To watch the Installation of Chancellor Gary L. Miller, Click Here.
Good morning to all of you. Welcome to this beautiful campus on this beautiful day.
To President Ross, thank you for your confidence in me. It is a great honor to serve as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. It is also a great privilege to serve under your strong and forward-thinking leadership.
To Chair Hannah Gage and the members of the UNC Board of Governors, thank you for your support of UNCW and of public higher education in North Carolina.
To Chair Teague and the members of the UNCW Board of Trustees, your wise counsel and your deep commitment to this university sustain us.
To the honorable members of the state legislature and elected officials from local government who join us today, thank you for your selfless service to this state and this community.
I am indeed honored to welcome so many chancellors from the other universities in the UNC system. Thank you for your support and your leadership. I look forward to my partnership with you.
I want to express my deep gratitude to those of you who brought greetings this morning and to the groups you represent. There is no university without the faculty, staff, students and alumni who spoke through your voices this morning, and I thank all of you.
All of us stand on the broad shoulders of those who preceded us and I am no exception. We are most fortunate to have former Chancellor Dr. Jim Leutze with us today and I want to thank him for his leadership and for the great kindness he and Marge have shown Georgia and me since our arrival in Wilmington.
To the many people of Wilmington who are here today, it is a great source of strength and pride for Georgia and me to know that it was the citizens of this community who, on March 25, 1947, set in motion the forces that would result in UNCW by levying a tax upon themselves to establish Wilmington College. It was the people of this community who accommodated the surprising growth of the College by moving it from New Hanover High School to the Isaac Bear building across the street. It was the citizens of Wilmington who in 1961 supported the purchase of these magnificent 640 acres in the face of criticism by some who could not imagine a university in Wilmington needing so much land. And it was the citizens of this area that made it possible for Wilmington College to become the University of North Carolina Wilmington on July 1, 1969.
Our past is linked inexorably to Wilmington and southeastern North Carolina. So is our future even as we extend our programs nationally and globally.
I am joined here today by members of a loving and supportive family and by close friends who have shared important moments in my life. I hope you will have an opportunity to meet all of these family and friends today.
It was just over one year ago that I first visited with the search committee in a conference room in Chapel Hill. One of the most important things I wanted them to know was that if I were to come to UNCW as Chancellor, I would not come alone. I would have with me my wife Georgia, a loving partner who would not only embrace this university and this community but also, drawing on her experience as a business woman, a community organizer, and a social advocate, make important contributions to the UNCW and Wilmington communities. Georgia is a person of unmatched compassion, wisdom and creativity. No one could be more blessed with a life partner than me. Georgia, I love you so much.
Our three children, Rosemary, Brad and William, are with us today. Georgia and I love you so much and we are so proud of each of you.
I want to thank Georgia’s parents, Dr. Elmer Nix and Rosemary Nix and her brother Jimmy and his wife Susan for joining us today. I am deeply appreciative of their love and support.
My journey to this place began in Rockingham County, Virginia where my two brothers David and Bob and I were nurtured in a loving home and in a supportive community. We attended Turner Ashby High School and, then, we all graduated from the College of William and Mary. It is wonderful to have Dave and Bob with me this morning.
I want to say the names of our parents, the late Leon and Isabel Miller of Dayton, Virginia in order to remind me, and my brothers, of their great love for us, their pride in our accomplishments and, most importantly for today, their determination that we would receive a college education. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
And, to the many friends who have joined Georgia and me from California, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, and other places around the country, thank you for coming, thank you for caring, and thank you for your friendship. Our special friend, the Rev. Doctor Gary Blaine, has joined me in the ceremony this morning. Our mentors and special friends, Don and Shirley Beggs, President and First Lady of Wichita State University are with us this morning. Thank you for your support.
This has been a great month of celebration of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the Wilmington community. Our celebration has been about the extraordinary people who animate these beautiful buildings in this beautiful place. We have celebrated our undergraduate and graduate students, our extraordinary faculty and staff, the knowledge and music and art they produce, and the understanding they promote. We have celebrated the citizen leaders who comprise our Board of Trustees, the community members who sustain us, and our partners who work with us each day to help us create and deliver the learning opportunities for which we are so proud.
To affirm the importance of this university, of higher education and our role in the future of North Carolina has been a rare and wonderful opportunity. I want to thank all those involved in the planning for this event, those who celebrated with us and, especially, those who provided support. Each day, you personify the extraordinary spirit and promise of this university.
Last August, in my first address to the university community, I promised that the vision for this university would be built on a continuing and reflective narrative of our most sacred values. Since that time, I have immersed myself in study and deep conversations with faculty, staff, students, community members, and many others. I have examined the university strategy and studied our approaches. Most importantly, I have thought with you about where this university has been and where it can and must go. And, of course, I have given a great deal of consideration about how we might get there.
While these conversations must and will continue, it is now time for me to talk about what I have learned and to express to you my excitement and passion for this place and the enormous possibilities that lay before us.
Today, with great humility, I want to talk about my vision for the future of UNCW.
An institutional vision is partly about hopes, dreams and expectations. And, my hopes and expectations for UNCW are extremely high. By any measure, this university is one of the finest in the country. We are consistently ranked among the best and most affordable universities in the nation. We are blessed with an extraordinarily productive and committed faculty who has dedicated their lives to the noble profession of scholarship and teaching. There are few universities with a more committed staff. The quality of our students is superb and their success in graduating and moving into productive careers is a source of great pride for us. UNCW has a strong strategic foundation and an important mission. There is no doubt that this university will continue to excel.
But a vision must also sustain us as we face great challenges and opportunities. It is not a destination. It is a way of being, a state of mind. Our strategic goals are important and we will achieve them. But I believe our opportunity is not just to succeed; it is to lead. To do this, UNCW must connect with and affirm our deepest values. Our vision must touch and challenge the soul of our institution.
There has never been a time in American higher education where vision and leadership are more important.
The world is changing and with it the needs of our students, the imperatives of our research and the focus of our service and community partnerships. Globalization, the rapid expansion of technological innovation and the changing nature of work in the 21st century will test virtually every assumption of traditional higher education in the coming decades.
Information is ubiquitous and continuously accessible. During this day some 1 billion searches will be issued on Google; 247 million emails will be sent; 100 million tweets will be sent; 36 million hours of video will be loaded up to YouTube (about the same as 176,000 full length Hollywood movies). I suspect that some of you are engaged in one of these activities at this very moment.
Massive, virtual, global social networks and gigantic data bases trace and record the billions of human communications and transactions that occur each minute. Today, our challenge is as much about capturing learning opportunities in a nearly infinitely connected information universe as about teaching courses. Today, our obligation is to coach students to filter, analyze and question information and to shape ideas into thoughtful and civil discourse in a world where unconnected and unsupported bits of information are often presented as truth.
Careers and work are also changing. By some estimates, students graduating from American universities this spring will have on average somewhere between 12 and 15 jobs by the time they are 38 years old. Half of these jobs have not yet been invented. For students at UNCW, the challenge of preparing for careers and citizenship is not just about getting a college education; it is about getting the kind of education that prepares them to be entrepreneurs in their own work lives.
To prepare students to thrive in the information age is our most important obligation, one for which we must and will hold ourselves accountable.
But as we face these challenges, we are confronted with a disquieting public skepticism of higher education. This view holds there is no longer a compelling commonwealth value for colleges and universities and the college degree may no longer be worth the money.
Let me say with great confidence to our critics there is no enterprise in the world better able to prepare students for the future than American public higher education. And there are no better partners for the future of North Carolina than UNCW and our sister institutions in the UNC system.
So we must Dare to Soar not as a simple provocation or gamble or as a device to energize us for routine work or even in response to our critics. We Dare to Soar because we must lead in a time when great leadership is required.
Our leadership must rest on our strongest and most sacred values.
Over the past months as Georgia and I have been welcomed by this community and learned about UNCW, I have come to believe that our strength lies in three enduring values: (1) a commitment to the journey of learning; (2) a love of place; and (3) an unshakable conviction in the power of ideas and innovation.
Permit me to comment briefly on each of these, beginning with our commitment to journey.
A Commitment to the Journey
Higher education in America has always been about the journey to inquire and discover and, through those processes, better one’s self and one’s community. These American journeys often include actual travels that physically connect home and destination with our intellectual growth.
In 1795, New Hanover County native Hinton James — for whom James Hall to my left is named — walked nearly 100 miles from here to Chapel Hill to become the first student to enroll in the newly established University of North Carolina, connecting this area and, eventually UNCW with the rich history of higher education in North Carolina. This physical connection between home and college continues today. This coming fall we expect to welcome 2060 new freshmen to our UNCW community. They will journey here from 92 of the 100 counties in North Carolina, 46 states and 23 countries.
Once they arrive at UNCW, the intellectual journeys of these students will be truly extraordinary.
I know this because, over the past several months, I have had many opportunities to interact with our students. I have treasured every one of these conversations. They have been precious windows to the deep commitment of our faculty and staff.
When I talk with UNCW students about the research they are conducting with their professors, or their experiences abroad, or their first successes at writing fiction, or their internships, or the time they had the opportunity to join a group of faculty for lunch with a prominent business person, scientist or public figure, they do not tell me about how these things were organized. They tell me about how the event changed their thinking, revealed a path or kindled some hidden passion. They tell me about their journey.
One of the most remarkable such opportunities is Lookout Books, the UNCW literary imprint whose debut book of short stories entitled Binocular Vision by author Edith Pearlman won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. UNCW students were involved in every step of the publication of Binocular Vision including the order of the stories and cover design.
As extraordinary as this opportunity is for our writing students it is not rare on this campus.
• Our applied learning initiative recognizes that our part of a student’s journey is transient and the translation of learning into productive careers is an important, new obligation and opportunity.
• Our determination to provide every student with substantial faculty-student research collaboration is a cornerstone of our Honors College and embraced throughout the university. This is also embraced by our community. This past fall, Georgia and I challenged our Board of Visitors to significantly increase funding for student-faculty research. They accepted and met the challenge.
• Our leadership in integrating transfer students into our community, particularly those returning from service in the military demonstrates we understand that everyone’s journey is different and our obligation in today’s world is broad.
• Our understanding that what makes the human journey so unique is its expression in the arts, drama, music and literature is evident in all of our programs.
UNCW’s deepest and most sustaining value is our fundamental commitment to this journey of learning. For us, learning can’t be had through a mere transaction. It is attained through deep collaboration with other learners, like fellow UNCW students, like the scholars that we are so fortunate to have on our faculty. More than anything else, I believe it is this commitment to the value of joining our students in their journey of learning that will distinguish us as a leader.
Every dimension of our vision includes challenges, and there are three I believe we must address as we share and guide the intellectual journeys of our students:
1. We must come to understand more fully how living in the digital global economy affects the way our students learn, communicate and perceive the world and consider the effectiveness of our traditional learning models in their lives.
2. We must more fully understand the changing nature of work and career and become more intentional about preparing students to succeed in the work world not through vocational training but, rather, through the power of inquiry and discovery.
3. We must provide an environment that demonstrates the great variation in thought, culture, background and perspective that is contemporary America.
There is one final aspect of the journey that is very important.
When I visit with incoming freshman and transfer students, I ask them to focus on two things. The first is to understand their own journey and use it to shape their lives as productive citizens. I also ask them to shape our institutional journey. I ask them to change us. To be a leader, we must be willing to learn and to adapt. There is no better source of inspiration for this than our students.
Love of Place
A second key value of our vision is love and stewardship of place.
As I mentioned earlier, UNCW was born of this community and has enjoyed the support of this community throughout its history. But, we are a relatively young institution and, because of that, the opportunity to shape our connection to this region, North Carolina and beyond is still very much available to us. Our vision for the future must include a strong sense of place.
Many of the programs of the Cameron School of Business, the Watson School of Education, the new College of Health and Human Services, the College of Arts and Sciences and our Graduate School focus on the distinctive challenges of our region.
• UNCW continues to be an international leader in marine science and marine biotechnology.
• UNCW is a Carnegie highly engaged university. Every year since it has been published, we have been placed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Last year our students volunteered more than 70,000 hours in service. Our faculty and staff engage and volunteer throughout this community.
• Our art, music and drama programs reach thousands, and we continue to develop new partnerships with the local art community.
• Our partnerships with local businesses and our nurturing of entrepreneurship in this region have created new businesses and new jobs and helped stabilize the economy in a difficult time.
• And, as an institution, we are deeply committed to the educational needs of active duty service men and women and returning veterans and their families.
Our love of place will require us to continue to contribute to this community and this region even more vigorously in the coming years.
But to be a national and global leader in demonstrating how universities can serve their regions, we must come to understand and embrace the importance of our coastal location as a powerful metaphor for many of the most significant questions of commerce, human health, nutrition, the environment and social and cultural dynamics. Our place between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River is unique in North Carolina, but it is also representative of the most important loci of human interaction around the world. There is no complete understanding of human history, the human condition or literature and music and art in the absence of the sea.
Our Dare to Soar must include the full embrace of UNCW as North Carolina’s Coastal University. In this way, we may serve the world even as we serve this region.
As with our love of the journey of learning, our love of place presents us a number of important opportunities and challenges. I will mention three.
1. UNCW must increase our emphasis on marine and coastal science in graduate education, research and the development of biotechnology from the sea. Our continued leadership in these areas is prerequisite to our position as a leading coastal university.
2. We must build programs and partnerships in our College of Health and Human Services that promote health and health research in this region through the College’s Coastal Health initiative.
3. We must continue to find connections in our academic and engagement programs that highlight our region in a way that translates to coastal regions everywhere.
The Power of Ideas and Innovation
The third key value of our vision is the power of ideas and innovation.
I have suggested often that we must invent our future by embracing a culture of innovation. This is perhaps the scariest part of our Dare to Soar. To support innovation we will have to examine traditions, take risks and, most importantly, accept and learn from failure. We will also have to make difficult choices.
It is important that our culture of innovation builds on our strengths and on the foundation of our success. For UNCW, the most important of these strengths is an educational philosophy rooted squarely in the liberal arts and sciences whose ideals of inquiry, comparison, critical thinking and creativity are the perfect garden of invention.
UNCW has always embraced innovation and, in the recent difficult times, it is this spirit of innovation that has sustained us.
• Throughout the budget reductions of the past four years, the university has continued to focus on innovative programs of learning.
• This year, we established the University Innovation Council, which is now considering nearly 100 ideas for innovation in operations and learning programs from the university community.
• We have reallocated internally to support unique opportunities for interacting with the greater Wilmington community.
• Faculty productivity in research and scholarship has continued to climb even as teaching workload has increased.
• And, because of our willingness to choose and focus, UNCW is one of the most efficient universities in our national peer group.
As with our commitment to the journey of learning and our love of place, our commitment to the transforming power of ideas and innovation presents a number of challenges.
1. We must commit to a growth in innovative research and graduate programs in the sciences, social sciences and humanities that advance our mission as North Carolina’s Coastal University.
2. We must recommit to exploring and experimenting with new and creative ways of delivering learning experiences for our students and different kinds of partnerships to promote research and to translate that research for the common good.
3. We must be a leader in partnering with other UNC campuses to meet the challenges of our time.
We must and can do this without sacrificing what is precious about our traditions. We must and can do this while firmly embracing the ancient commitment of the academy to examine ideas, develop evidence for them, and put them into context for broader consideration.
In accepting the position of Chancellor in May of last year, I promised that we would engage in an ongoing conversation that would challenge us, test ideas, embrace our imagination and, sometimes, even make us uncomfortable. I said we would do this because UNCW is a university with a soul, a university on the move, a university with promises to keep.
Today, I ask us to shape our conversation around three enduring values: Our commitment to the precious journey of learning, a journey in which we join with our students and our community; our love of place as North Carolina’s Coastal University; and, our fearless trust in our traditions even as we embrace the need for innovation and change. It is my strong belief that, by developing our narrative around these values, we will not only succeed in meeting our goals, we will also lead in this important time.
Let me conclude with one additional thought.
More than anything else our promise to one another and our students — Our Seahawk Promise — must be about our basic humanity, and about our love for one another, for our neighbors, for this state and this country.
At UNCW, we Dare to Soar, to realize our vision of leadership and excellence. And, we will do this with, in the words of Aaron Copeland, great hope and thanksgiving.
Thank each of you for all you do for this great university. Thank you for coming this morning.
Have a great day.