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BOG Committee Approves Disaster Institute

The committee approved a proposal for an Institute of Disaster Studies and endorsed the adoption of a new UNC-system strategic initiative that makes internationalization of the system a priority. The proposals will now head to the full BOG for approval today.

The institute would study all aspects of disasters and seek to alleviate the devastation of natural and technological disasters through communication.

The proposal approved Thursday would not establish the institute but rather establish a committee to plan it.

Although the institute received committee approval, some BOG members were hesitant about the idea.

BOG member Ray Farris raised concern about the need for the institute.

"The same services could be provided using the faculty at one of our institutions," Farris said.

He pointed out that the Institute of Disaster Studies might be more effective if it is placed under the control of an individual institution. "Why would the Office of the President be more capable of coordinating this than one of our institutions?" Farris asked.

The president's office might not have permanent control over the institute, said Russ Lea, UNC-system vice president for research of academic affairs.

"This won't be housed in the Office of the President. ... It will be located and administered at a campus," Lea said, adding that several institutions have shown interest in housing the institute.

The Office of the President will oversee the program while it is in the planning stages so the institute doesn't get buried among other activities, Lea said.

He said this institute is similar to some already established in North Carolina, naming the Highway and Research Center and the Highlands Biological Research Center -- both of which UNC-Chapel Hill co-hosts with two other system schools -- as other examples.

The idea for the institute first emerged years ago, but specific planning is just now beginning, Lea said.

BOG member John Davis said there also is national interest in the institute.

"I think it will attract a lot of attention nationally, whether it's under the president now or goes to an institution later," Davis said.

Gretchen Bataille, senior vice president of academic affairs for the UNC system, said one aim of the institute is to boost collaboration among several UNC-system campuses. "We do have a number of these that are inter-institutional, but they are all housed at an institution," she said. "The budget is given to that institution."

The other major outreach attempt, the new strategic direction, will promote internationalization to help students become better acquainted with what members described as an increasingly global society.

Goals include expansion of international studies programs, foreign exchange programs, international studies curricula and technological communication.

Bataille said the addition resulted from constant evaluation of the system's curriculum. "Every two years we go through every program, we look at the level of productivity, and we negotiate with campuses about productivity."

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