An Era of Uncertainty

Happily, the Old Well has not been moved. But across Cameron Avenue in South Building, on both sides of the first floor, new senior University officers are at work — Carolina’s 11th chancellor, Carol Folt, and the University’s executive vice chancellor and provost, Jim Dean. Two searches are underway for new vice chancellors of development and communications, and only four of the 18 members of the first Cabinet of former Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 remain.

GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70When the Board of Trustees convenes in July, it will have a new chair, vice chair and secretary as well as at least four new members. Three of the UNC System’s 32 members of the Board of Governors have served more than one consecutive term. (Each BOG member is limited to three four-year terms.) These three are the only BOG members who were serving when Tom Ross ’75 (JD) was chosen as the UNC System’s seventh president two and a half years ago.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both Republicans, began their second terms in their respective General Assembly leadership positions in January, and Tillis recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Sixty percent of the 170 members of the N.C. Senate and House have not yet completed two full terms. N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory — only the third Republican governor in North Carolina in more than a century — began his first term in January.

There is great uncertainty about state and federal funding. The federal sequester is limiting available federal funding for research, and state budget pressures have resulted in further cuts in state appropriations.

Uncertainty is not unique to Chapel Hill or to anyone in higher education:

  • Earlier this year, Carolina alumna Mary Sue Coleman ’69, who previously served UNC as vice chancellor of research, announced she will retire next year as president of the University of Michigan. Michigan’s provost has just returned to his alma mater, Dartmouth College, as its new president. Michigan’s largest source of funding remains tuition, now exceeding $1 billion a year.
  • Last year, Teresa Sullivan — former provost at Michigan and now president of the University of Virginia — was the subject of a widely publicized firing and rehiring. Virginia’s greatest source of funding also is tuition; for several years, UVA’s state appropriations have accounted for less than 10 percent of its total funding.
  • And the University of California at Berkeley has welcomed a new chancellor, arriving from Columbia University. Consecutive years of deep cuts in state appropriations to higher education in California have forced corresponding steep rises in tuition at Berkeley.

Since 2008, our campus has taken $235 million in cuts from state appropriations. Still, of Carolina’s $2.5 billion budget ($75 million is the budget for athletics), 19 percent comes from state appropriations ($500 million in 2011-12) and is exceeded only by research funding ($800 million in 2011-12). At press time, the General Assembly was working on a budget that was expected to mean more cuts for our campus.

Despite uncertainty and challenges, Carolina supporters can take comfort in knowing that taxpayers and public officials have long understood that higher education, and our campus in particular, is the best investment our state makes. There is nowhere that the General Assembly can appropriate funds and receive a greater return than from our alma mater.

With transitions occurring in Raleigh, at the UNC System and on our campus, it is comforting that again a record number of students applied to join this fall’s entering first-year class, alumni and friends remain generous as reflected through their philanthropy, our faculty remain remarkably successful in competing for federal research funding, and our athletics program just finished in eighth place in the Directors’ Cup, with UNC’s women athletes winning the Capital One Cup.

Carolina’s alumni and friends can and must remain informed and involved. We must be advocates, ambassadors, advisers and supporters. While it is helpful and important to continue to support Carolina financially and to remain supportive of the University’s broad-based and remarkably successful athletics program, that isn’t sufficient. Competition for students and faculty as well as for state appropriations continues to mount.

Alumni must lead the way and take responsibility for conveying to new public officials in Raleigh and members of the UNC System’s Board of Governors the important impact our public research university makes daily in the lives of North Carolinians. We need to understand and to convey how Carolina is addressing and seeking to solve some of the world’s greatest problems.

Chancellor Folt needs more than our best wishes and our patience. She needs our informed, active help. Alumni remain Carolina’s largest and only permanent constituency. Each of us must do all that we can to preserve the value of our diplomas by advancing our alma mater.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

Share via: