220 Years of History
In North Carolina, all the public educational institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees are part of the University of North Carolina System. The multi-campus state university encompasses 16 universities, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students. Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789, the University of North Carolina was the first public university in the United States to open its doors and the only one to graduate students in the eighteenth century. The first class was admitted in Chapel Hill in 1795. For the next 136 years, the only campus of the University of North Carolina was at Chapel Hill.
Additional institutions of higher education, diverse in origin and purpose, began to win sponsorship from the General Assembly beginning as early as 1877. Five were historically black institutions, and another was founded to educate American Indians. Some began as high schools. Several were created to prepare teachers for the public schools. Others had a technological emphasis. One is a training school for performing artists.
The 1931 session of the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina to include three state-supported institutions: the campus at Chapel Hill (now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University at Raleigh), and Woman’s College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). The new multi-campus University operated with one board of trustees and one president. By 1969, three additional campuses had joined the University through legislative action: the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
In 1971, legislation was passed bringing into the System the state’s ten remaining public senior institutions, each of which had until then been legally separate: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, the North Carolina School of the Arts (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts), Pembroke State University (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke), Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University. In 1985, the NC School of Science and Mathematics was declared an affiliated school of the University; and in July 2007, NCSSM, by legislative action, became a constituent institution of the UNC System. All the schools and universities welcome students of both sexes and all races.
The UNC Board of Governors is the policy-making body legally charged with “the general determination, control, supervision, management, and governance of all affairs of the constituent institutions.” It elects the president, who administers the University. The 32 voting members of the Board of Governors are elected by the General Assembly for four-year terms. Former board chairmen may continue to serve for limited periods as non-voting members emeriti. The president of the UNC Association of Student Governments or that student’s designee is also a non-voting member.
Each of the UNC System institutions is headed by a chancellor who is chosen by the Board of Governors on the president’s nomination and is responsible to the president. Each university has a board of trustees consisting of eight members elected by the Board of Governors, four appointed by the governor, and the president of the student body, who serves ex officio. (The UNC School of the Arts has two additional ex officio members; and the NC School of Science and Mathematics has a 27-member board as required by law.) Each board of trustees holds extensive powers over academic and other operations of its campus on delegation from the Board of Governors.
In addition to its teaching role, the University of North Carolina System has a long-standing commitment to public service. The UNC Center for Public Television, UNC Press, the UNC Health Care System, the cooperative extension and research services, nine area health education centers, and myriad other University programs and facilities reap social and economic benefits for the state and its people.