It’s the fourth year I’ve been a student at UNC and the first time I’ve been to University Day, the celebration of the university’s birthday. Like commencement, University Day is marked by tedium, mendacity (only matched by my own cynicism), and repetition of the university administration’s favorite words: innovation, legacy, modern, dedication, and commitment. They are words that usually leave me sighing with contentment, but spoken by those who are either actively dismantling or passively allowing for the destruction of public higher education in the state, I was disdainful, even queasy. I am unsure when I became so sullen, especially because I do identify myself as a great lover and protector of this University, as dear to me as my family (if that’s not enough to make some of you queasy). Each University Day is distinct for its keynote speaker. In 1963, famously, JFK spoke; in 1993, it was Bill Clinton.
In every North Carolina governor’s first term, they are invited to speak, leading Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt to the stand. It also brought Gov. Pat McCrory to Memorial Hall yesterday. His presence on campus brought out the diplomat in all attendees: polite applause spattered his speech; his introduction, read by the Faculty Chair, was historical, truthful, but not laudatory; and his anecdotes were received with good-natured laughter. McCrory, unlike his hosts, was much less gracious, using the occasion to share his views of the purpose and function of North Carolina’s universities. Some of his ideas are easy to agree with, others left me indignant, still others made me sick.
- Universities are universities. We should not offer remedial classes for students not ready for college-level work.
- Universities should not indoctrinate their students in either liberal or conservative beliefs.
- We should follow the advise of Bill Friday and limit the power of athletic programs.
- Students should be free to think, adapt, and innovate regardless of their major.
- Education programs should be judged more by their “qualitative results” than the number of students enrolled.
- North Carolina can become the third vortex of research, matching NYC/Boston and Silicon Valley.
- We should share our talent and resources with other universities, including (har, har) Duke.
- We need to end acceptance of universities as illicit drug and alcohol playgrounds.
- McCrory, like Chancellor Folt, inherited “pockets of bad policy and poor oversight” that they are both cleaning up.
- UNC should be praised for “ending” grade inflation.
- McCrory’s first trip to UNC was “ruined” by visiting Hinton-James dorm.
- People in Chapel Hill roll down their windows, abstaining from A/C or heat.
- We need to strengthen, reform, and adapt the Carolina brand to get ready for the 21st century.
- Universities must help decrease the job gap by honing in on skills and subjects employers need.
- Universities should be rewarded for placing students in high-demand fields.
- Innovation = Creativity + Science + Technology
- The goal of the university should be to stimulate job growth skills and increase marketability of their graduates.
- We need to digitally expand the universities’ online resources (re: offer expensive online classes that rarely result in the granting of a degree) to rural North Carolina.
- McCrory will show total respect to the state’s institutions of higher education throughout his term.
McCrory’s presence was overshadowed by a gubernatorial giant, Jim Hunt, who received a distinguished alumnus award prior to McCrory’s speech. Hunt received a standing ovation from the audience, as he rightly deserves as a champion of education, lower, higher, secondary, primary, you name it. Remarkably (or unremarkably, I can’t decide), student attendance was low, though it is students who have the most to lose from budget cuts and changing policies. When there is so much to lose, students should play a more active role in knowing and understanding both their champions and their opposition. This University Day was a chance to see both.