They will remain bitter rivals on basketball courts and ball fields, but in labs, classrooms, business offices - and now boardrooms - N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill are becoming stronger allies.
In a watershed moment for the growing alliance, the trustees of the two largest state universities will hold a joint meeting tonight for the first time in recent memory.
NCSU trustees chairman Lawrence Davenport said that two days after being appointed last summer he called his counterpart at UNC-CH, Bob Winston, to broach the idea. It seemed obvious, he said, given the growing ties between faculty, staff and students.
"I didn't even know the people on their board, and they didn't know us," Davenport said. "There is a lot of collaboration already going on, and we need to lead it and encourage folks to look for even more ways to work together and do away with duplication."
The state sharply cut the UNC system's budget last year, so working together has become even more important, Winston said.
"If you look at the landscape that's out there today, and the demands on both of these institutions about how to spend money and how to move forward, this is the right thing to do," he said.
There won't be a formal program tonight beyond, perhaps, some opening remarks, Davenport said. The meeting is just to signal that lines of communication are open and for trustees to get to know one another.
The ties between the schools are already substantial. NCSU faculty publish much more work with their counterparts at UNC-CH than with faculty of any other university. And the two schools have worked together on a host of programs and research projects, including a joint Department of Biomedical Engineering started in 2003 and built around N.C. State's engineering college and UNC-CH's medical school.
Other examples include a push by both, with Duke and the nonprofit company RTI International, to land a federal energy innovation center. The two schools have a center with cutting-edge equipment for nanotechnology research, and they cooperate on social science work such as a study of the hazards facing young construction workers. Last year, researchers at NCSU's veterinary school and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center began working together to study a type of cancer that kills both humans and dogs.
Where the real savings are
One of the best examples, Winston said, is an effort to standardize the computer systems for finance and human resources.
It's too early in the project to be precise, but savings could reach $1 million to $3 million a year at UNC-CH, said Larry Conrad, the vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer. His counterpart at NCSU, Marc Hoit, said a conservative estimate of potential savings for his university was $1 million.
Winston also cited a study that UNC-CH commissioned last year of its administration and finances with an eye to streamlining. He said the school immediately began sharing the findings with NCSU leaders.
In keeping with the theme of fiscal responsibility, the trustees are paying for tonight's meeting from their own pockets. If it goes well and both boards agree, such gatherings may become a regular thing, Davenport said.
Despite all the amiable talk of common goals, it's hard to ignore that the ACC's bruising conference basketball schedule is just hitting its stride, and it's exactly a week before the Wolfpack men host Carolina. That storied sports rivalry won't be changing, Davenport said.
"When they're on the football field or the basketball court, I love red and I dislike blue," he said. "But this is about green, about doing the best we can with the taxpayers' money."
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