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This year marks the 40th anniversary of legislation that brought all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities into the University of North Carolina. For the first time ever, all five Presidents who have led the UNC system since that 1971 restructuring will come together next week to discuss the rewards and challenges of leading UNC during periods of change and transition. Former North Carolina Governor Jim Holshouser will lead this candid conversation with UNC Presidents emeriti William Friday (1956-86), C.D. Spangler, Jr. (1986-97), Molly Corbett Broad (1997-2005), and Erskine Bowles (2006-2010), as well as current UNC President Tom Ross (2011- ). An Evening with Five Presidents takes place on Wednesday, November 9, at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets are available at no charge through Memorial Hall's online box office

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 to students. For the next 136 years, the only campus of the University was at Chapel Hill.  The 1931 session of the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina to include three state-supported institutions—those now known as UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State University, and UNC 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: UNC Charlotte, UNC Asheville, and UNC Wilmington.

The 1971 legislation brought North Carolina’s ten remaining public universities, which had until then been legally separate, into UNC on July 1, 1972.  They included institutions now known as Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, NC Agricultural and Technical State University, NC Central University, the UNC Pembroke, UNC School of the Arts, Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University.   In 2007, subsequent legislation made the NC School of Science and Mathematics the 17th constituent institution of the University.

Over the past 40 years, total UNC enrollment has grown from 88,000 to more than 220,000.  The annual volume of externally funded faculty research has grown from roughly $40 million to $1.4 billion. Graduate and professional training offered across the University—particularly in the health sciences, engineering, and technology—has increased dramatically.   Collaboration with the state’s public schools and community colleges also has greatly expanded.

Working in partnership with the UNC Board of Governors and state and campus leaders, UNC’s presidents have managed through challenges ranging from the Vietnam War and student protests to the consent decree with the federal government over the racial integration of UNC campuses, the introduction and strengthening of minimum admissions standards, major physical expansion and renovation of campus facilities, technological transformations including the introduction of online learning, and increasing involvement in North Carolina’s economic growth and development.