Carolina was the only college to which I applied while a student at Goldsboro High – UNC-Chapel Hill was my dream school.
When I arrived, I was interested mostly in not living with my parents, enjoying newfound freedoms and pretty girls. Four years later, I was passionate about health policy and on my way to graduate school (also at UNC) and a career as a professor.
UNC-Chapel Hill changed my life in ways that were unimaginable the day my parents dropped me off at Winston dorm. That has always been the promise and the reality of Carolina. However, I fear that the difficult budget situation of our state, and the choices that could be made by our General Assembly going forward, could jeopardize the realization of that promise for students in the future.
I have been deeply embarrassed by what I have read about my alma mater over the past two years. Whatever has happened that is wrong needs to be laid bare, and strong plans made to ensure the same mistakes are not made again. I very much affirm Holden Thorp’s commitment to making things right during his remaining time as chancellor and accept his decision to step down at the end of this academic year.
My biggest fear is that these scandals will be front and center in the minds of the people of North Carolina when the General Assembly has to make the truly difficult budgetary decisions facing our state. It is tragic that the headlines of late have not been of the incredible things that UNC does – both for its students and the state as a whole.
I am fearful that we will essentially “eat the seed corn” instead of making the continued investment necessary to maintain a world-class research university that educates our children while also making discoveries that help the people of North Carolina, the United States and the world.
It is an expensive endeavor to maintain a research university like Carolina, but it is worth it. Further, given recent budget cuts, the next few years are particularly crucial in maintaining the school’s excellence, and it would be far more expensive to try and rebuild later if we reduce our short-term investments. Our strong university system (all of the campuses) has figured mightily in helping make North Carolina a leader in the South, and it can lead the way to the future.
I would like to say thank you to all the people of North Carolina who have paid taxes to support our state’s great public university system, especially those who themselves did not attend these schools. I join you in expecting that this season of scandal will end, and that the many stories of the good being done by the students and faculty at Carolina will move back to the fore, where they belong.
Donald H. Taylor, Jr., associate professor of public policy at Duke University, holds three degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill. He blogs at www.donaldhtaylorjr.com. This commentary was originally published in The News & Observer on Sept. 28, 2012.
Donald H. Taylor, Jr.