Trustees study a minor change at Feb. 1 meeting

The February Board of Trustees meeting featured presentations on the University's libraries and the joint UNC-Duke Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program.

This age of political polarization may be just the right time for an idea launched by Oxford University in 1920 – the combined study of philosophy, politics and economics. At the Feb. 1 meeting of the University Board of Trustees, professor Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, founding director of the PPE program here at Carolina, talked about the minor’s popularity and his plan to create a major in the discipline.

Too often philosophers, political scientists and economists look at the world through only one perspective – their own – and ignore the other two, said Sayre-McCord, Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor of philosophy.

The point of PPE is “bringing the three together, creating an environment where they can talk together and complement each other’s real skills,” he said.

Created in 2005, the joint UNC-Duke PPE Program offers a minor at UNC and a certificate at Duke. Duke’s certificate program is designed for small number of students. But at Carolina, the minor is growing rapidly, even in the past year, when enrollment went from 270 to almost 350.

The courses for the PPE minor include a gateway course and a capstone seminar, with one course in each of the three disciplines of philosophy, politics and economics.

“The room for growth of the minor is pretty close to unlimited – except for lack of faculty.

As we add those, we can expand,” Sayre-McCord said. “We want to keep the major relatively small, partially so we can control the quality of it.”

Two current PPE students –Brenee Goforth and Malik Jabati – both expressed the wish that PPE could be their major and not their minor. “PPE is the most intellectual environment I’ve been in at UNC,” Jabati said. “PPE is my favorite part of UNC and I would love to see it grow.”

Board secretary Bill Keyes said, “This is the most exciting presentation I have heard in my 2 ½ years sitting on the board. However we can be more involved with this, I want to see this grow.”

The trustees also heard from Elaine Westbrooks, who has served six months as University librarian, on what it means to be a research library in the digital age.

Carolina’s nine libraries have 300 staff members, 400 student employees and a collection of books that will reach 10 million by 2020. The library’s access to digitized collections worldwide unlocks another 10 million volumes to online users, she added.

With all the services and resources offered to the University and to the public, “I see the library all through The Blueprint for Next,” Westbrooks said. She spoke of four vital roles the library plays – preservation, student success, service to the state and beyond and academic innovation – and gave several examples of each.

Westbrooks also spoke of the library as the place “where people go for wonder, inspiration, exploration,” estimating that Carolina’s libraries get 3 million to 4 million visitors each year. “It’s the heart of campus. It’s the place where everyone belongs.”

Before the presentations, the board welcomed the new vice chancellor for finance and operations, Jonathan Pruitt, and passed a resolution honoring his predecessor, Matt Fajack, who has taken the position of vice president for financial affairs at the University of Alabama.

Fajack, who oversaw the transition of the Student Stores to a Barnes & Noble store and the launch of the Three Zeros environmental initiative, said he would miss working with his Carolina colleagues but that he was sure “Jonathan Pruitt will take this university to new heights.”

Later in the meeting, Fajack promised to convey the thanks of Chancellor Carol L. Folt and the board to the facilities staff who worked throughout the recent snow storm and afterward. “They were out there 24/7,” Folt said. “And this storm was particularly difficult because it was a long storm, so you have to go out and clear and go out and clear again. It’s behind the scenes, but it makes all the difference.”