UNC Charlotte brought together two national leaders, Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary Janet Napolitano, for this year’s 11th Annual Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Tuesday, March 22. Susan DeVore ’81, Chair of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees, moderated the bipartisan conversation.

While Napolitano and Bush represent different political parties, they agreed and emphasized the essential role that public universities, like Charlotte, play in providing opportunities for students and the success of communities.

1. Access, affordability and adaptability are essential to student and institutional success.

Bush suggested that higher education leaders need to ask themselves two important questions: How can we best serve the community around us? How can we best serve an emerging and diverse group of students who have different needs than years past? He noted that a generation or two ago most people could complete a four-year degree in four years, which is not the case today. “Now people have to work and they have different types of family structures, and the costs are significantly higher in real terms,” ​​he said.

Public institutions play a key role in solving this problem. Napolitano encouraged universities to meet the needs of first-generation students and ensure a diverse student body that represents the state’s diversity. “Public universities should be open to students from all walks of life,” she said. At UNC Charlotte, 35% of incoming undergraduate students are first-generation students and 36% of UNC Charlotte students come from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds.

Napolitano also encouraged universities to learn from the pandemic to expand access to higher education. Incorporating distance learning technologies into university curricula can be an effective mechanism for students of non-traditional ages who need access to higher education but are unable to live on campus.

2. Investing in university research is an investment in the community.

Both leaders stressed the importance of universities expanding their research initiatives to address community challenges and recognized the continued need for the federal government and state legislatures to invest in research on college campuses.

“In my opinion, our role is to do basic research. And then work on the application, the applied application of that research,” Napolitano said. She encouraged universities to push the boundaries of possibility and “focus on their research journey and figure out where they can add the greatest value.” She further urged universities not to be “limited only by our imaginations” and to take research beyond the application phase to the ethical considerations associated with implementing new technologies. “Universities can help us think about some of the ethical issues associated with these new technologies, because there are many.”

Bush encouraged universities to ensure that their research efforts support the specific needs of their communities. “Universities need to be aware of their communities and need to focus on research that their constituents can benefit from, because that’s how you create a sustainable university,” he said.

During the pandemic, UNC Charlotte became one of the first institutions in the nation to establish a wastewater research program. The North Carolina General Assembly granted the university $9 million — the largest state research appropriation in the institution’s history — to support this and other research and testing on COVID-19.

3. STEM is essential, but so is the humanities.

When asked if the humanities still had a place in higher education, Bush and Napolitano said “yes,” explaining the need for versatile workers in today’s business environment.

“Teaching STEM is important, but a university should be universal in what it teaches,” Bush said. “I think businesses today and certainly in the future will want people who have a liberal arts degree because they can think, they can write.”

According to Napolitano, the humanities help students appreciate the world and learn to think differently. “Even those majoring in STEM fields need exposure to literature, philosophy, and history,” she said.

In this sense, UNC Charlotte’s recently revised General Education Curriculum (“The Charlotte Model”) will ensure that undergraduate students acquire four essential skills of communication, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning and comprehension. intercultural. In 2021, STEM majors made up 30% of UNC Charlotte’s incoming freshman class.

4. Public universities are part of the “secret sauce” of the economy.

Public universities play a central and unique role in meeting the needs of their communities, states, and the nation as a whole.

According to Napolitano, that makes them part of the “secret sauce” of what makes the US economy special. “Public universities, in my view, are special institutions in our system, and we need to do a better job of communicating about them and getting public support for them. You know, when you buy a car, its value goes up. depreciates.The time you drive it a lot.When you have a college degree,it goes up in value over your lifetime.

Additionally, Bush sees many opportunities for governors to work with their universities, community colleges and technical schools to create statewide strategies to connect the aspirations of people without skills to existing jobs. . “Whether it’s nurses, information technologists, computer scientists, this is a huge opportunity to perhaps accelerate the modernization of the workforce, and universities can play a really constructive role,” he said.

Governor Jeb Bush

Florida established a bold accountability system for public schools and created the most ambitious school choice program in the United States, during its two terms as governor from 1999 to 2007.

Bush is currently chairman of Dock Square Capital LLC, a Miami-based merchant bank. He joined the University of Pennsylvania as a nonresident Presidential Professor of Practice for the 2018-2019 academic year and previously served as Visiting Professor and Research Fellow at Harvard University, Executive Professor at Texas A&M University and received several honorary doctorates. He maintains his passion for improving the quality of education for students across the country, serving as President of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national nonprofit education reform organization he founded to transform education in America.

Neapolitan Secretary

A distinguished public servant, Napolitano served as president of the University of California (UC) from 2013 to 2020, United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, attorney general of Arizona from from 1998 to 2003 and as United States Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993 to 1997.

As UC president, she was a strong advocate for California students, working to stabilize tuition in the state and enroll historic numbers of California undergraduates. In 2017, under Napolitano’s leadership, the University of California was the first in the nation to file a lawsuit to prevent the federal government’s cancellation of the DACA program. She is the recipient of nine honorary degrees as well as the Jefferson Medal from the University of Virginia.

Jennifer Howe

Jennifer Howe is Director of Advancement Communications at UNC-Charlotte.