Mike Smith, left, dean of the School of Government and vice
chancellor for engagement, talks about outreach and service with UNC President Emeritus William
Friday on Jan. 8.
Mike Smith set about the task before him with a
characteristic humility bordering on self-deprecation.
Only this time, Smith, dean of the School of Government and
vice chancellor for engagement since last November, had ample reason to feel
He was in the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing
Education on Jan. 8, before an audience of some 90 faculty members, and he was
sitting across from Bill Friday, the iconic figure for whom the building was
The audience was there to hear an interview between the two
men, which in itself was not unusual. Since retiring as president of the UNC
system two decades before, Friday had conducted countless interviews with the
state’s movers and shakers as host of the WUNC talk show, “North Carolina
Except this time, Friday was the one answering the questions
— and Smith doing some of the asking.
The name Bill Friday, after all, was tied to more than a
building. The name, and the man, had become the living embodiment of the ideal,
the creed, the ethos the two men were to discuss: public service, which is now
increasingly referred to as “engagement.”
“This is fairly
daunting for me for reasons that are obvious to everyone in the room,” Smith
But he was quickly put at ease by Friday who said, “I’ve got
the gray hair.”
Friday then asked for a show of hands in the audience for
anybody who had worked for the University for 50 years or more. “Is there
anybody left but me?” he asked. When no hands shot up, he added, “Well, that
doesn’t give me license.”
The 86-year-old Friday, who was raised in Dallas, N.C.,
served as the first president of the UNC system from 1956 to 1986. Before
leading the UNC system, Friday was Carolina’s assistant dean of students from
1948 to 1951, then President an assistant to Carolina President Gordon Gray
from 1951 to 1955. He later served as acting president of Carolina until he was
chosen as UNC president.
Friday launched into a remembrance of the University he
found in 1946 after serving in World War II. The mission of public outreach and
engagement to the state began long before that, Friday said, but this was a
period when it may have come closest to full bloom.
The campus of 1946 was full of whirlwinds such as Albert
Coates, the founder of the Institute of Government, that would evolve into the
School of Government. Back then, Friday said, Coates was “running all over the
state telling public officials what their jobs were,” from county commissioners
to judges, to finally, the General Assembly itself.
(Established in 1931, the institute became the largest
university-based local government training and consulting organization in the
nation. Smith took the institute’s helm from 1992 to 2001 after being a
professor of public law and government there for 14 years. Smith became dean of
the School of Government when the University created it in 2001.)
Friday said another historic figure he ran into in the late
1940s was Howard Odum, the renowned sociologist who had arrived in Chapel Hill
in 1920 to direct the School of Public Welfare and Department of Sociology. In
1944, Odum was one of the five founding members of the Southern Regional
Through leaders such as Odum and Coates, UNC-Chapel Hill was
identifying a new practice of outreach and service that was new and foreign to
the way of thinking of many faculty members, Friday said. At the time, only two
other universities in the country, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and
the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, were trying it.
The idea behind it was to make a difference in the quality
of life of the state through direct involvement. One notable example of it here
was the creation of the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program in
1972. The need for such a system was documented in a report from the Carnegie
Commission, which recommended the development of a nationwide system of such
The idea for such centers sprang from a health-care
conference Friday attended on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the early 1960s at
Spelman College in Atlanta. Every time he hears a plane take off from Horace
Williams Airport, he said, he is reminded of how universities can be do things
that truly can make a difference in the country, Friday said.
Jim Hunt, at the end of his second term during his final
stint as governor in the late 1990s, became restless and worried that the state
seemed not to have a sense of direction of where it was going or a strategy to
attack the multitude of problems facing it.
Hunt eased his unrest by putting together a study commission
that included some 60 University faculty members who looked at every aspect of
this state that was appropriate to investigate, Friday said.
The result was the most definitive piece of work of
self-examination that any state has done before or since.
Many of these same problems that were identified persist and
still must be addressed — from air pollution in the Triangle and Charlotte to
future water shortages caused by population growth to surging student populations
in fast-growing Wake County and elsewhere. Friday said someone also needed to
tell the state legislature to look at the tax structure in the state that does
not yield sufficient revenues to address these problems.
“You gather (here today) at a very real and powerful moment
for the state itself,” Friday said. “I’m old enough to say that the problems
are not going to get solved unless you look at them, unless you speak to them,
unless you look at the options.”
The asset that the University holds, in addition to its
breadth of knowledge, is the depth of feeling that the people of the state
harbor for the institution.
People come to him and ask, “How is my hospital?” he said.
“The affinity is real. It’s the chemistry you have, the
humanity in it that is at least 150 years old.”
Smith asked Friday to talk about the direction that two of
our national peers, the universities of Virginia and Michigan, seem now to be
taking away from their legacy as public institutions.
“I think they made a serious mistake,” Friday said, and a
reckless way to deal with the future.
It is a mistake Friday does not see happening here.
“I believe when they wrote the constitution of this state —
‘free as practicable’ — the state was ensuring for itself an educated
population that could carry forward the business of government, of business, of
“If you lose sight of that you have lost your very reason
Chancellor James Moeser, in his introductory remarks before
the interview, harkened back to the words of Edward Kidder Graham, the
president of the University of North Carolina who in 1914 said he hoped to make
to make the campus co-extensive with the boundaries of the state.
“This is not something recently planted,” Moeser said. “The
roots of engagement go back to Edward Kidder Graham who said to the state,
‘Send us your problems.’”
Nearly a century later, Carolina’s engagement no longer
stops at the state boundaries ,and that is how it should be, Moeser said.
“There is no contradiction whatsoever to being committed to
our state, to the South and the world. Ultimately, engagement is a global
Last year, Moeser formed the Chancellor’s Task Force on
Engagement with North Carolina that explored ways the University could
strengthen and expand its service to the state. In its final report, the task
force focused on new steps the University can take to serve the state in K-12
education, health care and economic development.