UNC Board of Governors names Dean Emeritus Mike Smith winner of 2023 Governor James E. Holshouser, Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service

UNC School of Government Dean Emeritus Mike Smith has been named a winner of the 2023 Governor James E. Holshouser, Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service.

The award honors faculty who exemplify the UNC System’s commitment to service and community engagement. Created in 2007 and renamed in 2013 to honor Gov. James E. Holshouser, Jr., the award was designed to “encourage, identify, recognize, and reward public service by employees of the University.” Smith was named one of two Holshouser award recipients at the Feb. 29 meeting of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

As the former dean of the UNC School of Government, a professor of public law and government, and the former vice chancellor for public service and engagement, Smith has led UNC-Chapel Hill in service to North Carolina for 35 years. A dedicated researcher, dynamic teacher and thoughtful public servant, Smith joined UNC-CH as an assistant professor in 1978 and steadily rose through the ranks at the Institute of Government. Through his leadership, the institute became the School of Government in 2001, reflecting its expanded role on campus and across the state.

“By bringing together faculty and leaders from across our state, country and world, he has made significant advancement in our understanding of good governance and best practices at the state and local level,” said former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. 

Smith is a longtime champion of nonpartisan public service, keeping the School of Government closely focused on its mission of improving state and local government for all North Carolinians. Today, the school is the largest university-based organization to offer local government training, advising and research in the United States. The school offers up to 200 courses, webinars and specialized conferences for more than 12,000 public officials each year, giving practical guidance to lawmakers and local officials in every part of North Carolina. Faculty members respond to thousands of calls and emails each year, acting as neutral advisers for local governing boards, legislative committees and statewide commissions.

“Mike is a model of selfless, nonpartisan public service,” said UNC System President Peter Hans. “He understands on a bone-deep level that this university belongs to all North Carolinians, and that we must use our research and scholarship to benefit our citizens. He has put this belief into practice over many decades at Carolina, and we are indebted to him for his support of good government in both large and small communities around the state. My congratulations to him on this well-deserved award.”

Under Smith’s leadership, the school has expanded its expertise with programs in public technology, leadership and governance, environmental finance, development finance, data-driven policy analysis, criminal justice and more. In 2013, Smith helped pioneer a fully online degree, quadrupling the number of students served through the Master of Public Administration program and making it easier for public officials across the state to take the next step in their careers.

Smith was appointed vice chancellor for public service and engagement under former Chancellor James Moeser while continuing to serve as dean. As vice chancellor, he led the university’s work with UNC Tomorrow, an initiative to make the UNC System more responsive to the needs of the state, and he negotiated a $10 million investment by the Golden LEAF Foundation that funded collaborations between faculty and local communities. Smith has led several campus initiatives that strengthen connections with the state, including the Carolina Center for Public Service, the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Program, the Carolina Engagement Council and the Tar Heel Bus Tour.

“We are grateful to Mike Smith for his unwavering support of state and community leaders and commend him for his work to promote ethical and accountable public service in North Carolina,” said UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey. “Our congratulations to him on this award.” 


Smith’s colleagues, friends, and family gathered for a reception in the Knapp-Sanders Building celebrating his receipt of the Holshouser award on February 29, 2024. At the ceremony, he was surprised with an additional honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest recognition for state service granted by the North Carolina Office of the Governor. Created in 1963, the award honors “persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts presented Smith with the award at the event.

Smith is the latest in a long line of School of Government faculty to receive the state’s highest civilian honor.