In a recent Charlotte speech, UNC President Erskine Bowles urged Charlotte’s public officials, business executives and civic leaders to stake a larger claim in their local public university. He commented that, “No city can become ‘world class’ without having a world-class public research university.” To that end, he said that Charlotte must “own” UNC Charlotte.
Following that speech, UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois added even greater emphasis to that challenge in a guest editorial in The Charlotte Observer. Essentially, he put forth nine ways for the Charlotte region to stake an even greater claim for ownership in UNC Charlotte. They are:
• Continue to support UNC Charlotte’s aspiration to develop as a major research institution.
• Continue and increase corporate support and partnerships for research and professorships.
• Help to strengthen doctoral and professional programs by adding and retaining faculty positions enabling research and contemporary applications that become products in support of our economic growth and development.
• Learn, enjoy and appreciate the quality of UNC Charlotte and its value to this community.
• Open opportunities for UNC Charlotte students to compete for internships and employment opportunities to show their talents and competencies.
• Recognize the important role that UNC Charlotte can play in addressing the challenges that accompany our growth and urbanization.
• Encourage a restructuring of state funding formulas so they recognize rapid student growth from 20,150 today to over 35,000 by the year 2020.
• Address the critical need for physical plant expansion outside the traditional approach for capital construction on a rotational basis.
• Support and participate in UNC Charlotte activities, sports and events.
As the fourth largest of the 16 institutional members of the UNC system, UNC Charlotte ranks 13th in per-student funding and 15th in academic space per student among the 16 schools. Funding formulas must change to meet the growth challenges of the next 15 years. Those changes require massive educational and lobbying efforts to state leaders, legislators and the citizens as well.
To advocate and deliver that message within our regional community and to the North Carolina General Assembly, it is essential that both UNC Charlotte and regional leaders enter into an ongoing dialogue that brings the combined resources of the region and the university to the obstacles and opportunities for growth that we face together.
To successfully change the funding formulas, it is essential to gather substantial bi-partisan political clout that will assert its influence and push through the necessary change. It may even be wise to assemble a regional task force to organize and plan an approach for changing the traditional budget applications.
Local ownership of UNC Charlotte will grow more quickly as community leaders understand and appreciate the value and relevance of having a major public university in this region. When mutual interests are understood and applied, the partnership between UNC Charlotte and this region will be inextricably entwined for years to come. With Erskine Bowles and Phil Dubois in place, we have the right leadership to tackle these challenges. Now is the time to build the political consensus that will support this growth.
With a collective voice, we can muster greater political clout to change the archaic budgetary traditions that do not serve us well. These changes will not come easily. They will take time and they will take trade-offs with other communities pushing for their own institutions. Nevertheless, we have a substantial challenge to keep pace with the change that is already confronting the Charlotte region. We must keep ahead of the change or we will be strangled by it.