‘Our public universities must lead’

UNC’s new chancellor outlines vision for meeting ‘contemporary challenges’
Oct. 19, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

These are excerpts from UNC Chancellor Carolyn Folt’s address at her installation ceremony last weekend.

Today is Carolina’s 220th birthday, counting from the laying of the cornerstone in 1793. As America’s first public university, Carolina became the gold standard. The founders passed the baton, and the future is up to us. How can we fulfill this honorable charge in a way that is ever fresh and relevant?

Like my predecessors and Carolina’s founders, I believe our mission is a noble one:

-- To bring light “lux” and understanding to the world; and in doing that,

-- To prepare each generation to thrive and have a positive impact in society, and

-- To advance all humankind with discoveries and services that help the state and the nation now but also safeguard future prosperity and liberty, “libertas.”

To take that charge to heart, we must involve our students in developing solutions for the most pressing contemporary challenges, and develop them to be thinkers and doers.

And we must imagine and prepare them for what they are going to be facing not just today, but 20, 40, 60 years and more into the future. We have to be providing the knowledge, foresight, and wisdom to adapt the emerging knowledge, fields, and technologies for the public good.

Like all of you, I am deeply inspired by Carolina’s history and its higher purpose. I have confidence in our people, and I believe in the capacity of the great public university to help build a just, safe, more prosperous and sustainable world.

Today – with knowledge and technology exploding, with the socioeconomic and the political landscape changing, and our global relationships also in flux – it is even more important that our great research universities partner to advance knowledge and work with our communities and our businesses to address critical, destabilizing global issues like declining fresh water, food, climate change, poverty, human rights, and disease.

Our public universities must lead in this. We educate the greatest number of students and we do it in the spirit of the public good. Our students, our faculty and our staff work in local communities and on public projects. The personal ties they establish with the public deepen a bond of appreciation, obligation and human understanding that they carry throughout their lives.

And Carolina is continuing its tradition of re-imagining student learning and what and how we teach. As knowledge grows, there has been a steady progression in the goal and the expanse of the liberal arts – or the liberating arts, as they are called by some. It is moving from providing breadth and depth to ensuring breadth, depth and practice, with a greater focus on experiential learning and creative practice.

This progression also mirrors the rapid change in the mindset of our faculty from create and teach to create, teach and apply in all of our disciplines. We are on the cusp of the most significant change in how we think about education in America in a century, and it will make our students even more active and flexible learners and better prepare them for the changing world they are inheriting.

At the same time, our commitment to the broad-based, multi-faceted liberal arts is as strong as ever. Galileo said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” Exposing our students to the breadth of human knowledge fosters their own search for enlightenment. Analysis of human values, appreciation of history, social context, philosophical reasoning and artistic expression opens minds and develops a fuller appreciation of the world in all of its beauty, its tragedy, and its intricacy.

Our future depends on our enlightened, reasoned, critical, and creative thinkers. It is not surprising that as other nations are seeking to improve their own educational systems, adding the liberal arts is viewed by many -- in China, India, and elsewhere -- as the most effective way to increase the creativity and innovation in their business and technology by their own students and in their countries.

As chancellor of this great institution, my mission is to work with you as we chart a forward-looking trajectory for Carolina’s future. We start from a position of great strength:

-- Discoveries by our faculty and students touch every aspect of society, advancing human thought and improving health and the well-being of millions of people.

-- Our faculty is dedicated to innovation and excellence in their teaching, and our deeply engaged staff are essential and talented partners.

-- Our students are so strong. They are independent and collaborative. They publish. They compose. They start companies. They study around the world. They work in our communities, and they shine on the playing field, in the media and on the stage.

But even more, they pride themselves as people who look outward, who care about the world. This is not an inward, all-about-me kind of place. Our students carry Carolina’s tradition of excellence and public service forward in their lives after graduation, as leaders in their professions, their communities, and as loyal, involved and extremely generous members of our community.

We are an indispensable part of the state, providing essential services through hundreds of programs.. Our School of Government trains 12,000 public officials in North Carolina every year. Forty percent of all North Carolina physicians were trained at UNC.

As a public institution, we are committed to be holding the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability.

We will continue to develop new ways of doing business, as we already have been doing with Carolina Counts and that we will stretch even further to do.

We will make choices about the things that we do, and we will find the means to take risks and try some new things. We cannot afford to stand still in a world that is moving so quickly ahead.

We can lower barriers. Let us de-silo this campus. Let us become more sustainable and let us leverage our cross-cutting connections and our culture of collaboration within and beyond campus.

We will and already are intensifying our entrepreneurial activities, and they build on the extraordinary progress here and the work launched by my predecessor, Chancellor Thorp.

From a regional university accessible to a few more than 200 years ago, Carolina today is a rich, diverse community. And our diversity – and the melting pot that is North Carolina, and that is America, and the world – is going to grow quickly in the coming years.

Our students have to thrive in diversity. They have to be comfortable in the complex communities and workplaces that are their future. Our own community has to be safe and welcoming. Our learning is enhanced by breadth of opinion, by diversity in identity and experience. These differences must be appreciated. This should be the intention of every great university in America.

We have a proud tradition of Carolina leaders who have worked across differences for the common good and have had a great footprint in this world. The late Julius Chambers was a champion for civil rights. Illustrious basketball coach Dean Smith was another dedicated civil rights advocate, as was Lieutenant General Patricia Dallas Horoho, the 43rd United States Army Surgeon General. She is career military and the first nurse and the first woman to hold this important national position. They can be models to us all.

I believe that Carolina can indeed be the leader in shaping the path for the great public university in America. We can show how you do it – to be the one that preserves excellence and innovation, access and affordability, a deep commitment to the state, and gathers strength to innovate and meet new challenges.

It is the privilege of my life to be here.

Together, we can make history.