But both student and faculty leaders said that goal cannot be accomplished without taking into account factors that are not easily measured.
Provost Robert Shelton said national rankings cannot be the only measure of the University's leadership because factors like tuition and accessibility are not taken into account.
He said officials are working to quantify intangible variables that signify what makes a university the leading public university.
Sue Estroff, Faculty Council chairwoman, said she would have liked Moeser to discuss the future of intellectual life on campus.
"We bring in a lot of money and do well in the rankings, but we're more than that," she said.
Student Body President Jen Daum said many students already believe UNC is the leading university in the nation, but those at peer institutions might not recognize this because "so much of what is so amazing about Carolina is intangible."
In his speech, Moeser challenged students, faculty and staff to reassert the University's connection to North Carolina.
Shelton said the University community is connected to the state already but that the public is not always aware of the connection.
"I don't think we're so far disconnected as some people would have us believe," he said.