Chancellor's Message: 'Gateway' for public seeking Carolina's help

I can't imagine a better description of Carolina's public service role than Albert Coates, founder of the Institute of Government, offered in his 1978 book The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A Magic Gulf Stream in the Life of North Carolina. In its dedication he wrote: "From the coming of the first student to its open doors -- the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been a magic gulf stream flowing in an ever-widening current through the lives of people in the cities, the counties and the state of North Carolina and beyond -- tempering the customs, traditions and habits of the people it serves and lifting them to higher levels of living wherever it has gone."

Public service is the conduit through which the information learned in our classrooms, the research conducted in our labs and the other knowledge discovered and created at Carolina is shared with the public. It improves the lives of our citizens in countless ways and provides a dividend for the state's tremendous investment in this institution.

Early this century, UNC President Edward Kidder observed that the boundaries of the University are co-terminus with those of the state. The problems facing North Carolina, he reasoned, were also those of its state university. That philosophy is expressed today in our mission statement, which calls for us to "extend knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the state."

Carolina has quite a track record of doing just that. Each year, our public service activities reach more than 400,000 people in every corner of the state.

Female employees of manufacturing plants in eastern North Carolina are being taught better health habits through a University initiative. Faculty and students are designing biomedical devices for disabled children. Law students are offering pro bono work to underserved areas of the state. Faculty and students are working with public schools to improve the quality of education received by N.C. children.

The University enriches North Carolina's cultural climate through its theater, musical performances, art exhibitions and the diverse speakers who come to campus. Indeed, we have much to be proud of.

Until recently, however, public service has been a decentralized activity at Carolina, making it difficult for citizens and organizations to tap our resources.

Imagine the frustration of a caller who is passed from department to department in search of a particular program or faculty member who can help them. With no central clearinghouse of public service information, even our own University family has no way to know where all the expertise resides on this vast campus.

With the formal kick off of the new Carolina Center for Public Service later this week, the University will underscore its long-standing commitment to public service at many levels.

The center will assure that the University continues to respond to the public's changing needs by encouraging new initiatives and coordinating public service across campus. It also will reward and recognize our faculty, staff and students who become involved in such activities through grants and other awards.

The center will be a major step forward in placing the University's expertise in the public's hands. Nick Didow, professor of business and director of the center, has described it as a "gateway" for the public seeking Carolina's help -- a place to call, a web site to visit, a database to search, a live person to speak to.

With the birth of the Center for Public Service, Carolina joins only a handful of universities nationwide that have demonstrated such concrete support for public service.

In recognition of our leadership role in this area, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala will help us launch the center with a free keynote address Sept. 24 at 3 p.m. in Polk Place. What an appropriate way for us to celebrate our past accomplishments and look ahead to even greater and more meaningful public service efforts in the future!

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