John Preyer portait image with blue and grey background.

Chairman John P. Preyer (’90, Political Science)

Chairman Preyer’s Full Remarks

Good morning, and welcome to the January 2024 meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Great things are happening here at Carolina. We are on a roll in the classroom, on the basketball court – and I just said to Interim Chancellor Roberts that I hope that he will continue to be at all home games, because we are 2-and-0 so far with him and Liza attending.

We are also on a roll with our rankings – and our university is poised to reach even greater heights.

The latest U.S. News & World Report assessment ranks UNC Chapel Hill as America’s fourth-best public university, moving ahead of our peer institution the University of Virginia for tops in the Southeast. But I don’t want to be No. 4. I think everybody on this board and in this room wants this to be the No. 1 public university in the country and in the world – and we will be. I will return to this shortly.

But first, I would like to recognize the contributions of former Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, with whom this board collaborated on a range of important University initiatives, including campus budget reform, remedy of a structural deficit, student advocacy and mental health, academic freedom, and the new School of Civic Life and Leadership – a national model that was first conceived seven years ago to promote democracy and civil discourse in our diverse, pluralistic society, and that was embraced by then-Dean Guskiewicz. Thank you, Kevin.

We will soon announce the new school’s inaugural dean, and we look forward to the launch of a pioneering curriculum designed and led by our outstanding faculty across many different disciplines, along with new faculty hires, as well. It will be world-class in the Carolina tradition.

All of these efforts are paying off, as Carolina recently received an Open Inquiry Award for Institutional Excellence for its success in promoting free expression on campus and for serving as a role model for other universities from the Heterodox Academy, a non-partisan organization of faculty, staff, and students committed to improving higher education by fostering open inquiry and constructive disagreement.

This comes on the heels of an American Council of Trustees and Alumni award to this board for its work to promote diversity of thought and free speech, which have long been a hallmark of this University. America’s oldest public university should forever be a place of free, open, and civil debate.

However, speech that encourages violence or that harasses, threatens, or deliberately intimidates others should have NO place on our campus. Carolina should be a sanctuary of civility where no students or faculty are made to feel afraid because of their views or their religion.

Carolina Athletics has been on a roll, especially the men’s basketball team. I’m not superstitious, but I do hope that Interim Chancellor Roberts will be at all home games going forward.

We have a brand loyalty and national following across many sports, including long traditions of excellence in women’s soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and, naturally, field hockey. We were so happy to honor Head Coach and five-time national champion Erin Matson at our November board meeting. Let’s also not forget the proud tradition of men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, men’s baseball, and I could go on.

And then there is football, the sport that effectively funds most others here. It’s frequently said that the Chancellor or the Admissions Director has the hardest job on this campus. But in the era of Name, Image and Likeness, I’ve come to the firm belief that the hardest job on the campus might actually be that of the head football coach.

Just imagine showing up at your office every day wondering whether anybody’s going to be there, because of something called the Transfer Portal. The degree to which this has placed a hardship on the day-in and day-out activities that used to be routine is not to be underestimated.

In spite of this, we’ve been to five straight bowl games, have one of the highest academic progress rates in the country, and, I believe, are on a trajectory of continued success. I want to recognize the hard work of Coach Mack Brown to do all of the things that he does to keep Carolina at the top in football.

Now I’d like to recognize Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and welcome him to South Building as we start 2024.

Lee brings to Chapel Hill skills that are vital to the success of any university. He has deep experience in the private sector as an entrepreneur and a business owner. He has managed public funds and operated large organizations. He is a former state budget director, until recently he was a member of the UNC System’s Board of Governors, and he has taught at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Lee also is known as a careful listener and a thoughtful decisionmaker. He will get no shortage of input or advice from Carolina’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, lawmakers, and this board, which is charged by law with helping to set University policy. Lee knows what he’s getting into – and what a special opportunity he has to lead America’s oldest public university during this time of dynamic transition on campus.

It’s no secret that Lee spent some time at the other end of 15-501, and that’s OK. But there is no doubt that we are aligned in our collective desire to make Carolina the No. 1 public university in the world. We are increasingly close.

Rankings are subjective and sometimes, in my view, serve the interests of the publication doing the ranking, but they are a popular measuring tool nonetheless – and one that I think we will dominate. I know that Interim Chancellor Roberts believes that we should be the No. 1 public university in the world as well.

So let’s resolve today to roll up our sleeves and work even harder to make Carolina the undisputed No. 1 public university in the world.

… Before I close the meeting, I’d just like to acknowledge that the past several months have been a time of transition in leadership at the university, set against the horrific events of Oct. 7.

In the belief that it’s never too late to do the right thing, I just want to say to the Carolina Jewish community: I’m sorry if you’ve ever been made to feel unsafe on our campus – and that it won’t happen again.”