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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University Gazette

Trustees begin broad conversation on Carolina’s future

This spring, Chancellor Holden Thorp called upon trustees and other members of the University community to join in a yearlong public conversation to envision the 21st-century American public research university.

The first of these conversations began last month when three separate committees – each assigned to a specific area – held their inaugural meetings.

The conversations, which are a precursor to the University’s next fundraising campaign, are designed to develop a more collective, cohesive voice that will help define a new model for a public university, one that must support the University’s core mission as it adapts to society’s changing needs.

Board of Trustees Chair Wade Hargrove has embraced the process as an opportunity to influence the national conversation in a way few universities can.

“I am excited about this project, and your leadership has set us on this path of seeking input from the University community itself, from alumni and the public,” Hargrove told Thorp. “My guess is we will hear things we don’t want to hear. That’s good. We should have an old-fashioned debate on these issues in order to sharpen our focus to make the University better and stronger than ever before.”

One committee will explore how the University can educate more students without increasing costs. It will focus on expanding access to a more diverse group of students, adopting innovative models of funding and decreasing the time it takes for students to graduate.

A second committee is focused on exploring new models of undergraduate education to optimize student success, taking into account the economic realities of faltering state and federal support. This committee will explore the essence of undergraduate education and how to make college more academically challenging and relevant to students’ needs while enhancing success and engagement.

The third committee will examine ways to strengthen the University’s ability to apply cutting-edge research and scholarship to help solve the world’s important problems. The group wants to find innovative ways to leverage the University’s long-standing culture of collaboration and combine current strengths in basic sciences with an applied perspective.

Almost as soon as Thorp took over as chancellor in summer 2008, the global economic crisis hit and the University has had to deal with challenging budget reductions.

As the University envisions its future, Thorp said, financial constraints are likely to continue, requiring the University to strike a careful balance between costs and quality in everything it does.

He said the academic and financial fundamentals of the University are strong.

After weathering cumulative state budget cuts of $231 million during the past five years, the University will start a new academic year this fall without a state budget cut. In addition, University employees will see a modest raise, the first in several years.

Campus-based tuition revenue will be directed toward need-based financial aid, graduate student support and discretionary raises for top faculty as a way to thwart attempts by competitors to recruit them (see related story on page 2).

Students, even during challenging economic times, continue to excel and to graduate on time without racking up high debt, Thorp said.

Now, when “the fundamentals look good is precisely the time we need to be doing this,” he said.

The three committees will meet several times during the academic year before issuing their final reports in May 2013.