What UNC Charlotte Is All About

Recently, the school of Business Administration of U.N.C. reported on replies to questionnaires sent 73 leading business and industrial leaders. Here is one reply:

“We believe every graduate should possess a familiarity with other fields such as arts, science, and humanities, which will help him embark upon his career with a sense of humility and a capacity for understanding and growth.”

Mary Rebecca Denny, Charlotte Collegian, 11 October 1960, p. 3

At the official ceremonial opening of UNC Charlotte’s beautiful new PORTAL building  (the acronym stands for “Partnership, Outreach, and Research to Accelerate Learning”) on the 28th of February this year, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory spoke in glowing terms about the linkages between the university and the city of Charlotte. Recalling his own role in supporting the plan to extend the city’s light rail system to the university campus while he was Charlotte’s Mayor, Governor McCrory contrasted the rail line’s mere physical connection between the university and downtown, with the much broader reach of PORTAL.

PORTAL incorporates a sophisticated and much-expanded successor to The Ben Craig Center, the university’s venerable business incubator, and according to the Governor, it is

“about connecting this university to the private sector throughout the rest of the world. And that’s what UNC Charlotte’s all about. It’s connecting academia with jobs. And one of my major challenges and one of my major goals, and one of our major challenges must be to connect academia with commerce and with people making money–because that’s what it’s all about–so that we can build future buildings just like this throughout North Carolina, and put food on the plates of hardworking families throughout North Carolina.”

It’s fascinating to think about the many different things UNC Charlotte might be described as being all about: advancing science, conserving and creating great literature and art, exploring ideas, teaching students different ways of analyzing and understanding the world, improving health care, finding ways to protect and conserve resources for the future, keeping governmental and corporate bureaucracies staffed with individuals with particular kinds of technical skills, nurturing upward mobility.

In her remarks on the goals of the university quoted above in Charlotte College’s student newspaper more than half a century ago, English Department Chair Mary Rebecca Denny added to this list of what the university might be for: the cultivation of the ability to make wise decisions, furthering the individual’s “personal enrichment–both intellectual and spiritual–and his social responsibility;” “self-discovery, self-discipline, and the power of independent judgment;” and, quoting John Milton’s 1673 Tractate on Education, teaching men “to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the duties both public and private of peace and war.” The list might go on and on.

Given these complex potential goals, it’s useful to hear once again how some of the most powerful individuals in our state appear to have honed their notion about the idea of the university to one fine, single, keen point: to “connect with commerce and with people making money.”

These days, the North Carolinians making that money are very, very few in number, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the majority of the hardworking families in the state to put food on their tables or to provide their children with educational opportunities, in part because of deliberate policy choices being made by those responsible for the welfare of the state. One begins to wonder about who the main beneficiaries of our Governor’s purified notion of the role of the university are likely to be, and what will be its long-term effects.

If it’s true that “Thinking Matters,” this might be something we all should be having a conversation about.

About Gregory Starrett

Professor, Department of Anthropology
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