Paul Hardin

(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)

Distinguished Service Medal Citation

Paul Hardin

Whatever else you say about Carolina’s relationship with a neighboring institution, you cannot deny that we go out of our way to let the younger school bask in our greatness. After all, we had a Duke man in the chancellor’s office when the University turned her 200th birthday.

When Paul Hardin came over to the Southern Part of Heaven in 1988, one of his first challenges was to spearhead the $320 million Bicentennial Campaign and to oversee the yearlong observance. Paul told the committee the Bicentennial Observance was a magnificent opportunity that would never come again. “Dare to think big and to dream,” he said.

His leadership, enthusiasm and pride inspired a memorable tribute that ran like a well-oiled machine. From the symbolic re-laying of the cornerstone of Old East, to the presentation of Davie Poplar saplings to students from each of the state’s 100 counties, to a visit from President Bill Clinton, the Bicentennial was a moving observance that reflected daring and big dreams.

With Paul at the helm, the University exceeded its fund raising goal by a remarkable $120 million.

“I was always determined to return to my native North Carolina,” Paul says. “The happiest possible culmination of my career was to be invited back to my native state to preside over the flagship University during its Bicentennial.”

Paul’s tenure is remembered for significant gains in non-tuition revenues, greater fiscal flexibility from the state legislature, a bond referendum for much-needed new buildings,  an acclaimed self-study of the University’s teaching mission, improved town-gown relations, and a stronger campus community. He presided with a calm, even hand over the tense evolution of the Black Cultural Center.

The story of his coming to Chapel Hill says a great deal about how Carolina was run during his eight years in South Building.

A Charlotte native and son of a Methodist minister, Paul graduated first in his class at Duke Law School. He served in the military, then practiced law in Birmingham, Alabama and taught law at Duke before serving presidencies of Wofford College, Southern Methodist University and Drew University.

As Carolina began looking for a successor to Chris Fordham ’47, it sought a leader with an outgoing personality and someone with the ability to engage folks in the non-academic community—so vital for a public university trying to broaden its base of support. The committee had narrowed the field to four or five finalists and invited them to a Sunday morning meeting in the boardroom on the 50th floor of the Equitable building in midtown Manhattan.

Phil Phillips ’62 recalls that at 8 a.m. Paul Hardin strode into the room. “I happened to be nearest the door, and Paul comes up to me and says ‘Hi, I’m Paul Hardin. I’m so glad to meet you, Phil. My father and your father were good friends when my dad was the preacher at Wesley Memorial in High Point.’

“Paul circled the table and relayed a personal anecdote to each committee member. At 8:15 on that quiet Sunday morning in midtown Manhattan, I knew we had found our next chancellor.

At the time, Paul wasn’t looking for a job and didn’t think there was a chance in the world Carolina would hire a Duke man. But that morning, seeing all those familiar faces, he was filled with what he calls “unmitigated excitement.”

“I found in that room people I had virtually grown up with as a native of North Carolina,” Paul said. “To find out that Carolina was really interested in my candidacy was one of the most exciting days of my life.”

A few years later, as he bestowed the North Carolina Public Service Award, Gov. Jim Hunt ’64 called Paul “a visionary with a tenacious streak” and said his determination and faith had been key to the University’s progress.

Paul was strongly committed to diversity and human relations and advocated increased representation of minorities and women among students, faculty, and upper levels of administration. He established the Employee Forum, which gave non-academic University employees a greater voice. And this magnificent alumni center came to fruition on Paul’s watch and with his support.

These days, blissfully and actively retired, Paul serves on the UNC Law School faculty and on several boards. He’s penning a memoir for his nine grandchildren but says his principal vocation is, in his words, “to support everything that goes on at Carolina, especially the work of my successors.”

When he was sworn in as chancellor, Paul told the crowd that “the future belongs to those institutions and persons who command it, not to those who wait passively for it to happen.” When he stepped down in 1995, “The Bicentennial Chancellor” had presided over some of the most important events in the life of the University and had left Carolina poised for its third century.

It was Tom Lambeth ’57 who said that when UNC alumnus Terry Sanford ’39 went to Duke it was evangelism. When Paul Hardin came to Carolina, it was redemption.