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The History of The University of North Carolina: 1789–2008

In North Carolina, all the public educational institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees are part of The University of North Carolina. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is one of 16 constituent institutions of the multicampus state university.

The University of North Carolina, chartered by the N.C. General Assembly in 1789, 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.

In 1877, the N.C. General Assembly began sponsoring additional institutions of higher education, diverse in origin and purpose. Five were historically black institutions, and another was founded to educate Native Americans. Several were created to prepare teachers for the public schools. Others had a technological emphasis. One is a training school for performing artists. The institution that became UNCG was chartered in 1891.

In 1931, the N.C. 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), and Woman’s College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). The new multicampus 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, the General Assembly passed legislation bringing into the University of North Carolina 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, Pembroke State University, Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University. This action created the current sixteen-campus University. In 1985, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the nation's first public residential high school for gifted students located in Durham, was declared an affiliated school of the University; in 1996, Pembroke State University was renamed The University of North Carolina at Pembroke through legislative action; and in 2008, the North Carolina School of the Arts was renamed The University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

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 thirty-two voting members of the Board of Governors are elected by the General Assembly for four-year terms. Former board chairmen and board members who are former governors of North Carolina may continue to serve for limited periods as nonvoting members emeriti. The president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, or that student’s designee, is also a nonvoting member.

Each of the sixteen constituent 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 institution 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.) Each board of trustees holds extensive powers over academic and other operations of its institution on delegation from the Board of Governors.

In 2006, Erskine B. Bowles became the president of The University of North Carolina system. UNC campuses enroll more than 202,000 students and support a broad array of liberal-arts programs, two medical schools and one teaching hospital, two law schools, a veterinary school, one school of pharmacy with another planned for UNCG, twelve nursing programs, 15 schools of education, three schools of engineering, and a specialized school for performing artists.  Also under the University umbrella is the UNC Center for Public Television with its 11-station statewide broadcast network, and the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation's first public residential high school for gifted students.