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UNC system act on McCrory's campus substance abuse challenge

Apparently Gov. Pat McCrory was serious a few months ago when he challenged UNC system leaders to do something about substance abuse on campus.

On Friday, Board of Governors Vice Chairman Frank Grainger briefed the board on a series of meetings between the governor's staff and UNC leaders. On Sept. 4, Grainger and UNC President Tom Ross met with McCrory and his staff, as well as Frank Perry, secretary of Public Safety, and Jim Gardner, chairman of the ABC Commission. The sheriffs of Anson and Guilford counties also attended, Grainger said.

"The bottom line is that it appears that drugs are becoming more and more prevalent on our campuses," Grainger said.

Morning Memo: Tillis dodges shutdown questions; McHenry pressed on Obamacare

TILLIS DODGES GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN QUESTION: Republican Thom Tillis is emphasizing his opposition to the federal health care law in his campaign for the U.S. Senate but at the same time he's avoiding answering some questions on the issue. A Democratic Party operative recently asked the Republican House speaker about whether he agrees with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others who suggested shutting down government to defund the federal health care law.

While walking to a recent D.C. fundraiser, Tillis didn't offer a direct answer -- even though if elected he may face similar circumstance. "It's not my decision to make but anything we could do to slow down or eliminate Obamacare would be good for the nation," he said in a video posted online. (Watch above.)

Does Tillis agree with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr that a shutdown is the "dumbest idea" ever? Again no answer. "I'm going to leave that to the duly elected senators but i think we can do to stop Sen. Hagan and President Obama from creating all the uncertainty and cost that comes with Obamacare it would be a good thing," he said. Expect both questions to return soon.

***See the Tillis video below in the Dome Morning Memo, along with another video from Republicans punking people at the "Moral Monday" rally.

UNC's Ross warns of 'sobering implications' for education in House budget

UNC President Tom Ross weighed in Friday on the House budget that passed this week, saying it has "sobering implications" for the university campuses.

"Across the country, state leaders from both parties are making strategic investments in their public universities," Ross told the UNC Board of Governors. "They understand that talent is the most valuable commodity in today's economic competition and they're gearing up to compete."

Gun rights groups buys radio spots highlighting campus crime

Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights group, is taking aim at UNC President Tom Ross' opposition to a bill that seeks to loosen gun restrictions on campus.

House Bill 937 would allow those with concealed carry permits to bring handguns on university and community college campuses in locked cars. The bill has passed the House and is now before the Senate.

The pro-gun group has purchased 60 radio spots to be broadcast in the Raleigh, Greensboro and Asheville markets, drawing attention to recent campus crimes and allegations that UNC campuses have improperly investigated and handled rape cases.

UNC system leaders want universities removed from gun bill

Update: UNC system President Tom Ross issued a statement expressing concern about House Bill 937, which would loosen the state's gun laws.

Part of the bill allows holders of concealed carry permits to keep guns in locked vehicles at college and university campuses.

“We have an obligation to provide a safe environment for our students and employees, and every UNC campus has a trained police force charged with promoting the safety of all people who come onto our campuses," Ross said in a statement.

"All UNC chancellors and chiefs of police believe allowing guns on campus would increase the risk to public safety and hamper our ability to protect not only our students, staff, and faculty, but also campus visitors, including parents, siblings of students, and summer camp participants. Vehicle break-ins are one of the leading crimes on college campuses, and even guns brought lawfully onto campus, as contemplated by this bill, could fall into the wrong hands and result in serious injury or death.

“In addition, a number of UNC campuses house early college high schools, middle schools, or summer camps for younger children. The presence of these young people further heightens our concerns about the safety risks that come with guns getting into the wrong hands. Moreover, when responding to an armed robbery or active shooter incident, our officers would often be hard pressed to distinguish between a criminal suspect and well-intentioned bystanders with weapons drawn, particularly in the heat of the moment. The potential for tragedy far outweighs any potential benefit or convenience to concealed-carry permit holders. We encourage the General Assembly to remove the provision that would allow guns to be brought onto UNC and other college and university campuses.”

Earlier Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill Director of Public Safety, Chief Jeff McCracken released a statement saying it's a bad idea to relax restrictions on guns.

"While intended to promote safety, this legislation allowing additional guns on public campuses actually would make colleges and universities less safe," his statement said.

Morning Memo: Circus returns to town, McCrory's big gaffe

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The circus returns to town as lawmakers start the legislative session at noon. The House and Senate calendars show no bills for consideration and no committees are scheduled to meet -- the first will meet Thursday, it appears. For the first day, the action will take place largely behind the scenes as lawmakers file bills for the session. In the House, each lawmaker can file 10 bills and there is no limit in the Senate. What will they emphasize this year?

Gov. Pat McCrory welcomed lawmakers back to Raleigh with a private breakfast at the mansion. The move is reminiscent of how former Gov. Jim Hunt would engage the legislature to successfully push his agenda. Will McCrory become his own chief lobbyist? The Republican remains mum about where he stands much of the GOP legislative agenda, so far.

McCRORY'S BIG 'GENDER STUDIES' GAFFE: More and more it's looking like McCrory's comments on higher education to national radio show host Bill Bennett amounted to a major gaffe. By the end of the day -- after his remarks about funding universities and liberal arts courses went viral and elicited a caustic reaction in the public sphere -- his press shop began tempering his language if not outright apologizing. “This was not meant to be a personal attack on UNC,” said spokeswoman Crystal Feldman. “Gov. McCrory did not mean to tarnish UNC’s reputation.”

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- a daily source for the latests analysis and news in North Carolina politics. Click "Read More" for more. Updated at 10 a.m.***

UNC president responds to McCrory radio remarks

UNC President Tom Ross responded to Gov. Pat McCrory's provocative comments today about the creation of a university funding model based on how many UNC graduates get jobs.

Ross said the quality of a UNC's value to North Carolina "should not be measured by jobs filled alone."

McCrory's comments have drawn a strong reaction from faculty, who said the governor's focus on education as job training is misplaced. The best preparation for a complex and changing world is a liberal arts education, many argued. McCrory's remarks came during a radio interview with Bill Bennett in which he took aim at gender studies, philosophy and African language courses.

Key legislators, business leaders on UNC strategic planning group

UNC system leaders have formed a broad advisory group that will help shape the future of the state's public universities.

Serving on the planning group are UNC chancellors, UNC board members, education leaders, business leaders and GOP leaders in the legislature -- House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger.

The appointments were announced this morning by UNC President Tom Ross and Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors.

Wisdom from five UNC presidents

Forty years after the creation of the 16-campus UNC system, the five living presidents will join together this week for a conversation about leading the state's public universities.

The free, public event is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Former Gov. Jim Holshouser will lead the discussion.  Joining will be emeriti presidents William Friday (1956-86), C.D. Spangler, Jr. (1986-97), Molly Corbett Broad (1997-2005), and Erskine Bowles (2006-2010), as well as current President Tom Ross, who took the reins this year.

The UNC system has a long and storied history, starting with the charter of the Chapel Hill campus in 1789. In 1931, the legislature expanded the University of North Carolina by adding two other campuses — N.C. State University and UNC Greensboro.  By 1969, three more campuses joined: 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.  In 2007, the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a public residential high school, was added as the 17th institution.

The presidents will surely touch on the history of taxpayer support for UNC and the university's role as an economic engine for the state. And now that sizable tuition increases are on the table in Chapel Hill, expect to hear some mention of Article IX, Section 9 of the state constitution. That's the provision mandating that North Carolina provide higher education to its people free of expense, "as far as practicable."

University leaders to Super Committee: Don't slash higher ed

A half dozen university leaders from North Carolina have joined dozens of others in a plea to members of the Congressional super committee crafting a plan for deficit reduction.

In a letter dated Sept. 21, more than 130 university leaders urge a balanced approach, including economic growth, tax reform and cuts to entitlement programs. It's no surprise that the presidents and chancellors warn about cuts to higher education.

"Imprudent additional reductions in domestic discretionary expenditures and other federal programs that train the next generation risk undermining our nation's human capital, infrastructure, and technological and scientific needs," the letter said.

North Carolina signers were: Linda Brady, chancellor of UNC Greensboro; Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University; Philip Dubois, chancellor of UNC Charlotte; Gary Miller, chancellor of UNC Wilmington; Tom Ross, president of the UNC system; and Holden Thorp, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The leaders point out that the country's past focus on education and research has paid big dividends. That's more important now than ever, they write. "Education, scientific research, and innovation underpin our nation's economic growth in this era of enhanced global competitiveness," the letter said.

Two higher education groups joined in the plea -- the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

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