UNC’s effort to grow applied sciences faces logistical obstacles

One year after the University announced a $125 million commitment to innovation, administrators are preparing to take the next step — a multi-million dollar expansion of the applied sciences.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney has pledged $1 million in state enrollment funds to get the project, which is still in its early stages, off the ground.

Applied sciences, or the marriage of basic sciences with engineering, has potential to bring UNC a significant amount of grant money, administrators said.

“It is a source going forward of federal funding that I think is not fully taken advantage of here at Carolina,” said Mike Crimmins, associate dean of the college and member of a newly created task force charged with planning the effort.

But even with little set in stone, leaders of the project have already addressed several potential challenges.

First and foremost is how to boost the applied sciences while staying true to the University’s commitment to the liberal arts.

During the summer, Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences — which will house the program — formed the task force to plan the project’s trajectory. Crimmins said the group, which meets biweekly, is committed to making sure the eventual plan has a significant liberal arts component.

“The key thing that’s come out of the discussion so far is that we want to be sure that we develop an applied sciences program at Carolina that fits with the mission of UNC,” Crimmins said.

Another, more sensitive, issue is the perception that an expansion of applied sciences at UNC would be redundant given the presence of an engineering school just 25 miles away at N.C. State University.

Project leaders said they are committed to making sure the outcome of the planning stages will not conflict with other system schools, especially at a time when the UNC system is looking to eliminate duplicate programs.

“Our mandate is not to build an engineering school,” said Lowry Caudill, a member of the Board of Trustees and the task force.

Carney acknowledged that the perception of redundancy is a sensitive issue, but said it won’t prove a major obstacle.

“We’re not going to do textiles, OK?” Carney said.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a threat to this.”

Several high-level administrators met on June 8 to discuss plans for expanding the applied sciences.

According to a transcript of the meeting, Chancellor Holden Thorp told attendees that he was willing to make the effort a high priority as long is it doesn’t create more tension than it resolves.

Thorp also emphasized that the group should steer clear of the creation of new schools or deans due to the costs associated with them.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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