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.
Shelton said many of UNC's contributions to the state go unnoticed by the public because members of the University community are too modest to point them out.
"We need to demonstrate more overtly our commitment and the things we are doing," he said.
Shelton said the University must find a way to compete at the highest national level and still serve all of North Carolina.
"We have to find the highest balance of responsiveness to national rankings and responsiveness to North Carolina," he said.
Student Body Vice President Aaron Hiller said the University's obligation to the state is not discussed often enough and that he was glad Moeser addressed the topic in his speech.
Hiller said it is important to articulate the ways the University is connected to the state. "The first step in reconnecting with the public is to talk more about what we already do."
Daum said University officials must begin aggressively recruiting students from rural North Carolina. "We need to keep Carolina affordable and accessible to the average North Carolina family."
Shelton said he was glad Moeser also took the opportunity to recognize the hard work of UNC's staff, saying that the staff is phenomenal and their work often goes unnoticed.
Tommy Griffin, chairman of the Employee Forum, said staff members will be thankful that Moeser acknowledged their contributions to the University and recognized that they are underpaid for what they do.
"In a year when there's no money for raises, we have to do everything we can, and sometimes a simple 'thank you' means a lot."
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