Program Report: Joel Curran – Vice Chancellor for Communications – UNC-CH

JoelCurranConfession time…50 some years ago at a school far, far away, a philosophy professor and a math professor, both priests, got me out of an academic jam. Things started going downhill less than a month after enrolling as a naïve student/athlete when I discovered I was totally unprepared for an engineering curriculum. The priests might have bent a few rules but it let me find my true calling as a BS’er (English major) and finish my college career with a respectable GPA without any further help of that kind. I’m happy to say that that university is still there with its academic reputation intact.

Maybe that’s why I’m more sanguine than some that UNC will survive the embarrassing disclosure that some of their athletes found their way into courses that were not particularly rigorous and may have even been fraudulent.

Our speaker, introduced by Program Chair Rob Everett, was Joel Curran.  Mr. Curran was a high-powered public relations executive with ties to UNC when the school recruited him to become their Vice Chancellor for Communications. He began the job last December. When his office approached us via our website about presenting a program, it wasn’t explicit that it was motivated by this particular problem. However, it would be easy to draw that conclusion and was obviously on the mind of the overflow audience that included at least two UNC Trustees and Mr. Curran’s counterpart at Duke.

Mr. Curran waited through a number of announcements before his introduction and, like any good guest, enthusiastically acknowledged the importance and good work of the club.  Being in Duke territory he also acknowledged the Rotary Peace Center jointly run by Duke and UNC and the Robertson Scholars program that involves both schools. He then talked about some steps UNC was taking to freshen up its communications to remind folks about the importance of UNC to the state as the people’s university. He reminded the audience that UNC has been considered for many years to be the top value for students among public universities.

He could have spent his entire twenty minutes talking about the importance of the University to economic development and job creation. He did emphasize that in the 2014 fiscal year the University had obtained almost $800 MILLION in research funding. According to the University’s website that is right at the top of the nation’s public universities in research funding and this is not a one-year anomaly.

Unfortunately, there was only time for a few questions. The toughest one he got was about the coaches’ toleration of the bogus courses.  I have also been skeptical about the denials from coaches that we have heard, coaches being notorious control freaks, but, on the other hand, I’ve also never heard of a coach trying to intervene to make eligibility tougher.

The other unfortunate thing was that Mr. Curran had two short videos embedded in his PowerPoint, that for some reason wouldn’t play and required him to tap dance a little bit with good humor. One of the videos is what is now being used during athletic telecasts to promote the University. This is embedded below.

The other is a segment from CBS This Morning that tells the story of a bio-medical engineering student at UNC who created a prosthetic hand in his lab with a 3D printer for a seven-year-old boy with a birth defect.  It’s hard to decide what is more endearing, the young boy or the distinctly North Carolina accent of the student.  At the end, the show’s hosts mention all three major research universities in the Triangle. This should remind even the NCSU and Duke supporters who have maybe enjoyed watching UNC squirm a little bit that they too have had their moments. For NCSU it came at the end of the Valvano era and for Duke it was during the lacrosse debacle. In the final analysis, it is still the synergy of these three great universities that has so enriched the economy and culture of this region and the state.

Submitted by Jay Zenner



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