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November 2009

Despite the economy, much to be grateful for at UNC

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it's time to look back on the past year and count our blessings. And despite how bleak the economy has made the situation seem at times, we still have much to be grateful for.

Our balance sheet: We're weathering the economic storm better than many institutions. While we did have to lay off some employees, and that has been one of the most difficult parts of my job, many of the positions we lost were already vacant. Through a generous donation, we hired a top consultant to advise us on strategic ways to cut costs, which makes me confident that we will emerge from this recession more efficient than we were before. The state legislature continues to be good to us, too, recognizing that we are one of North Carolina's biggest assets and soundest investments in the future.

Our new North Carolina Cancer Hospital: That legislative generosity over the years includes the $180 million in funding to build this world-class hospital, which we dedicated in the fall. Not only does the hospital bring together complete cancer care for patients and research facilities into one building, it is also the new clinical home for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 38 such National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the nation.

Our brightest first-year class yet: It's hard to believe, but our students keep getting smarter every year. The class we enrolled in the fall of 2009 had better SAT scores and higher class rankings than any class before it. And we did a better job of sealing the deal with North Carolina students; nearly 70 percent of all those in-state students we admitted chose to enroll, the highest yield among resident students in more than a decade.

A new spirit of cooperation with the Town of Chapel Hill: This summer, representatives from the university and the town signed a monumental development agreement to guide the creation of the Carolina North mixed-use academic and research campus. The enthusiasm is continuing into the fall as public discussions have begun about the redevelopment of the University Square/Granville Towers property on Franklin Street. Because the property is not owned by the university but by the nonprofit Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings, it stays on the tax rolls, which makes the town happy.

All kinds of weather: I'm thankful for the sunny days that show off our gorgeous campus and made my recent stint as guest forecaster for The Weather Channel on Homecoming weekend such an easy job. While I'm at it, I'm thankful for the return of the Homecoming parade. But I also appreciate those rainy days we had earlier this month that helped fill our reservoirs and stave off future drought conditions. For those times when the weather doesn't cooperate, we are grateful for our new reclaimed water system, whose purple pipes are supplying nonpotable water for our cooling towers and reducing our use of drinking water.

Our grounds crew: A big part of what sets our campus apart from others is its generous array of tall, leafy trees and the way they beautify the campus in every season, but especially now, in the fall. We're so very grateful that the old oak tree that recently fell and hit two students didn't seriously injure them and that the red oak that fell in a storm the next week and broke a window in Saunders didn't hurt anyone. The care our grounds crew takes to inspect and maintain these historic trees makes incidents like these very rare.

Our professional theater: PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theater troupe based in UNC's Department of Dramatic Arts, includes many members of the prestigious Actors' Equity Association, putting them on par with Broadway performers. Yet we get to see them right here in our back yard, for a bargain price. Right now PlayMakers is staging the most spectacular event in its history, "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" -- 25 actors (professionals to undergraduates) playing 150 characters over nearly seven hours of drama in two parts. Don't miss it.

Our national championships: You didn't think I'd forgotten that our women's soccer and men's basketball teams reigned supreme in the past year, did you? And I'm so very grateful that football is going bowling again and that the nation's top high school basketball player, Harrison Barnes, made the smart decision to come to UNC instead of Duke. That will make my turkey taste so much better on Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at

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