service focus.

Some years ago this dilemma was defined for me by a colleague who compared one of our own professional schools to another professional school in the region. Ours was by far the more distinguished, yet the other institution appeared to enjoy more public acclaim. The difference was that the less distinguished institution was devoting significant resources to public relations and was cleverly achieving the perception of excellence without the reality. In time this perception permitted this professional school to attract the resources needed to allow the reality to more closely approximate the perception. Fortunately our own professional school-under the leadership of a new dean-through aggressive use of public relations repositioned Carolina ahead of its regional competitor. A colleague later observed, “He who tooteth not his own horn hath not his own horn tooteth.”

Could this be true for our entire University? Are we providing sufficient resources to effectively communicate our vast range of public service to our many publics? Could this bicentennial season provide Carolina with a wonderful opportunity to appropriately reconnect with the people of North Carolina, whose tax dollars have provided the essential foundation for our growth and development?

There is growing concern about empirical evidence that shows our University is declining by national standards. Higher education is under increasing strain because of shrinking resources. It is alarming that over the past decade in the all-important American Association of University Professors’ rankings of faculty salaries and benefits Carolina has moved from the top quintile to the bottom 40 percent.

Every North Carolinian should care that this flagship institution remain strong and be so perceived. If faculty continue to depart for more attractive offers elsewhere, the entire UNC System suffers.

What has been built over 200 years and the economic value The University of North Carolina represents for all of North Carolina is at risk. In addition to aggressively pursuing private gifts that can provide the margin of excellence, in this bicentennial season we can and we must focus on our public image.

Like any public official, institutions are fortunate to leave two or three lasting impressions. As a dynamic, complex university we need a clear understanding of just what we wish those two or three impressions to be. We must articulate all that we do in a manner that is compatible with and consistent with this vision.

For starters, all Carolina alumni should hope that as an institution The University of North Carolina would always stand for “excellence” and “service.” Preserving Carolina’s excellence can best be achieved by reminding ourselves and others, whose support is critical, that The University of North Carolina earned our national standing, respect and membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities by reaching out across North Carolina, the South and the nation to provide leadership in addressing critical public problems.

We continue to provide this distinguished public service. North Carolina’s “priceless gem” continues to shine brightly. Together we can ensure that its brilliance is seen and cherished by all. Esse quam videri.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature





Douglas S. Dibbert ’70


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