Chancellor Gary Miller

Remarks from the UNCW Foundation Board Luncheon

August 4, 2011

The UNCW Foundation is a nonprofit organization formed in 1962 to assist the university with fundraising, scholarship development, real property transactions, non-cash gift liquidation and other activities that support the mission and goals of the university.

Chancellor Miller

It is a great honor for me to be the chancellor of this great university. In the short time I have been here I have come to love this place for its spirit, its optimism and, most of all, for its commitment to the magic of learning.

One of the best things for me personally is to begin this great journey at UNCW with my wife, Georgia Nix Miller, who is with me today.

Every great university enjoys the support of important community leaders who volunteer to bring their expertise and their experience to benefit the programs of the university.

This UNCW Foundation Board is one of those groups here. It is indeed a great joy to have the opportunity to meet you, to learn of your dreams for this university and to get your advice about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for us.

One of the most important things you bring to us is your connection to Wilmington, this region, the state of North Carolina and the world. From these connections we will seek partnerships that will benefit our students, our faculty and, of course, the community.

Thank you.

In today’s economy it is critical that the university nurture the passions and talents of friends like you. More than ever, we will need your support and your networking capacity to give us the margin to sustain our commitment to excellence.

One of the most significant ways you are demonstrating your commitment to UNCW is your active support of The Campaign for UNCW: Soaring to Greatness. I know I can count on this board to remain active and involved through the campaign’s conclusion. Your efforts are contributing much-needed funding for scholarships, professorships, programs and services – especially so, with the state’s declining resources. We are deeply appreciative of this.

Generating such support for UNCW has never been more important. You’ve heard about the significant state budget cuts our university and the entire UNC system received for the current fiscal year. The reductions this year alone amounted to $16.5 million dollars on this campus and nearly $414 million dollars across the entire system.

These cuts are on top of the state reductions that occurred during the three previous years. At UNCW, the previous reductions totaled $31.3 million dollars, which means that our state budget reductions during the past four years exceed $47 million dollars.

I am extremely proud of our planning process in the face of these extraordinary reductions. Faculty and staff here at UNCW did a good job of protecting the academic core and in thinking of innovative ways to adapt to the situation.

Unfortunately, the latest cuts were deeper than expected, and we had no choice but to make some very painful decisions, which will adversely impact our academic programs. There will be fewer faculty and staff, fewer course sections and larger class sizes, as well as less funding for financial aid.

And, perhaps most importantly, there will be fewer opportunities for very bright students to experience those precious moments with motivated and accomplished faculty – to create the magic of learning that UNCW is known for throughout the country.

There is no doubt that, left unattended, these reductions will, eventually, erode the academic quality we have come to expect at UNCW.

It is important for all of us to appreciate that this is not a temporary situation. While we hope and expect the state’s commitment to higher education will increase in the coming years, given other critical needs, we do not expect state funding to rebound to previous levels in the near future.

So, where do we go from here? How do we move forward? How can we possibly soar higher? How do we emerge from this Great Recession as a stronger and even more successful university?

I don’t have all of the answers, but there’s one thing I do know: We’re not going to plan our way out of these circumstances; we’re going to have to invent our way out. That’s why partnerships with entrepreneurs, business leaders and creative thinkers like all of you are essential. That’s why The Campaign for UNCW is critically important to our institution’s viability.

To be successful in the 21st century, UNCW must contribute to our region’s economy. We must fuel it with innovative discoveries that lead to tangible results, such as: new businesses and industries, more jobs and more economic opportunities, and students and graduates with the confidence to take risks and to approach their careers with an entrepreneurial spirit.

The same can be said for other sectors of our community. We need better health care, better education from preschool on up and better social services. We need to increase cultural and global awareness, embrace diversity, inspire digital literacy and support the arts and music, which provide the real window to the human soul.

These imperatives must be part of the UNCW educational experience. This is what will make us distinctive from other universities.

This fall, I will have a series of conversations with the UNCW community about our university’s future. We must shape a new vision for UNCW, one that not only upholds our core values and understands current economic realities, but also refuses to be limited by any challenges. A great vision is a narrative that imagines future success, outlines the important steps for getting there and factors in changing circumstances while positioning the university to take full advantage of new opportunities.

As we develop this vision, I will look to friends and supporters like you for guidance and suggestions. What should UNCW do more of? Less of? How can we enhance our interconnectedness with the coastal region where we live and the state we serve?

You care about UNCW, you understand this community and our state, and you have an intrinsic sense of the partnerships we should be pursuing. I encourage you to share your ideas with me in the months ahead.

While everyone on campus is thinking about our future, we’re also focused on UNCW today.

Our faculty continues to conduct exceptional research. For example, in June, a couple of marine biology professors became the first aquanauts of the 2011 research season to use the undersea habitat Aquarius. They’re tracking the survival and growth of giant barrel sponges, known as the “redwoods of the reefs.” Good news – many sponge populations are increasing rapidly, which means better habitats for the shrimp, lobsters, fishes and other marine life that dwell along the reefs. The healthier our seas are, the healthier our coastal community will be, including the fishing industry and other businesses that depend on the ocean for their success.

UNCW continues to build a strong athletics program: five coaches were named CAA Coach of the Year after last season, including women’s basketball coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who was also named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time.

Our club sports teams continue to bring out the best in our students. The UNCW Surf Team won the East Coast Regional competition and finished third nationally. The women’s Ultimate Frisbee team placed fifth in their tournament and finished the season third nationally.

UNCW students continue to rack up recognition for their service to this community. The university has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll each year since the list first came out in 2006. This year, UNCW was placed on the Honor Roll with Distinction after our students boosted their volunteer hours to more than 70,625 – an increase of 20,000 hours compared to just the year before.

I can’t tell you how much this accomplishment means to me. I believe our students are among the most fortunate young people in America, and they have an obligation to share their opportunities by being actively involved in this community. Obviously, UNCW is doing a good job of empowering student learning through numerous community engagement programs.

Later this month, our faculty and staff look forward to welcoming 13,000 students to campus for the fall semester, including more than 2,000 freshmen. The Class of 2015 promises to be one of our brightest ever, with an estimated average SAT of 1177 (compared to 1170 last year) and an average GPA of 3.97.

UNCW will empower these students – our newest Seahawks – to learn at the highest levels, to experience the joy of making their own discoveries, to understand diverse cultures and to appreciate the impact that they, personally, can have on their communities as well as the world at large. And we will do all of that while helping them prepare for professional success in numerous fields.

Generations of students have benefitted from the power of the UNCW experience. What we stand for – education, opportunity and better lives for our graduates, their families and this region – is more important than ever, and even these tough budget times won’t diminish our faculty and staff’s dedication to our mission.

Every campus has its own energy, its own dynamic, but few universities feel as special as UNCW. My wife Georgia and I felt that Seahawk spirit from our first visit to campus. Since then, I’ve repeatedly seen why UNCW inspires a lot of loyalty among students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and friends. This is an extraordinary place, and I’m very excited to be chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

I want to close by thanking the Foundation Board, once again, for your outstanding support over the years. UNCW needs your friendship, your ideas and your continued dedication. I look forward to working with you in the years ahead to help UNCW make an even greater impact on our region and our state.

Have a great afternoon.

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