Column: A year in pursuit of a silver lining

It’s always good to start the year on a positive note.

Especially this year.

Last year left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths, and it didn’t get much better during the summer.

All year, the looming threat of budget cuts cast a dark cloud over campus. Faculty salaries remained frozen and departments braced for cuts of 5, then 10, then 15 percent, only to have the University saddled with a whopping 18 percent when all was said and done.

To add insult to injury, the football team’s promising season was sidelined by an NCAA investigation and allegations of serious wrongdoing.

All the while, University leaders seemed intent on keeping the public out the loop, consistently reverting to secrecy and silence whenever trouble hit. At a school Charles Kuralt once characterized as the “university of the people,” this strategy is counterproductive to discussion, change and almost every lofty ideal necessary to maintain the level of excellency we are accustomed to.

Unfortunately, this attitude has lingered into the fall of 2011.

The most recent case involves replacing Dick Mann, the vice chancellor for finance and administration. The names of finalists to replace him are being kept secret, stopping members of the UNC community from having any input in the process or decision. And officials have said the cost of the search firm is “unavailable” at the moment.

This penchant for secrecy is new to searches, but it is frighteningly familiar on other fronts. When the University wouldn’t release information related to the NCAA football investigation, it forced the DTH and several other media outlets to file an open records lawsuit, which, for the University, became an ugly court battle and a waste of time, resources and good will. Both the trial and appeals courts ruled mostly in favor of the media. In spite of their legal losses, UNC administrators do not seem to have learned their lesson in the importance of transparency and cooperation.

The University is clearly doing its best to hide any and all bad news. But the fact of the matter is that, warts and all, UNC is a great school. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn great. The only way we can improve on that greatness, however, is to correct old mistakes and avoid new ones: a goal best accomplished by openness and collaboration.

In the face of these problems, we should all also remember last year’s positive moments, in the hopes that our peers keep up the good work. The Greek system, with relatively few hiccups, rebounded from an awful year and made strides toward truly meaningful reform.

Research funding increased for the 14th straight year, and faculty members like Joseph DeSimone continued to impress on a national level. Chancellor Holden Thorp was named to President Barack Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

And last but not least, the men’s basketball team looks like it has a solid chance to win it all again this year (knock on wood).

So here’s to hoping for an even better year — in every aspect — than the last.

Thanks for reading.

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