Cap in the Air

Nothing is as simple as a percentage when it comes to deciding the personality of a campus

Frenchie was a showgirl. She danced on a drum in Memorial Hall and wore the closest thing to a bikini that Jerry Marder ’44 had ever seen. Little grass skirts lilting about beyond his imagination, right here in North Carolina, right here on this campus, right before his living eyes. Of the many things that bolted through his mind as he listened to the thrum of bongo drums, Marder thought this: Thank God for Richard Adler ’43. Lovely place, that New York.

Sixty years later, Marder still recalls the days of Sound and Fury, a student theater group that produced quarterly musicals and entertainment on campus, as one of a handful of cultural experiences he might never have known if not for the infusion of non-North Carolinians at UNC in the 1940s. The details are a bit fuzzy – Adler, a native New Yorker who became a Broadway composer, was more of a playwright in college than the award-winning songwriter he became. But to Marder, out-of-state classmates such as Adler and Sound and Fury’s president, Atlantan Ben Hall ’43, with their worldly views and talents and their post-collegiate success, were educators in a league with his own professors, no less formative on his life than the war that was being fought a continent away.

“I left Asheville,” Marder says, “and entered the world when I came to Chapel Hill.”

When Jim Dickens ’51 returned to Chapel Hill for his 50th class reunion three years ago, he spent much of the weekend reminiscing with two good friends from his college days. One was from Enfield in Halifax County. The other had come to UNC from Pennsylvania. “But I never knew until then that he was from out of state. And I never cared. I benefited from his friendship, but he might as well have been from Enfield.”

For Dickens, Chapel Hill also opened worlds he’d never known. But the expansion was mainly about economic opportunity, not social diversity.

“I grew up in the third-world country of Roanoke Rapids and left in 1947 for Chapel Hill,” Dickens says. “I’ve seen hundreds like me do the same thing over the years. I cherished the opportunity to go off to college and escape the drudgery that was around me. If we deny another North Carolina student the opportunity to come to Carolina just to allow a child prodigy from Arkansas or Iowa to come to UNC, we’re refusing one of our own.”

Plenty of people agree with Marder and Dickens that a college education is both the words spoken in a classroom and the life lived outside it. What they disagree on is how many students should drive into town with kelly green Colorado or canary yellow New Jersey plates. Those who think Carolina has reached its limit of out-of-staters spoke loud and clear last fall, when the UNC System Board of Governors flirted with the notion that the 16-campus system needed more non-North Carolinians. The proposal – essentially to lift the cap on out-of-state admissions to 22 percent from 18 percent by exempting up to 4 percent of out-of-state academic scholarship recipients – has been squelched for now. But probably not for good.

Nearly everybody has an opinion on how many out-of-state students it takes to make Chapel Hill work, and like the old light bulb joke, everybody’s answer has a special twist. Their gut reactions – about figures and math, percentages and money – are predictable on both sides, but the driving reasons behind how alumni feel are visceral expressions of memories, hopes and interconnected lives. Numbers may not lie, but they don’t tell the whole story, either.

The 18 percent generation

“When I was 18, 19 years old, I wrote a letter to Robert Frost on behalf of the Carolina Workshop,” Richard Adler says, “and I invited him to come to Chapel Hill and recite his poems.” To Adler’s great surprise, Frost accepted – and refused to take an honorarium to boot.

“I had to get up and introduce him when he came,” Adler says. “I had never gotten up to speak in front of anyone in my life, and here I was, introducing the poet laureate of our time.”

It’s one of Adler’s fondest memories in a life full of good ones, including composing the music and lyrics for the Tony-award-winning musicals Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game. Marder may credit Adler with opening new worlds to him, but Adler says UNC gave him “the best four years of my life.”

“Anybody in the state Legislature would cut my throat to hear what I have to say,” Adler says, “but Chapel Hill is such a wonderful place that it should be open and unrestricted in terms of where the students come from. Eighteen percent is awfully low. I understand the reasoning. But I don’t like it.”

Marder and Adler experienced a campus largely unrestricted by percentages. The University did institute a cap of 15 percent in 1946 in the wake of college-bound World War II veterans streaming to campus, but it never was strictly enforced. Marder later had two children who enrolled at Chapel Hill from Gastonia – a daughter who wound up transferring to East Carolina, and a son, Anthony, who graduated in 1978 – right about the time when nonresident percentages were frequently reaching 20 percent at campuses on the state’s borders. It wasn’t until 1986 that the Board of Governors instituted the current hard cap of 18 percent, at the earlier request of UNC System President William Friday ’48 (LLB).

Anthony Marder, a supervisor for Sara Lee in Gastonia, says 18 percent is too stingy; he supports raising the cap. But it’s a tricky principle to embrace, especially for in-state supporters. How would he feel if his three children were denied access to Chapel Hill to make room for someone from Georgia?

“If they had the same qualifications as the out-of-state student,” Marder says, “I’d be upset by that.”

Still, Marder, who was a finalist for the Morehead Scholarship and was in the top 5 percent of his high school class, says it was from out-of-state pals that he learned how to study.

“I saw their habits, and I saw what it took to get to that level. I learned from that. But it still took me until senior year to feel prepared. I thought I was a pretty smart guy until I graduated from high school and came to Carolina.”

Marder, who was president of Tau Epsilon Phi at UNC, says he remembers “out of the 40 or 50 in our frat, only about three of the guys were from in-state. They were just very bright guys. They had a better preparation to be at Carolina than I had.”

Distinguishing between the glow of memories and the reality of the present is a difficult task, and the leap between those two ideas is a long one. What happens in one’s life between the time he graduates and the time he returns for his 20th reunion can have a lot to do with a point of view on the admissions cap – it could be nostalgia speaking. Are more recent students, then, the best judges of the value of nonresidents; or are they still too far from the futures their Carolina diplomas will help them build to understand the ramifications?

Chris Racine ’03, who graduated in December with degrees in biology and history and was president of Tau Epsilon Phi last year, says he’s ambivalent about the issue.

“I don’t think it’s too big of a deal, to be honest with you,” Racine says. “I don’t mind either way. I understand the argument that it’s a public university, and that it mainly should educate North Carolinians. But it adds more flavor to have out-of-state students, too.”

Racine came to Carolina from Palatine, Ill., a northern suburb of Chicago, and plans to go to medical school at UNC or Wake Forest this fall. Among the facts that drew him to Carolina – and his younger brother to UNC-Wilmington – was the weather. “I’m staying,” he says. “Definitely. Don’t get me wrong; I love Chicago. But I absolutely hate winter. I wouldn’t go to class in 15-below weather.”

Isaac Moan, a “second-year senior” from Charlotte and a fraternity brother of Racine’s, says nonresidents are more active in campus activities and have higher GPAs.

“They provide a needed diversity to the in-state pool of students,” Moan says. “They also bring a strong work ethic, seeing as how they are paying much more than we are to attend school here.” They’re not bothered by being in the minority, “but they do care about the tuition hikes. They are already paying a small fortune.”

That nonresidents should pay a great deal more than their in-state counterparts is nearly universally accepted by both proponents and opponents of the current cap, although many defenders of the status quo believe that increased revenue from tuition – not student body quality – is what’s really driving interest in a cap hike.

But while many alumni favor an increase in the out-of-state tuition UNC students currently pay, that belief often is based on the idea that nonresident tuition currently accounts for less than 100 percent of the total cost of their education. But at a January meeting, UNC Board of Trustees members were told that, according to the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education, Chapel Hill’s current out-of-state tuition and fees cover about $300 more than the total cost of educating a student, while the $4,072 paid a year by N.C. residents is far short of the actual cost.

Nonresidents currently pay $15,920 a year in tuition and fees, a number that could rise to more than $21,000 in the years to come if a proposal passes to raise it significantly.

A small fortune? Yes, and one that many students try to recoup once they arrive on campus, including Chris Racine. “I’d say a decent number of out-of-state students try to get in-state residency when they get here,” he says. “You know. It’s a tuition break. I tried, but I got rejected. They said I hadn’t been here long enough.”

Fellow Illinois native Sara Schairer Holly ’99 certainly wasn’t driving around with a North Carolina license plate on her Ford Probe in college because she liked the early 20th-century airplane in the tag’s design. Had she gone to the University of Illinois, her father’s alma mater, as he tried to convince her to do, she would have paid $4,286 for tuition in her senior year. Instead, Holly was accepted at UNC and started looking into obtaining North Carolina residency before she set foot in Chapel Hill.

She got a North Carolina driver’s license as soon as she arrived her freshman year, registered to vote, opened bank accounts and paid state taxes to prove that she “intended to give back to the state of North Carolina and that it was my home.” She spent her summers and holidays in the state. And after a year – the requirement for residency application – she applied to UNC’s residency status committee. Initially rejected, Holly appealed and went before the committee to state her case.

“I remember sitting in front of a panel with about five people who were just basically drilling me: Where are your bank accounts? Where do you pay taxes? I had to bring a calendar of where I’d been, to prove I hadn’t been back to Illinois.”

She was granted residency on appeal. Instead of paying more than $11,000 in tuition for each of her final two years on campus, she paid about $2,200 – $2,000 less than if she had gone in-state to the University of Illinois. It’s the higher-learning equivalent of beating the house in Las Vegas.

“My dad was able to retire after I got that,” Holly says. “He was pretty happy.”

Stringent though the process is, in 2002, 86 students who were accepted as freshmen or already were enrolled as nonresidents rolled the dice anyway, and 54 were approved on first application. Another 97 students that year appealed an initial ruling that went against them, and 35 won residency.

Total lost revenue: about $980,000 a year. Maybe it doesn’t break the bank, as the University knows there will be residency appeals; but there are ways to beat the system nonresidents are expected to feed.

“Ooooh … right,” says Holly, sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”

For her part, Holly stayed in North Carolina and continued to pay taxes, while working for the University’s athletics department, for three years following graduation. She says she’s “wishy-washy” on the cap issue, still working her way through the consequences of both sides. “On the one hand, I want more out-of-state students on campus because it does improve the quality of the student body,” says Holly, who now lives in San Diego. “But it also doesn’t seem as prestigious to go there from out of state if the cap is higher. The reverse also seems true: If you don’t allow as many out-of-staters in, it’s not as big an accomplishment for in-state students to get in.”

The latter statement certainly supports one of the admissions office’s touted benefits of the tabled proposal, which would have exempted nonresident distinguished scholars. Forty-six percent of North Carolinians who turned down an offer of admission to UNC in 2003 also closed the door on the state, leaving to attend college elsewhere. Admissions officers believe the state’s best and brightest are more likely to keep it in the family if they see a commitment to excellence reflected in UNC’s student body.

Holly, who volunteers with admissions counseling for prospective UNC applicants in California, says she meets a number of people in her job as a pharmacy representative who wanted to go to Carolina but didn’t get in or just never tried. One is now a well-known and respected ophthalmologist who “just figured he’d never get in. Are we discouraging more excellent students from applying because of the cap?”

The price of standing out

Jim Dickens believes all this talk of excellence isn’t so much a necessity as it is an ego trip. Several years ago, Dickens was having lunch with employees at his Rocky Mount business supply store. Ron Barnes ’93, just three years out of school, brought up that weekend’s football game. Another man overheard their conversation and asked what they were discussing. “Ron said, ‘The Game,’ ” Dickens recalls. “The man replied, ‘OK. Where are they playing?’ And Ron told him, exasperated, ‘In Chapel Hill. You know, The school.’

“I said, ‘Ron, c’mon. Lighten up.’ I thought it was an elitist comment,” says Dickens, a former member of the GAA’s Board of Directors and UNC’s Board of Visitors, “and we’ve got too many of these kinds of ideas representing UNC.”

Dickens is well aware that UNC is ranked fifth among the top public research universities in the country, behind Virginia, Michigan, UCLA and Cal-Berkeley. He knows the administration aspires to be considered even more of a leader. And he doesn’t care.

“There’s nothing wrong with being top-five in the country,” he says. “What I want for UNC-Chapel Hill is to be the best institution we can be with the resources that we have, and that we can apply, within the mandates of the constitution of the state and the University charter.”

Dickens worries that bringing in more students from out of state will move UNC farther “from the core mission of the University, which is to educate our sons and daughters. We need to strengthen the education level within the state first. I love the University, and I owe much of what I have, much of my happiness, to it. But this cap argument is almost arrogant.”

That sentiment steams beneath many of the words of cap-raising opponents, particularly at other UNC System campuses. “There’s a tremendous amount of jealousy at play, and that drives all the intense passion behind issues like this,” says Dick Cashwell ’59, who was UNC’s admissions director from 1969 to 1990. “You grow up in North Carolina, and you get on the school bus in first grade, and some older kid will get up in the front of the bus and say, ‘OK, State fans on the right, UNC fans on the left and Wake Forest fans in the back.’ There’s a lot of pride in where you come from, and it’s why academics are so debated. It’s in your genes.”

Cashwell favors raising the cap – but not to achieve a higher-ranking student body. “One of the myths running around out there is that bright kids are the ones from out of state, but that’s just not true,” he says. “Of course you’re going to get an increase in the quality of classes if you admit more out-of-state students. But by far, the diversity factor is the most important reason to do it.”

A common argument among proponents of raising the cap involves the accessibility of a 16-campus state system – allowing more nonresidents into Chapel Hill won’t take an equal number of college spots from native North Carolinians because, if you can’t get in at Chapel Hill, there are other schools in the system that will welcome you. Cashwell, too, holds this view. “I look at it from the perspective that no matter if you took no out-of-state students at all, you can’t take all North Carolina students who apply to Chapel Hill. There’s somewhere around 66,000 high school students in this state. Half of those go to college. You can’t put 33,000 students in Chapel Hill anyway.”

Cashwell wonders whether the UNC System should entertain the idea of redistributing North Carolina high school students who don’t get into Chapel Hill to some of the campuses that aren’t currently pulling their weight in out-of-staters, as a way of offsetting a raise in the admissions cap.

Among the 15 campuses that must stay under the 18 percent cap (the School of the Arts, along with the N.C. A&T’s engineering program, are exempt), UNC-Asheville exceeded the cap at 21.4 percent; East Carolina was right on it; and Carolina (17.7 percent), A&T and N.C. Central (both 17 percent) were close. N.C. State, the system’s other major research university, draws only 8 percent of its student body from outside North Carolina.

To some people, shuttling students off to other campuses to achieve a desired admissions policy – whether for more tuition revenue or greater prestige – is like turning the knife in the back of the public. “Why don’t you just do the opposite?” asks Rob Channon ’77. “Why don’t you lower the cap to 16 percent so more kids can get into Chapel Hill from in-state?”

Channon has good reason to feel that way. Twenty years ago, the University of Colorado rescinded his in-state admission to the Boulder campus’ MBA program and told him that “the only way I would be admitted to the Boulder campus the following spring was if I agreed to attend school as an ‘out-of-state’ student and, of course, pay the higher tuition.”

Colorado also gave Channon the option to attend its Denver campus as an in-state student and request a transfer at the end of the semester, which was what he did.

“I thought, my God, I’ve been a resident of Colorado for five years. I thought at the time that that was something that would never happen at Chapel Hill, where the Board of Governors was interested in taking care of students within the state.”

Channon, who came to Carolina from Virginia Beach and now lives in Maryland, says he wouldn’t be bothered if his sons, ages 10 and 12, didn’t get into Carolina – if they hadn’t reached the criteria. Pointing to the experience a college friend had two years ago – “her daughter was at the top of her class, the kind of girl who was a shoo-in for Carolina … but didn’t get in” – Channon says he’s not sure his sons could, either. When he hears that UNC rejected more than 800 nonresidents last year who had SAT scores of 1400 or higher, Channon exhales a long breath.

“That’s amazing,” he says.

Still, Channon worries that UNC, in raising the cap, would be moving away from its mission to serve the state. In a world of rising tuition and competitiveness, Channon even thought the University of Virginia was a private school and was surprised to learn that wasn’t the case.

“It may not be a private school, but the money you pay to UVa is like going to a private school,” he says of Virginia’s $5,964 in-state, $21,984 out-of-state tuition. “I put them in the same category as Duke. [Duke’s tuition stands at $29,345.] With that kind of money, they can attract that caliber of professor. Now, if that’s what The University of North Carolina wants to turn into, then they need to look at raising the cap, I guess. But that would be a departure from what it’s always been about. You have to decide if you want to craft a prestige education like they’re going for at UVa, or if you want to be the best regional state college and serve the citizens of the state first.”

Raleigh attorney Harry DeLung ’64 believes UNC already is becoming less public and more private, following a trend among upper-echelon schools in which states’ financial situations are leading them to “privatize” public education by seeking more outside revenue. DeLung read an article in The Wall Street Journal last April that showed UNC receives 25 percent of its total revenue from the state, a figure that has seen steady decline lately. “Everyone seems to think that UNC is totally dependent on the state for funds. Well, 25 percent is a lot. But 25 percent isn’t everything. Somebody ought to point out that the University is not as beholden to the state as people think.” (This percentage also was reported in the Review in its March/April 2003 issue, along with a breakdown of UNC’s other funding sources.)

Michigan gets even less from the state – 10 percent, according to the Journal report – but it also is constitutionally independent of the state and enjoyed a $3.37 billion endowment in 2002, while Carolina’s stood at $1.07 billion. Meanwhile, the University of California-Berkeley, which this year tied with Virginia as the top-rated public school in the country as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, has a $1.7 billion endowment but is heavily supported by the state, with 39 percent of its revenue coming from California. That helps the campus adhere to the system’s 10 percent cap on out-of-state admissions.

In a July 2002 Chronicle of Higher Education article on the rise of privatization, Chancellor James Moeser, in commenting on UNC’s hopes for its Carolina First capital campaign, said, “The source of my optimism lies not in state support but in private support.” That attitude is why DeLung has no problem with inviting more nonresidents to campus. Indeed, he only half jokingly offered to donate $7,000 – the penalty assessed a campus for every nonresident student who is admitted and then enrolls over the 18 percent cap – if Chapel Hill would allow more students from other states. He called it “an act of protest.”

“There are only three schools in this state that offer that high level of education,” DeLung says, “and that’s Chapel Hill, Duke and Wake Forest. Only one of those is public and widely affordable, and every year it’s losing ground. Michigan and Virginia both have more liberal admissions policies and are hanging in the top 25. We’re not. The greatest service the state policymakers can do is to make sure one of our public institutions maintains a high status. And one way to do that is to provide more money for faculty salaries [through nonresident tuition].”

Carolina’s numbers concerning faculty resources are indeed woeful compared with its peers. In the most recent U.S. News rankings of both public and private schools, Carolina ranks 29th overall among major research universities – but 71st in faculty resources, its lowest mark in all categories. All three of the schools with which Carolina is most often compared have higher percentages of full-time instructional faculty with doctorates: Cal-Berkeley has 98 percent, Virginia 92 and Michigan 91, compared with UNC’s 83 percent.

Celeste Cantrell ’89 is keenly aware of that fact. She has a friend who is a UNC faculty member who was recently wooed by another university with a higher salary. Cantrell’s friend turned down the offer, mainly because she has a family to think about with roots in Chapel Hill. Cantrell says she knows that, “from a professor’s standpoint, the salary at UNC is not as good as at other universities, but I don’t think the admissions cap should be raised just to come up with higher salaries. They are paid enough. Maybe they should be made to teach more classes.”

Cantrell has two boys, ages 6 and 3, and no worries about the quality of the education they’ll receive if they go anywhere in the UNC System. “You get as much out of your education as you put into it. I don’t feel like I have to send my kids to a school like Duke to get a quality education.”

Stars and bars and caps

When Hurricane Isabel roared through McCorkle Place last fall, she took aim at the venerable Silent Sam in the form of a large oak tree – and missed by about 10 feet. Some alumni would have been glad to have seen Isabel finish off this rendition of a man from the Confederate military; others breathed a sigh of relief that Sam soldiered on. It’s not unlike an element of the cap debate; we may not like to admit it, but a mimicry of Confederacy remains in that southern part of Carolina’s liberal blood. Why would we educate the sons and daughters of Yankees?

The ghost of that thinking is not lost on current in-state students. Isaac Moan, the senior from Charlotte, is always aware of his out-of-state friends’ origins. “In fact,” Moans says, “I generally like to joke around and generalize about my friends from New York. I just like giving them a hard time, because there is a perpetual stereotype associated with Northerners.”

It may be a joke to Moan, but not to others.

“To me, the diversity thing is a bunch of bunk,” says David Leonard ’68, an employee benefits consultant in Charlotte. “They’ve got plenty of time after they graduate to go up north and live and spend time with those people. The Northerners or other people who come down here tend to make fun of Southerners, anyway. I don’t want to support students from other states.”

Adds Rob Channon, with less fervor, “North Carolinians are spending their tax dollars to send their kids to UNC, not to bring in kids from Long Island.”

It’s true, they are. But, says John Shelton Reed, Kenan Professor emeritus of sociology and founder of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, alumni who oppose raising the cap because they don’t want to give a leg up to Northerners are misinformed. In fact, Carolina enrolls more out-of-state freshmen from other Southern states than it does any other region, including the Northeast.

“I don’t think the very true blue Yankees are interested in coming here in the first place,” says Reed, a Kingsport, Tenn., native. “And I don’t much care about them as far as out-of-state admissions are concerned. We have a historical place as a university not only in the state but in the region, and we should do what we can to keep that going. If you’re at all interested in being the outstanding Southern university – and I’d like to regain that reputation – then we need to admit more out-of-state students.”

Like Sara Holly of California, Reed says he knows “good kids from Mississippi and Alabama who don’t apply anymore because their odds of getting in are so long.” (Carolina received 106 applications from Alabamians for fall 2003 and 37 from students in Mississippi – the least of all Southern schools.) But unlike that ophthalmologist in San Diego, students from Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and other Deep South states don’t have access to a highly rated in-state college. Among U.S. News’ top 50, only Virginia, William & Mary, UNC and Georgia Tech rank for public Southern schools. Tech is a steal if a student is bent on engineering and sciences, with tuition comparable to that of UNC’s; but William & Mary’s and Virginia’s out-of-state tuition, at more than $21,000, is approaching private-school levels. That leaves Carolina.

The University of California, which Reed says is “without question” the best public university system in the country, is even more state-centric than Chapel Hill, and that’s by design of its 10 percent cap. UCLA’s 4 percent makes that number seem astronomical. Excellence may be more easily achieved because 34 million people live in California, and that’s a big pool of applicants.

But if you combine the populations of all the Southern states geographically below North Carolina, that number is in the same ballpark as California’s population, excepting Florida, which Reed doesn’t include as part of the traditional South. Students in those states are the ones Reed believes Carolina has a responsibility to reach toward.

“If any Southern state is going to do it – leave out Florida and Virginia, and possibly Georgia because of their Hope Scholarship program for in-state students – North Carolina could certainly do it. It could raise [out-of-state] tuition … and then provide scholarship money to cover the costs.”

The regional service theory is one reason why Michigan’s out-of-state admissions hovers at about 35 percent without a cap, says Michigan media relations officer Joel Seguine. “We get a lot of excellent candidates from all over, but you can guess where a lot of the bulk comes from: Chicago, Cleveland.”

Reed adds, “It’s also true that a lot of the out-of-state students we get end up staying in North Carolina because they like it here, and who can blame them. And that’s good for the state right there, isn’t it?”

To a certain point. Determining whether the “staying in North Carolina” argument works isn’t so cut and dried, especially when state economies everywhere are dealing with a new landscape of employment trends in the wake of free trade and recessions. Where you want to work and where you ultimately end up are two very different notions. However, a survey of 1998 UNC graduates systemwide, conducted by the Board of Governors in the summer of 1999, found that less than half of out-of-state students did gain jobs in North Carolina after graduation – 46.5 percent to in-state residents’ 88.4 percent. Another 8 percent of out-of-state graduates sought but did not find jobs in North Carolina.

The heavy proportion of out-of-staters who attend the School of the Arts and N.C. A&T’s engineering program, the cap exemptions, probably skews those numbers. Still, in the breakout of the 16 UNC System schools, Chapel Hill ranked 14th in the percentage of both in-state and out-of-state students with jobs located in North Carolina following graduation, trailed only by the two exempt cases. About a quarter of those 1998 Chapel Hill alumni employed at the time of the survey worked in another state – a little more than the percentage of nonresidents admitted under the cap.

U.S. Rep. David Price ’61, who “came over the mountain,” as he put it, from his hometown of Erwin, Tenn., via a transfer from Mars Hill College and a Morehead Scholarship, is one of those who stayed.

“There’s no question that my two years in Chapel Hill very decisively shaped my career plans and where I wanted to put down roots,” says Price, who not only stayed in the state but has represented Chapel Hill and parts of Durham in Congress since 1986. Price, a Democrat who taught ethics at Duke before his election to office, was deeply affected by the civil rights movement at UNC, which he says helped to “mature” his religious, social and, ultimately, political views.

Price says he hasn’t studied enough literature about the admissions issue to know all the angles at play and prefers not to weigh in on matters that are up to the UNC System to resolve. But he agrees with fellow Tennessean Reed that “Chapel Hill has an important effect on people from the Deep South, where their own universities don’t have those kinds of social roles. Even Tennessee didn’t have that. Carolina is pretty much the unique situation in the South and has pretty much been the leader.

“I knew one fellow, a very good friend of mine, who was from a small town in Alabama. If you think Carolina had a transforming effect on me, you should have seen him. When I think about the wrenching personal changes he was going through, it’s clear to me that Carolina does have a tremendous regional impact.”

Emotional intelligence

Dick Cashwell, the longtime UNC admissions director, recalls a story he heard from Roy Armstrong, his predecessor, that would certainly turn heads today. “Back in the ’30s, the admissions office would set up a table in a hotel lobby in New York and say, ‘Sign ’em up.’ They were looking for people who would come and pay tuition and fill the enrollment.”

How times change. Today, a table like that would simply never fly. Or would it? The idea is at once shocking and, well … shockingly possible, depending on which side of the cap argument you fall. “I used to tell students from out of state who didn’t want to come to UNC because they thought it was too insular, too Southern, that it was actually quite diverse – kids from the rural east differ from kids from the rural west,” Cashwell says.

Now, Cashwell thinks “a kid from a farm in Montana is going to have a very different outlook from a kid from a farm in North Carolina.” He can’t quite put his finger on it, the reasons why the cap should be raised. But he knows the “arguments on both sides are emotional. It’s almost hard to quantify what’s behind them.”

An argument is as strong as the convictions of memory, pride, money and fairness allow it to be. It also is as porous as our familial connections, be they the legacies of sons and daughters or ghosts long past. Even Richard Adler, the son of accomplished concert pianist Clarence Adler, came to UNC because of a native North Carolinian. He started reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel at 4:30 one afternoon while a high schooler in New York and didn’t stop until he’d finished it 12 hours later. That sealed the deal. You can find a statistic to match just about any opinion, but in the end, it’s the emotions that speak volumes.

“To make a sketch of Carolina life is to combine incidents, impressions that are complete in themselves, but add up to a picture of life here on the whole,” wrote the 1943 Yackety Yack staff. “The mixture of uniforms and civilian clothes in classes; cadets in Carr dormitory; draft riddled publication, with slashed budgets … goodbyes to the boys leaving for the armed forces; freshmen, younger and greener than ever before, trying to cram a little college into their lives before being drafted. Things are different these days.”

A world war, not one of words and finances, was being waged from afar while Adler and Marder were in Chapel Hill, and a campus peered from behind the wall of its past toward a future it could not predict – but could certainly feel beginning. The influx of G.I. Bill students from other states, the emergence of a prominent academic landscape … the specter of change, then as now, as in all the moments Chapel Hill has examined itself, came down to a single question: What kind of Carolina do we want to be? Sixty years later, we’re still freely debating the answer.

Copyright 2004 UNC General Alumni Association

Published in Carolina Alumni Review, March/April 2004