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Ask the President

Entering a Decade of Leadership at UNC

Editor’s note: This fall, Kay Norton entered her 10th year as UNC’s 12th president. She reflects on the experience and how UNC is responding to the funding challenges in higher education.

I understand, much more now than I could have nine years ago, the importance of this place.

What’s profound and satisfying, in spite of frustrations such as finances, is the nobility of the work of the university community. We are not a widget factory that simply turns out credit hours and degrees. Our alumni go on to make a difference in the world. We engage our students in transformative education. We lead out the potential of students who are often under-represented at research universities. We provide meaningful experiences inside and outside of the classroom. This is our mission. We care about the bottom line because we care about that mission.

As we head into 2012, it’s no secret that public higher education faces significant funding challenges. In some ways, it’s no different from when I became president in 2002 and immediately faced the prospect of a 25 percent reduction in state funding. However, this change is likely permanent.

We as a university community have acknowledged permanent change and continue to seek sustainable cost savings to mitigate the impact of significant tuition increases on students and families.

Finding sustainable cost savings is not about slashing budgets. In my experience, that is a short-term and ineffective practice that just balances the books and later leads to corrosive effects that take years, if not decades, to fully recover.

No, it has to be about fundamental change. We must build on the changes we’ve already made (for example, delaying technology purchases and critically reviewing positions when they become vacant) to ensure that we align our priorities with our vision of a transformative educational experience for students. We must have the courage to recognize that some activities, however worthy, are not at the the sweet spot of that vision.

There are no easy answers. We know that the state’s inability to invest in higher education will continue if the imbalance between revenues and expenditures is not addressed. Tuition already is our major revenue source, but there is an ethical and moral limit to how much we should ask students to shoulder. We will actively seek the support of donors, but that will not bridge the gap.

We have an obligation to be thoughtful and innovative with the financial resources entrusted to us. All of us — administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends — are committed to continuing the great tradition of a UNC education and to the continuous enhancement of the value of a UNC degree.

— Kay Norton, UNC president

Kay Norton

Ask the President
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Ranking UNC Presidents by Tenure
Zachariah Snyder
1891–1915, 24 years

George Frasier
1924–48, 24

William Ross
1948–64, 16

Richard Bond
1971–81, 10

Robert Dickeson
1981–91, 10

Kay Norton
2002–present, 9

Top 3 Presidents by Tenure (Four-Year Colorado Colleges/
Kay Norton
UNC, 2002–present, 9

Jay Helman
Western State, 2002–present, 9

Tim Foster
Colorado Mesa, 2004–present, 7