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Administration members answer questions on current University issues

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The Future of the University Panel took place in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on Thursday, April 13.

On Thursday, Graduate and Professional Student Government President Theodore Nollert moderated the Future of the University Panel – a discussion of how the University will address some issues it currently faces. 

The panel featured Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Chris Clemens and David English, the UNC System vice president for academic programs, faculty and research. The event took place at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center. 

Here are some of the issues that were discussed at the event:

Diversity in the UNC System

  • Nollert asked the panel whether they thought UNC and the UNC System as a whole were adequately promoting diversity and what their future diversity goals were.
  • Clemens said he knew students who had been discouraged from applying to UNC before being accepted. He also expressed concern that outside perceptions of the University might make prospective students doubt their application would be considered.
    • “What I worry is that we’ve got folks who have an impression that there is a ‘thing’ typical of all Carolina students, and so they will encourage people not to apply or discourage them actively,” he said. “We want to be here for all of the residents of North Carolina, and we really want to have anyone who can get through our admissions process to come and try to succeed.” 
  • Guskiewicz said that UNC Admissions was making an effort to allow students of different socioeconomic backgrounds to attend the University. He also said that Admissions was bringing in more international students to the University than ever before.
    • “I think our curriculum is outstanding, but it only comes to life whenever we can have conversations with those from different demographics and different lived experiences that show up in the classroom,” Guskiewicz said.

University student anxiety 

  • Nollert went on to open a discussion about mental health on UNC’s campus, especially in connection to the academic pressures of university life and the trend of students pursuing high course loads in an attempt to start early on career preparation. 
    • “Is there a way, from an academic perspective, that we can be encouraging more intellectual exploration and creative risk-taking that might be related to how we address mental health on campus?” he asked. 
  • Guskiewicz said he had been considering this very question on Thursday morning while at a meeting.
    • “We have high-achieving students at Carolina, and we have to remind them that it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to switch your major, it’s okay to switch friend groups because you weren’t connecting with a group, and to need more resources,” he said.
  • Clemens said the University had a responsibility to create well-rounded students who understood their purpose in life and their purpose at UNC. 
    • “We have to imagine that we’re laying the foundation for tomorrow, for ten years out, for fifty years and for a hundred years. And obviously, things get less and less predictable as you go farther away, but we need to do that. That’s our responsibility,” Clemens said.

The future of UNC enrollment

In the face of dropping university enrollment nationwide – though enrollment at UNC is holding strong in the face of rising costs and inflation – Nollert asked the panel what they believed the value of higher education was. 

  • Guskiewicz said UNC’s value lies in its ability to blend career preparation with student exploration and innovation.  
    • “Our model is not a choice between vocational training and a deep liberal arts education that gets you an understanding of history and your place in the world – all of the things that make a university great,” he said. “It is a ‘both, and.’ I think that in the chopping-up of that model, you really miss something.”
  • English said there was a “crisis of confidence in higher education” nationwide as the financial burden of attending a university rises. However, while NC’s college enrollment rate has dropped slightly since a peak in 2011, UNC's enrollment has consistently increased. 
  • As the conversation about UNC’s unique educational opportunities continued, Guskiewicz brought up UNC’s succinct, easy-to-recall mission statement: “Think, Communicate, Collaborate, Create.”
    • “Regardless of whether you’re a philosophy major, a physics major, an English major, a political science major, you develop those skills,” he said. “That’s what makes us unique and different.” 

Student inquiries on University response to Climate Action Day

  • A student in the audience mentioned that a student petition for Climate Action Day, which asked that the University commits to going “fossil-fuel free” by 2050, received over 400 signatures. The student asked whether UNC would take on the challenge, as well as what they would do about the coal plant on campus. 
    • Clemens asked whether the student had a roadmap that would get the University to that goal "without breaking the laws of physics.”
      • The student replied that he was a political science major, and that it was not his job to determine that roadmap.
      • Clemens replied, “You’re making it my job, and what I’m going to tell you is not going to make you happy.”
    • One possible replacement, according to Clemens, could be “a small modular nuclear reactor.” Barring that, he said, many other sources of fuel would have to be found to replace the current output of the coal plant.

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