Frequently Asked Questions About the School of Government

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What does the School of Government do?

The School provides North Carolina’s local and state government officials with nonpartisan legal, public administration, management, and financial expertise. We provide training, advisory services, and publications. Additionally, the School is involved in many activities with specific audiences and purposes. For example, the Environmental Finance Center conducts research and helps local governments with finance and management of environmental programs and services such as water resources, solid waste management, air quality, and land conservation. The North Carolina Benchmarking Project helps devise measures for local government services and creates comparative data about performance.

What is the mission of the School of Government?

The School’s mission is to improve the lives of North Carolinians by engaging in practical scholarship that helps public officials and citizens understand and improve state and local government.[1]

The School of Government is unique both within Carolina and nationally because its mission of statewide public engagement is carried out through the work of tenure-track and other faculty members. A commitment to North Carolina government enables the School’s faculty members to understand deeply the special challenges facing state and local officials, and encourages them to work closely with officials over time in addressing those challenges. In addition to possessing expertise in their academic disciplines, the School’s faculty members must have the ability to make complicated subjects understandable without sacrificing subtlety and complexity.

The School’s mission flows from the University of North Carolina’s rich history of engagement with the people of North Carolina. Pursuit of the School’s mission directly advances the greater mission of the University, which explicitly includes the extension of “knowledge-based services and other resources . . . to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the state. . . . .”[2]

Carolina’s genuine commitment to serving its own state has distinguished it from other major public research universities. This did not happen by accident. In 1915, President Edward Kidder Graham declared that University service is “the radiating power of a new passion” that goes beyond “thinly stretching out its resources” to the state.”[3] According to Graham, “[t]he State of North Carolina is the constituency of the University of North Carolina; therefore, its needs and aspirations are that University’s chief concern.”[4] This passion for service influenced the work of Frank Porter Graham, Albert Coates, Bill Friday, John Sanders, and many others throughout Carolina’s history, and the University’s mission continues to emphasize public engagement with North Carolina. Former chancellor James Moeser reaffirmed that “[s]ervice and engagement must be an integral part of a university’s life, not something we practice if we have extra time or if the mood strikes us or if our schedule permits or if it happens to be convenient. We must consider it an obligation and a responsibility, something that we owe society.”[5] The University’s current academic plan builds on this tradition, stating “[t]o lead public higher education in America, engagement must remain one of Carolina’s highest priorities.”[6] Carolina is a research university with a mission that has always included and rewarded public service.

  1. The School uses the term “public officials” in its broad sense to include elected and appointed North Carolina government officials. Faculty members also help citizens whose activities relate closely to government. For example, nonprofit organizations partner with governments in a variety of ways, including the delivery of important government services. School faculty members work with nonprofits and other individuals and organizations when doing so advances the work of state and local government. Faculty members also help the media understand North Carolina government and the actions of government
  2. Institutional Self-Study Report. (1995). All Useful Learning—Initiating a Third Century of Distinction 167. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
  3. Graham, E.K. (1919). Education and Citizenship and Other Papers 15. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 
  4. Odum, H.W. Editor (1925). Southern Pioneers in Social Interpretation 209. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  5. Address by Chancellor James Moeser, 10th Anniversary of the Friday Center (March 27, 2001). Chancellor Moeser also declared that “[w]e must very clearly send the message far and wide to all parts of our campus and all corners of our state that we take public service just as seriously and value it just as highly as we do teaching and research. That it is equally important and equally necessary for us to fulfill our obligation to North Carolina citizens. So as we look at tenure and post-tenure review, we must consider how public service and engagement fit into the formula. We must send a message loudly and clearly from the highest levels of the University that service is valued, just as teaching and research are." 
  6. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2003) Academic Plan 27.
How are the School of Government and the Institute of Government different?

The School of Government was created in 2001 by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to advance innovative public service and engagement at the University. In establishing the School, the University recognized the Institute of Government's distinguished 70-year history of practical scholarship for North Carolina local and state government by adopting its mission as the core of the new School.

How and when did the Institute of Government get started?

UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Albert Coates founded the Institute in 1931 to bridge a gap between academic training and practical, job-related training for local officials. Coates expanded this idea to include civic education for North Carolinians. Learn more about the history of the Institute and the School of Government by viewing a short video.

Are there Schools and Institutes of Government in other states?

The School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill is the oldest and most diversified of its kind in the nation. Other similar institutes in the South can be contacted through the Consortium of University Public Service Organizations (CUPSO). Visit our selected list of similar organizations across the country on our library page.

Who attends School of Government courses?

Each year, more than 12,000 public officials throughout North Carolina attend up to 200 courses and conferences in Chapel Hill and at other locations across the state. Attendees include city and county managers, county commissioners, city council members, finance officers, planning officials, judges, and school board members, among many others. The School also provides orientation and staff services to members of the North Carolina General Assembly.

How do I register for a School of Government course?

Courses and programs offered by the School of Government are typically targeted to particular groups of government officials. For example, we help administer courses for city and county clerks. You may learn about our courses, including upcoming conferences, seminars and legal updates, by viewing our online course list.

Who works at the School?

The School has faculty; professional employees with substantive expertise who work closely with faculty as research fellows, program directors, and research assistants; and professional support staff. The faculty and professional substantive expertise is interdisciplinary. About two-thirds of the School's approximately 50 faculty members hold law degrees, with specialties such as taxation, public health, public employment, and judicial branch education. Faculty also hold doctorates and other advanced degrees in public administration, finance, leadership and governance, and public dispute resolution. A professional staff assists faculty in program and project development and supports activities with financial, marketing, technology, research, editorial, design, printing, and distribution services.

Who can help me with tricky questions about day-to-day government issues?

We are here year-round to answer your questions. Visit our faculty expertise page to find a faculty member who can help with a particular issue or call the School's receptionist at 919.966.5381.

Who leads the School?

Michael R. Smith is the dean of the School of Government. He became the Institute's fourth director in 1992 and led the organization through its elevation to a School in 2001. Previous Institute of Government directors were founder Albert Coates (1931-61), John Sanders (1962-73 and 1979-92), and Henry Lewis (1973-78).

What resources are in the School's library?

Our library is your library, with a collection of more than 15,600 bound volumes, approximately 870 periodical subscriptions, and 20,500 pamphlets on topics relating to public law, public administration, management, and government. Traditional library services are available to all residents of North Carolina, and additional services are available to all state and local government personnel, both elected and appointed.

How can I order School of Government publications?

To get essential information and resources right at your fingertips, visit our publications website, where you may order publications online. You may also order a publications catalog or specific publications by calling the School of Government Bookstore at 919.966.4119.

Does the School grant academic degrees?

The School of Government is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Master of Public Administration Program. This full-time graduate program serves up to 60 students each year in its residential program. In 2013 the School launched MPA@UNC, an online format designed for working professionals and others seeking flexibility while advancing their careers in public service. The program is nationally ranked and is sixth in the country among public affairs schools teaching city management, according to the most recent rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

How can I get more involved in the School's work?

There are many ways to get directly involved with the School's work. Over the years, alumni and friends have made a significant difference with financial gifts to support the School. You may also want to check out our employment opportunities for faculty and staff.

How does the School fit within the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?

The Institute of Government began outside the framework of the university. After more than 10 years as a private organization, the Institute became a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1942. The Institute was elevated to the level of a School in 2001, taking a place alongside other professional schools of the University. The School of Government represents an important avenue for the University to fulfill its obligation to serve the people and governments of North Carolina.

How do I get to the School of Government?

The School is located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Knapp-Sanders Building, on the southwest corner of Raleigh Road and Country Club Road. Our Visitor Information page provides directions, area maps, parking information, and information about local accommodations.