UNC selective, but not unreachable

After eight years as chancellor at UNC Chapel Hill, James Moeser is getting ready to leave South Building, catch his breath and eventually return to campus as a music professor. Here are excerpts from a recent interview:

On how UNC Chapel Hill has changed:

“I heard somebody to say the other day Carolina got its swagger back. I don't like to say that because it suggests arrogance and this place is anything but arrogant.

“But when I came here in 2000 this place was reeling from the death of (former Chancellor) Michael Hooker. It was reeling from a lack of leadership. There were vacancies… Michael himself had his own, rather, how should we say, confrontational relationship with the faculty.

“I wouldn't quite characterize it as malaise, but there was a lack of confidence here. And I think, eight years later, there's a tremendous sense of confidence here and knowledge that this is one of the top universities in the country.

On not having N.C. roots:

“North Carolinians place a high premium on that – sometimes I think too much, by the way. I knew that, and I made a point that nobody was going to know more about the history of the place. I was never going to be ignorant of the history and culture of the university and the state. The culture of the place is unique.

“I'm convinced, however, that this university and every great institution needs a balance and infusion of new ideas. There's always a danger of academic incest and cultural incest, which ultimately leads to mediocrity.

“It's a very bad idea for universities to hire their own graduates. It ought to be the exception. You really need to bring people in from the outside. And, I think we've actually established a really good balance.”

High and low points:

“I can't choose only one. The day I was installed, the grand celebration of the completion of the Carolina First campaign, the Final Four in St. Louis, that would be three. “Low point – Eve Carson's murder, and also 9-11.”

On the impact that Eve Carson, the student body president slain earlier this year, had on campus:

“It was quite unusual. I didn't realize until her death. I knew she was extraordinary, but I wasn't aware of all the things she was doing.”

On the lasting effect of the university's use in 2002 of a book about the Quran for its summer reading program:

“It established Chapel HIll as a citadel of academic freedom. We reaffirmed the purpose for why public education was created. We can confront our demons, whatever they may be.”

On the success of the Carolina Covenant, the 4-year-old scholarship program for low-income students:

“It's a compelling story. I think people see the virtue in it. It was intended to send a signal that while we are academically selective, we are not economically unreachable. Stay in school. Take a college prep course. There is a rainbow at the end if you work hard enough.”