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The Daily Tar Heel

In the face of cuts, why are we here?

Why am I in college? The answer seems obvious: to get an education, of course.

The hard questions come next. What, exactly, does it mean to be educated? Why should taxpayers continue to help UNC students get there? Will a college degree help us navigate the real world, whatever that is?

Every Wednesday this semester, this space will be devoted to guest columnists answering these questions, or at least making an attempt.

Cuts from the state legislature have crippled UNC’s budget, and steeper tuition increases are on the horizon. The fallout from the 2008 financial crisis will continue to reverberate through public education for years, perhaps decades.

But there is an opportunity here. Budget cuts force us to make choices, to make decisions about what is crucial and what can be let go.

Taken together, these choices amount to a statement of the University’s identity. Before we decide what to cut and what to keep, we must first answer the question of why we are here.

On a campus as large and diverse as ours, no single person holds all the answers. But there are experts everywhere, tucked away in a dorm room on South Campus, in the Campus Y, on the soccer field — passionate people who are exceptionally knowledgeable about their corner of UNC, about which most of us know nothing.

Some say innovation will lead us out of the dark ages of budget cuts, that we’ll emerge leaner, stronger, more efficient and more effective only if we give sufficient support to the sciences.

Others are focused on the immediate future. Are our graduates prepared to enter the workplace? Are they getting jobs?

And others fear for the fate of the humanities. Language departments have been trimmed, and philosophy majors joke that they’re going to live in boxes when they grow up.

Meanwhile, quasi-vocational degrees like business are increasingly popular, if for no other reason than their ability to get graduates jobs.

What I’ve sketched above is a brief and incomplete picture of the issues leaders in higher education grapple with. Students face a similar set of concerns as they choose their academic path.

My guess, however, is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a student at UNC who’d say academics are the only reason he or she loves this school.

So why do people come here, and what should the goal of our education be? I invite you to give your best guess.

If you’re on the basketball team, your answer might be very different than mine (I have no plans to go to the NBA). And yet, in 20 years, our diplomas will look exactly the same. And we will all still hate Duke.

The always-astonishing diversity of our students and faculty, the devotion of our fans, the magic of Chapel Hill in the springtime — these are but a few of the things that make UNC great.

The vastness of the opportunities here is both exhilarating and daunting: the flipside of diversity is disjointedness. In order for UNC to thrive, we need these pieces of the puzzle to come together. We can’t afford to be fragmented these days.

Maggie Zellner is the opinion editor of The Daily Tar Heel. She is a junior comparative literature major from Lynchburg, Va. Contact her at

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