Paul Hardin III, the steadfast lawyer and Methodist bishop’s son who steered UNC and three other campuses as they grew through tumultuous and historic times, spent 27 years as a leader in higher education — the final seven of those at the nation’s oldest state university under the sentimental glow of its bicentennial.
His administration was highlighted by the triumph of the University’s yearlong bicentennial celebration and by the often-fiery campus debate that eventually birthed the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History nearly a decade after he left office.
Hardin died at his home on July 1 at age 86. In a 2014 speech before a small charity event at Carolina Meadows — where he lived with his wife of 63 years, Barbara — he said that he had been diagnosed the previous year with ALS.
“Chancellor Paul Hardin was a visionary leader who is remembered in North Carolina and across our nation for his dedication to promoting the life-changing impact and benefits of higher education,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “In his bicentennial
address, alumnus Charles Kuralt [’55] spoke of how Carolina was meant to be ‘the University of the people.’ Paul seized upon Carolina’s 200th birthday as an opportunity to light the way to a better future and open Carolina’s doors for all North Carolinians. Paul was warm and gracious and remained very involved with Carolina after his
retirement. He will be greatly missed.”
On paper, Hardin was an unlikely choice to become Carolina’s seventh chancellor. He was a 1952 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University, where he was on the golf team, earned a law degree and served onthe law school faculty for 10 years. When told of Chapel Hill’s interest in him, Hardin, then the president of the 2,400-student Drew University in New Jersey, was incredulous. He twice turned down the offer to apply, believing it a doomed proposition. But his track record of stalwart integrity,
particularly his principles on athletics, impressed the persistent search committee. It would not abide a third refusal. He was persuaded to send a resume in the late winter of 1988, and by April, Hardin was a Duke man no more. He was Carolina’s man.
“There was never any doubt but that I was brought here to be the bicentennial chancellor,” he said. He was hired to prepare Carolina to start its third century, first by
spearheading an initial $300 million capital campaign, the largest in school history. He
did so with gusto. In the end, the campaign raised an extraordinary $440 million. But it was the yearlong Bicentennial Observance, which culminated in a Kenan Stadium gala on Oct. 12, 1993, attended by then-President Bill Clinton and infused with Kuralt’s presence, that was the most joyous for Hardin, the most cementing of his love for the place he came to call “my university.”
“I had the privilege of becoming a sentimental, outspoken supporter, an awestruck
admirer and an advocate for this University,” he said in an oral history, “to be accepted
by constituents [who] had had longer direct relationships with the University than I had and to be recognized as an uncompromising, unadulterated member, injected late in life with my full heart and soul.”
Great turbulence existed among the triumphs. An unexpected political storm broke out at Carolina in 1992 after Hardin refused student demands for a freestanding Black Cultural Center, instead calling for an expansion of the inadequate space the BCC occupied in the Student Union. The announcement triggered a period that Hardin
called the “greatest personal anguish” of his career.
All his life, Hardin had considered himself a progressive liberal who worked to promote women, minorities and differing opinions on campuses and in his administrations;
indeed, the number of minority faculty numbers doubled at Carolina under his tenure. Equality was a principle he worked toward, and it had roots in family history.
In 1963, his father — Bishop Paul Hardin Jr., who worked to integrate the Methodist church — was one of eight Birmingham, Ala., clergymen who called for suspension of civil rights demonstrations in the city and a focus instead on gaining justice through the courts.
The request prompted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic rebuttal, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which King criticized taking the moderate road to change as ineffectual for the oppressed. The younger Hardin, then a professor at Duke, wrote to King shortly after and told him that he believed King was right and that his words had “had a profound influence on our family.” The two had a short conversation about it when he introduced himself to the civil rights leader during a chance meeting in 1967.
That same year, Hardin’s bid for mayor of Durham, where he was active in civil rights issues, was unsuccessful in part due to his liberal views on race relations — views for which he was chastised on-air by then-commentator Jesse Helms.
In the BCC battle almost three decades later, the chancellor worried that a freestanding center would promote separatism. But student supporters of a dedicated building believed he was degrading the importance of black culture on campus and stalling progress.
Hardin’s statement, “We want a forum, not a fortress,” galvanized proponents for a freestanding center to lead the largest demonstration movement on campus since
Vietnam. Sixteen people were arrested after marching into the chancellor’s office in
April 1993. The controversy drew national attention from the media as filmmaker
Spike Lee and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson visited campus to lend their support.
News cameras ably captured placards that read “Hardin’s Plantation” but not the
truth that Hardin felt inside — that he was in a lose-lose situation. BCC supporters saw
him as against the center’s existence, while conservative opponents of a BCC called
him a champion.
“What’s broken my heart is that I’ve been portrayed as a ’60s liberal who stopped growing,” Hardin told Newsweek in October 1992. Earlier in his administration,
he had convened a special committee to study the campus atmosphere for minority
groups, including blacks. “I believe in the legitimacy of a black-culture center,” he
said. “I’m not an opponent.”
The controversy cooled in July 1993 when a planning committee appointed by Hardin — minus student protesters, who refused to participate — recommended a freestanding center for the BCC. Hardin won what he considered the salient point in the debate: that the center would be a working classroom building under the auspices of the provost, not a separate union under the department of student affairs. The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History opened in a 44,500-square-foot building in Coker
Woods in 2004.
Hardin worked to be accessible to Carolina faculty, staff and students — he created both the Employee Forum and the Student Advisory Council to share concerns with the chancellor.
He tangled with the rules and rulemakers who hovered outside the stone walls and had the power to prevent the kind of progress he desired. When he was installed at UNC, he experienced what he called “culture shock” after two decades of presidencies at private, Methodist-related colleges. He never had steered an institution quite like Carolina: a major public research university with a state government ever looking over its shoulder.
“There’s great disparity in the public sector between the responsibility you feel,” Hardin said, “and the power or authority you have to do the things you see that need to be done.”
The accomplishments he held in highest personal regard were the less glamorous deeds that left the University stronger, the sort that brought out his inner litigator. Not long after he took office, Hardin led a campaign for greater financial flexibility for state budget dollars from the N.C. General Assembly, long a sticking point with UNC System schools and a measure that won approval in 1991. Hardin also fought Gov. Jim Martin, and triumphed, when the state sought to keep half of UNC’s overhead receipts from research grants.
Hardin grew research grants by $156 million and raised a disagreeable voice right up until the final weeks of his tenure, when he scolded Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. ’64 (LLBJD) and Hunt’s 1995 budget proposal for its deep cuts to the campus with the warning, “Don’t play political chicken with my university.”
“He has been the first to jump to the defense of the University faculty, students and staff when he believed they were being shortchanged,” Hunt told the University Gazette when Hardin retired, “facing down everyone from the state legislature to the governor to accomplish what he believes in.”
So relentless was Hardin in his defense of Carolina’s needs that he once believed that then-UNC System President C.D. Spangler Jr. ’54, with whom he frequently butted heads early in the chancellor’s administration, would ask him to resign.
“I would respectfully decline,” Hardin recalled warning a member of the Board of
Governors, “and I would like that to be in your mind.”
Hardin’s determination became known to the greater higher education community
during his tenure at Southern Methodist University from 1972 to ’74. Hardin discovered
payments were being made by boosters and trustees to football players for good plays; he reported it to the NCAA, relieved coach Dave Smith of his athletics director duties and shortened Smith’s four-year football contract to one season.
Hardin’s honesty cost him his job when SMU’s board asked for his resignation. But his handling of the episode was an important factor in Carolina wooing him 13 years later, at a time of criticism and concern over the relationship of athletics and academics on campus and in the aftermath of resigned football coach Dick Crum’s $800,000 buyout
by the Educational Foundation.
Hardin came by his fighting spirit honestly. Born in 1931 in Charlotte, he lived with his family in towns across North Carolina, moving every few years with his father to a new church. Competitiveness was in him and all around him: His father bet him $5 when he was 8 years old that he could not beat him on the links; he finally did when he was 19.
And at Duke, where he was on the varsity golf team, he laid down the terms of his participation during his first year of law school, when he still had a year remaining
of college sports eligibility. Hardin told his coach that he would not compete at the conference tournament because it was played too close to his final law exams and he did not wish to be distracted; he intended to finish first in his class. And so he did.
Hardin married fellow Methodist preacher’s child Barbara Russell the day
after his law school commencement, and then the High Point High School graduate
spent two years in the Army Counterintelligence Corps, crawling “through steam
tunnels in the Pentagon to make sure the area was secure.” When he re-entered
civilian life, he worked as a trial lawyer in Birmingham before Duke asked him to
return to the law school, where at 32 he became its youngest full professor.
Hardin was hired from Duke in 1968 at age 37 to be president of Wofford College, his father’s and grandfather’s alma mater, without having held so much as a committee chair while on the faculty in Durham. He stayed four years, using his relative youth to relate to a student body made restless by the political times — and caught the attention, however ill-fated, of Southern Methodist in 1972.
He landed at Drew University after his ouster in Dallas; there, he built a reputation in the sciences for the small liberal arts campus. In 1983, long before it became vogue to do so, Drew put a personal computer on the desk of every student. The climate was a welcome change from the turmoil of big-time athletics and power plays at SMU. “I slept like a baby every night,” Hardin said of his 13 years on the New Jersey campus.
Only the top job at the flagship university in his home state could pull him away, even with Carolina’s already massive athletics profile. During Hardin’s tenure, that stature grew as UNC won both the men’s and women’s basketball national titles, field hockey and men’s lacrosse NCAA trophies, seven women’s soccer national championships and the inaugural Directors’ Cup title in 1994 for the best all-around athletics program.
“People say, ‘Whom will you root for?’” Hardin said in his oral history. “And my whimsical reply is, ‘Duke people will be happier if they don’t ask that question.’”
In February 2015, after reports surfaced that Carolina athletes had been steered since 1993 to paper classes to keep them eligible, Hardin told The News & Observer that he
was “irate at people who let down the side and did things we shouldn’t have done, or
failed to do things we should have done.”
Hardin received the 1995 N.C. Public Service Award from Gov. Hunt; the Distinguished
Service Medal from the UNC General Alumni Association in 2003; and the William Richardson Davie Award from the UNC Board of Trustees in 2004, the highest honor given by the board. In 2007, Morrison South Residence Hall was renamed Paul Hardin Hall. Hardin and his wife joined with then-Chancellor James Moeser and Chancellor Emeritus William Aycock ’37 (MA, ’48 JD) and former Interim Chancellor William McCoy ’55 for the hall’s dedication.
Also on hand was Dick Richardson, a retired provost and political science professor who chaired the Bicentennial Observance while Hardin was chancellor. Richardson said the essential quality of leadership Hardin possessed was his great comfort being himself. There is no veneer to him. No pretense, no facade of personality to hide the real person, Richardson said.
“If you scratch deeply beneath the surface of Paul Hardin, you will find exactly what you find on the surface, for this man is solid oak from top to bottom,” Richardson said.
Following retirement, Hardin served one year as interim chancellor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, was emeritus professor at Carolina’s law school, spent time with his wife, three children and his grandchildren — and kept right on fighting governors for the soul of his state.
The Hardins participated in Moral Monday demonstrations in Raleigh in 2013, the civil
disobedience gatherings to protest sweeping changes to voting rights, social programs
and more made by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly.
For Hardin, having the courage to do the unexpected, whenever the unexpected came calling, was a principle that paid dividends. And on a clear summer night in 1988, with the full shimmer of his former archrival’s history under his feet and before his eyes, the unexpected became home.
“It didn’t take Barbara and me but a few hours to fall into the thrall of UNC-Chapel Hill,” Hardin recalled in his oral history. “The first night we … walked from The Carolina Inn to the Old Well on a Sunday with a nice, bright moon. We stood under that Old Well, and I said, ‘This is what it’s all about. I really now understand why people are so unbelievably enthusiastic about this incredible university. Don’t you feel it?’
“She said, ‘I do.’ And we always have, and we always shall.”
The University rang the South Building bell seven times on July 8, the day of Hardin’s memorial service — an honor reserved for only the most significant University occasions.