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Address by UNC President Erskine Bowles
University Day Convocation
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
October 12, 2006

As much as I liked Dr. [Joe] Templeton's introduction, Nelson's [Schwab] was closer to true. I do thank you so much. Since Nelson did tell you the truth about Billy, himself and me - me for sure - you can imagine how really thrilled, absolutely thrilled I was when the chancellor asked me to speak at University Day. For you see, I just plain love Chapel Hill. It's true. I love this University to my very core. I am a Tar Heel born. I am a Tar Heel bred and, by God, when I die I'll be as Tar Heel dead as you can be, and I hope to dickens I get lucky enough to be buried right here in my beloved Chapel Hill.

Bowles address


Serving as the 16th president of the University of North Carolina is by far - nothing else is even close - it's by far the single greatest honor I can imagine being given. Because I love what this University stands for and, particularly, what this campus stands for. It is proudly a public university and it is - this campus is - a university of the people.

Carolina stands for access. We believe to our very soul in affordability. It's what we are. And thanks to the leadership of a great and good chancellor and a strong Board of Trustees that truly cares and cares deeply about affordability, we have the Carolina Covenant and, with it, anyone, no matter what their financial needs, they can come to Chapel Hill to our great University, to my alma mater, and they can graduate debt-free. You can imagine how proud that makes me. I love that Carolina stands up for all the people of the state - except, of course, for Dookies. Nobody would stand up for them. I told you I was a Tar Heel born. I love that we believe that any North Carolinian who is qualified ought to get a chance to come to this great University. At the same time I know - and I know that you all know - that I've got a real job to do to expand our need-based financial aid so that we can expand the Carolina Covenant and more worthy students from low- and moderate-income families can continue to come to Chapel Hill without the financial hardship and strain I know, try as we might, it still puts on some North Carolina families.

Why are access and affordability … so important to me, to you, to this University and to the future of our state?

As many of you know I spent much of 2005 working for the United Nations coordinating the global response to the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. My time in Asia changed the way I think, changed the way I feel, changed the way I act and it certainly changed how I'm going to do this job I'm so blessed to have. Traveling throughout Asia showed me that if North Carolina and that if America as a whole - if we don't wake up and get more of our own people better educated, we are going to be a second-rate power in America and here in North Carolina before we know it. I'm not talking about in 50 years. I'm talking about in my lifetime. I'm talking about in your lifetime.

That's why in this new job of mine that I love I have to work as hard as I possibly can to hold down the cost of a college education and to do all I can to make sure that everyone that we accept into any of our universities graduates with a diploma that means something. A diploma at Chapel Hill has always, always meant something! I love the fact that a Chapel Hill degree means quality. It stands for excellence. But I agree whole-heartedly with Chancellor Moeser that Chapel Hill must again become the number-one public university in America.

Yes, Carolina defines quality, and nobody can give you that kind of reputation. You have to earn it. I love the fact that on every national ranking of educational value, Chapel Hill ranks right up there at or near the top - and for good reason. We earned it. But we who love Chapel Hill and we who work for this great university - we have a big job to do. We have a real responsibility, not just to maintain our well-deserved, well-earned reputation for quality and value - but to improve upon it, and to improve upon it so that we are unquestionably again the best public university in America. I don't want to hear excuses about why Berkeley or Michigan - or, for God's sake - Virginia rank ahead of us. This chancellor behind me knows that I am a zero-excuses guy. As Chancellor Moeser said not long ago in his "State of the University" address, "We must never - this University must never - be content with the status quo. Good enough is never good enough. Not for an institution that aspires to be America's leading public university."

What does Carolina have to do to turn that aspiration into reality? I'm going to give you six action items, six things that I think we must do if we're going to go from an aspiration to a reality of being number one.

First we must remain accessible. We must keep tuition as low as practicable so that low-and moderate-income families don't get priced out of the market.

For it's part, the UNC Board of Governors is going to seek additional state funds for need-based financial aid, such that every eligible North Carolina student who applies for the UNC need-based grant actually receives one, and such that all students receiving these grants are held harmless from any tuition and fee increases.

In addition, a proposal now before the Board of Governors, which I hope they will approve this afternoon, would limit the scope of campus-initiated tuition and fee increases over the next four years - and this proposal also requires that every UNC campus set aside at least 25 percent of new tuition revenues for need-based aid.

Carolina has already gone far, far beyond that requirement and that makes me very, very proud. The Carolina Covenant not only sets a high bar for other institutions within the UNC system, but it has set the national benchmark for what it truly means to be a great and accessible public university.

Second, we've got to invest in you. We've got to invest in our faculty. This magnificently restored Memorial Hall, in all its grandeur, and all these great buildings that you see when you walk throughout this campus, they are fabulous, but they are absolutely meaningless if we don't have great faculty here to teach our students. There is nothing else I believe more strongly than this.

Our faculty are our greatest asset. You are our reputation. You hold the key to our future in your minds. We have to be able to attract and keep great faculty. And to do that we must pay them and we must provide them with the facilities, the equipment and the freedom of inquiry that they need to carry out their three-part mission: teaching, research and public service.

I promise you that as long as I am president of this university that will be my top priority. Your chancellor, the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors and I, we are all going to work hand in glove with the Legislature to begin this year - not in 50 years, not in 10 years, not in five years, not in two years, but this year - to increase the faculty salaries so that we can get all of our faculty to the 80th percentile of their peer institutions. That's not smart, that's common sense. That's where we have to be to attract and keep the best faculty in America. That's also why, under the four-year tuition plan being considered by the Board of Governors, at least 25 percent of any campus-initiated tuition revenues must go to faculty salaries until a campus reaches the 80th percentile level.

The endowed professorships that are being made possible by the Carolina First Campaign, they are so important to this effort, since … endowed chairs allow us to attract and retain the kind of talent - that's what you all are - talent, talent that we just can't afford with state funding alone. If you doubt … that such endowments can make a real difference, think of the Kenan Professorships. The Kenan Professorships literally put Carolina on the national map. But it will take a lot more - not a little bit - it will take a lot more private investment on this scale to take Carolina to number one and to keep it there. And Paul Fulton, Mike Overlock and Charlie Shaffer - they are leading the effort in the Carolina First Campaign to raise the funds to do just that - and to do it now. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and you should, too.

Third, to be number one, we must also provide far more graduate scholarships and other financial support so that we can recruit the very best graduate students in the world to Chapel Hill. Again, it's common sense. It's no different than trying to recruit the very best basketball players in the world to North Carolina.

Toward that end, I have to convince the Legislature - James and I together, we have to convince the Legislature - of the importance of graduate students to our teaching, scholarship and research. That's our job, and I know full well that the recruitment packages that we are able to offer today with state funds to these smart graduate students, they just aren't competitive with other top universities across the country. Our state leaders, they have got to understand that providing adequate support for the best and brightest is an investment. Yes, it's an investment that will pay huge economic dividends for our state in the years ahead.

Fourth, to be number one we must invest in research. Through our research mission, Carolina contributes enormously to the economic development of North Carolina, to technology transfer and to the expansion of industry throughout our state. Chapel Hill accounts for more than $600 million of our University system's total sponsored research awards, and that is largely due to our well-deserved and well-earned reputation in the health sciences fields.

Like Chancellor Moeser, I believe that Carolina must build on that remarkable foundation if it is to be the leading public university in America. The development of Carolina North will certainly play a critical role in that effort and, I promise you, you will have my total support, my total commitment, to that undertaking.

I believe this to my soul that America must increase our volume of research. We as a nation must stay on the cutting edge. That means that we must face this challenge with the same commitment, the same investment - and the same focused passion in leadership - that characterized the 1950's reaction to Sputnik and the threat it posed to our nation's scientific and technological superiority. Because believe you me, the economic threat we face today in this knowledge-based global economy is just as great, if not greater, than that we faced in the 1950's.

Fifth, I also believe that we must not lose our focus on the liberal arts. For Carolina to again be the number one public university in America, we must keep our focus on the liberal arts. We must make absolutely sure that our students and graduates have the problem-solving skills, the creative-thinking skills and the communication skills that every employer and every community needs and demands today to compete and win in this knowledge-based global economy. If we fail here, then everything else we do is for naught.

Finally, to be number one we have to hold ourselves accountable. We have to set our standards higher. We must accept nothing less than excellence at Chapel Hill. That's why James has set new, higher and more difficult retention and graduation goals for Carolina. He is serious, as am I, about having the best retention and graduation rates in America; and we are both equally serious about implementation of the programs and support needed to help our students survive and succeed both here and after they graduate.

Raising the bar - establishing new and higher standards of excellence - is why the chancellor and I are working as hard as we possibly can with the faculty and the Board of Trustees to establish new performance measures for Chapel Hill. These measurable outcomes will enable the Board of Governors to hold me personally accountable for providing James with the resources, the assets, the faculty and the framework we need to make Chapel Hill our nation's leading public university.

The first North Carolina State Constitution declared that one of the principal roles of our state university was to deliver "all useful learning." What is useful today is clearly different from what was useful for past generations. The world has gotten smarter - a lot smarter - and we have got to get smarter with it.

I'm positive that when - not if - but when we do these six things I've just mentioned, that this University I love so deeply - the University of North Carolina right here in Chapel Hill - will be number one - not just in public health and not just in basketball - but as a University. And our graduates will be able to compete - and compete successfully - with the world's best and brightest, wherever they may be.

Thank you so much.