Good news and not good news

First, the good news: Our School’s Commencement

Saturday May 7th was the School’s 71st commencement. We moved to the newly-rennovated Carmichael Auditorium so students could bring as many guests as they wanted. And they did! It was a joyful, sunny Carolina-perfect day. About 250 students crossed the stage to receive their degrees, with more than 1500 people in the audience.

We were thrilled to have Vice Admiral and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, as our speaker. She recounted her personal experiences serving the underserved in places like the Gulf Coast of Alabama where she had created a medical clinic for uninsured residents. I was moved to learn that she’d taken a second mortgage on her house to get funds to rebuild the clinic after Hurricane George. That’s an awe-inspiring level of commitment! Dr. Benjamin has been a significant advocate for physical fitness, managing our unhealthy weight problem and breast feeding, all central issues for our School.

The Surgeon General, Vice-Admiral, is personable, approachable and a good listener. She personally shook each student’s hand as they crossed the stage– something she did not have to do. It meant a lot to our graduating students.

This was the most enthusiastic audience we ever had. They broke into thunderous applause even before I could announce the graduates after the last one had walked across the stage. I loved it!

Afterwards, there was a great party back at the School to celebrate our new graduates. Congratulations graduates. I look forward to hearing from you as our alumni.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Commencement

When we woke up Sunday morning, it was pouring. I wondered how we were going to stay dry during the ceremony. Miraculously, a little before the ceremony started (a little late), the rain stopped. As Chancellor Thorp announced the class of 2011, the sun came through the clouds, almost as if on cue, making another fine Carolina commencement.

Edward O. Wilson, Jr., PhD was commencement speaker.

From the UNC website: Wilson worries about the diversity of life: ponds, rivers, forests, coral reefs; species of plants, animals and microorganisms; as well as the genes that prescribe the traits of those species.

Human activity is eroding away the Earth’s biosphere – the razor-thin membrane plastered onto the planet’s surface – at an accelerating rate, said Wilson, author of “On Human Nature” and “The Ants” – both non-fiction Pulitzer winners.

Without change, half the Earth’s species will be gone or on the edge of extinction by the end of the century, Wilson said. Those are sobering words, but our graduates’ actions can make a difference.

Wilson is a prolific author. I particularly liked Consilience.

Now … the not good news

Last week, Chancellor Thorp sent a rather grim message about the budget situation which still is very much a work in progress.  

As Chancellor Thorp communicated: “Nevertheless, we remain very concerned, along with President Ross, about the disproportionate permanent cuts the House proposal would place on the UNC system – a net reduction of nearly $483 million (more than 17 percent) when factoring in proposed reductions to need-based financial aid.”

 “At Carolina, our state dollars primarily support undergraduate instruction, so absorbing permanent cuts of this magnitude – more than $75 million – would mean long-term damage to how the faculty can teach students. We would have to make tough choices about dramatically increasing class sizes and reducing the number of sections we can offer.”

 “And there would be serious implications for the University’s ability to pay for teaching positions at all levels that are supported by state funding, along with additional key staff positions.”

With chairs and other unit leaders, we have done a lot of scenario planning in the School. Although we are trying to protect the teaching mission, we also know that mission cannot be met without staff who fulfill critical functions. Cuts of the magnitude being debated at the legislature would have a damaging impact on the University and on our SPH. We will cope as best we can, but it will be another challenging year. It would be shortsighted to allow a university of this stature, one that contributes so much to the state and world, to languish.  Yes, we have a devastating budget situation. But wouldn’t North Carolinians be willing to bear a minimal additional tax to sustain our educational institutions? I would.

The process is not over, and there are more acts to come. Our new system President, Tom Ross, is an outstanding spokesperson for the University; so is Chancellor Thorp. This is a great place. We must find the resources to maintain our strong national and international positions.

Happy Wednesday. Barbara

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