Ort said Carney’s careful resource allocation and planning allowed for significant budget changes to be made without harshly impacting the student body.
“Had he not understood, cared and intervened, our student aid program would not be nearly as strong as it is today, nor would a number of students have benefited such that they would continue their education at Carolina,” she said.
As Carney prepares for his return to the classroom, he said he is waiting for the moment that brings memories flooding back.
Beyond teaching, Carney said his favorite times as a professor were working with individual students, whether that was taking them to observatories or helping them see their projects through.
“I had 20 years in the department before I went over to South Building, and many of the people are the same and the new people are the young people and they’re the most interesting,” he said. “It’s good to be back.”
Carney, who will be teaching Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics in the spring semester, said like any other faculty member, he is expected to contribute through teaching, research and service.
“I think we haven’t had as good a fundraiser here since he left,” said Chris Clemens, chairman of the department of physics and astronomy. “When I want to learn, I go talk to him.”
In his research, which he considers a sort of galactic archaeology, Carney studies the galaxy’s oldest stars in order to determine what happened prior to their formation.
He’s currently working with colleagues at Harvard University and a former postdoctoral student from Australian National University. A few graduate students dropped off the first draft of their own research Thursday, Carney said, pointing to a textbook-sized report.
“It seems that once I got out of the provost’s office, the astronomy community, or at least parts of it, heard about it and suddenly I had been asked to do a number of things,” Carney said.
Carney will chair the search for the next head of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, an organization that runs several national observatories, after having served on its board of directors for six years.
Carney also helped to prepare current Provost Jim Dean to assimilate into his new position. Dean said he is confident that his predecessor did his best in the face of many challenges.
“He’s an incredibly dedicated and loyal servant of the University,” Dean said.
During his time as provost, Carney worked to implement an academic plan calling for the development of more direct paths for successful undergrads to transition straight into graduate school at UNC.
While Carney is no longer involved in advancing the plan, he believes Dean will continue to push for innovation.
“I think one of the greatest successes has been the academic theme, Water in Our World, spreading all across campus,” Carney said.
Today, Carney is back in the teaching role he had never thought he would leave until former Chancellor Holden Thorp asked him to be interim executive vice chancellor and provost in 2009. While he’s beginning to acknowledge that there are parts of being provost he will miss, he said getting back to his foundation in teaching is refreshing.
“I spend a lot of my time on mountaintops,” he said of his field work in astronomy. “And I couldn’t do that in South Building.”