UNC, proudly public, celebrates birthday

UNC President Tom Ross loves what Carolina stands for.

“As it has been for more than two centuries, it is proudly a public university,” Ross said. “And it is – and always has been – the University of the People.”

Ross, who was inaugurated as the fifth president of the UNC system last week, was the guest speaker for the traditional University Day convocation on Oct. 12. Being here felt like a homecoming, he said. Ross graduated with honors from Carolina’s law school and has served as a member of the University’s Board of Visitors. He took over the leadership of the UNC system after serving since 2007 as president of Davidson College.

“As I said during my inauguration address, we must never lose our clear focus on the University’s duty to contribute to the common good, to develop leaders for our communities, and to serve those communities in ways that enhance the quality of life for the people who live in them,” Ross said. “After all, it is that commitment to the common good, to the public good, that is central to being a great public University.”

He reinforced the importance of that commitment even during the prolonged economic downturn, which has led to more than $1 billion in budget cuts and reversions to the UNC system over the past five years.

“I have talked at great length about the cumulative impact of those cuts elsewhere, and could do so again here today, but I prefer to spend my limited time applauding you and the phenomenal teaching, research and outreach that is taking place on this very campus on a daily basis, despite these cuts,” Ross said.

He praised faculty and staff for their work. “You have rallied to keep things going and to help carry out our mission, even in these tough economic times.”

Ross said the UNC system was at a defining moment in its history because it is marked by challenges and uncertainty, “but this is, nonetheless, our time and what we do with it is up to us.”

He added, “It is our time to redefine ourselves as a university and to decide how to retain the essence of what we do best—teaching, research, and public engagement—but to do so in new and different ways that are relevant in the lives of our people and that add value to the state and to the nation and to the world. We must re-commit ourselves to being the University of the People.”

At the same time, he said it was important to celebrate all that Carolina means and all that it does.

“We are truly blessed to have this place and the people here in our lives,” Ross said. “Reminding ourselves of the real value of what we have is critical to maintaining our commitment to preserve it.

“Thank you for giving me the privilege of being a part of this special day, and I thank all of you for the enormous good each of you do—and do so well—on behalf of our students, each other, our university, and our state.

“I applaud you.”

Read Ross’ speech.