My soon-to-be 34 year old son, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, called yesterday to talk. He does that every now and then, sometimes just to update me on the progress of his daughter, my granddaughter, who is nearly two years old, and sometimes to talk about his home and his effort to sell and move to a larger house in a nicer neighborhood, and sometimes to talk sports, UNC-Chapel Hill athletics in general and spectacular recruiting classes by basketball coach Roy Williams and football coach Butch Davis and the prospects for the coming season, in particular. Nothing could be finer, he says in so many words.
Usually in the conversation, especially when talking about UNC-Chapel Hill athletics, especially when discussing—though it’s a one-sided talk (if you can believe I can listen without talking)—the UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball programs, my son alludes to the respect his school and teams must be granted if for no reason other than the school is UNC-Chapel Hill and his teams are the UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels. I can hear it coming from day-dreaming miles away while he jabbers and when he pauses for a breath, which usually leads to some statement or comment on my part that riles his dander and turns the conversation into what seems like a heated debate, one that others in our family circle interpret as an argument to beat all arguments which usually ends with one of us saying, “How about another beer?”
This doesn’t happen when we just talk about college athletics and our educational preferences; we could be talking war and peace, religion, how to cook a steak, securing the car seat for his daughter/my granddaughter, navigating to pick up pizza for dinner, liberal-conservative, taxes…well…you probably get it. We really love each other but we also love to joust just long and loud enough to hear from others in the midst who want us to stop for fear of all out warfare. I think my son and I enjoy watching the others get upset as they think we are about to come to fisticuffs when we are really just debating with our own style. Did someone ask, “How about another beer?”
Yesterday, as he talked about UNC-Chapel Hill and I listened, which is very hard to do because of my allegiance to NC State University and my Wolfpack, as the conversation was more ho-hum than riling, he asked a favor of me. “Next time you’re talking with Tom O’Brien,” he said as if I have regular conversations with the Wolfpack football coach who is entering in his fourth season and has a 3-0 record against UNC-Chapel Hill, “next time you talk with him, would you tell him to quit referring to NC State as the Flagship University in the UNC system. You and I both know it’s North Carolina and not NC State.”
That’s when the conversation turned from mundane to Much Ado About Nothing especially when I told him TOB is correct, that NC State University is the Flagship of the State University system in North Carolina for various reasons including total attendance, number of degree granting programs. Then he gave me the company line that UNC-Chapel Hill is the oldest in the state and that there’s a reason the system is called the UNC System and not the NC State System. I told him that at one time UNC-Chapel Hill may have been considered the Flagship school, but that NC State had surpassed UNC-Chapel Hill in many important ways and that NC State University does much more for the State of North Carolina than UNC-Chapel Hill ever has. He counts doctors and lawyers as more important to the state than agriculturalists and textile people and engineers. And he retorted (firmly but mildly) with something about asking any person in the state and across the nation which school in the UNC System is the Flagship of the system and the response would be his choice, UNC-Chapel Hill, which by the way, is the official name of the school located in the same town as the General Administration offices for the University of North Carolina (system).
Uneducated may have been the word I used to describe those who would choose UNC-Chapel Hill over NC State University which officially is NC State University at Raleigh because the stupid and jealous legislators, mostly UNC-Chapel Hill degree holders of some type, who helped create the System of State Schools made my school add “at Raleigh” if their school, UNC, the first chartered public school in the Universe I’m told on many occasion by graduates thereof, had to add “-Chapel Hill” to the end of UNC. By the way, those ignorant legislators along with UNC System President Bill Friday, a graduate of NC State College (and a classmate one year ahead of my Dad) wanted to re-moniker NC State College which was originally NC A&M, or something like that, as UNC-Raleigh to, what words shall I put in their mouths, bring the school in line and not give it a name apart from the System, or something such as that. As a matter of fact, if Friday and his band of lawmakers had had their way, there would have been UNC-Boone; UNC-Cullowhee, UNC-Elizabeth City, and UNC-Durham (now that sounds just right).
About the time the conversation with my son was starting to get into the ditches because neither one of us will ever budge from this because he wants respect for namesake and I want to rile because of namesake, his mother, a graduate of UNC-Cullowhee and inherently a UNC-Chapel Hill faithful because her Dad and two brothers and one son and several nieces and nephews and cousins attended UNC-Chapel Hill (legacy is the damndest reason for loyalty but then of course, on my side of the ledger, one of my relatives with the last name of Brooks was a founder of NC State), returned home from work and could hear my side of the telephone talk. The unpleasant look on her face was a warning of terrible things to come if I just didn’t let it go, tell him he was right (but not in the condescending tone I seem to be so capable of at times as this) and move on.
“You’re Mom’s home,” I interrupted the debate. “I better talk with her.” Which I did and in which I had to explain the topic of the telephone talk and about which I had to quickly explain my reasoning because she was taking his side. Of course, not only because she’s his mother but because UNC-Chapel Hill fans demand respect based on age more than anything else. Oops, not her age, but the age of their favorite school.
I didn’t have to but I turned to Wikipedia and looked up Flagship. I’ve heard the word for most of my life, especially when listening to NC State Wolfpack athletics. “This is WPTF. 680 AM, the flagship station of the Wolfpack Sports Network.” Which was true then because that’s where the Wolfpack Sports Radio Network started. Today, there is no Flagship radio station, though, WRAL-FM 101.5 in Raleigh thinks it is because it’s the home for NC State football and basketball broadcasts in NC State’s hometown though sometimes the Wolfpack can be heard on 99.9 FM, the ESPN affiliate in Holly Springs. We also know that “Flagship” comes from the Navy fleet leading ship. But we also know that Flagship in a Navy fleet can change and has over time.
So, from Wikipedia:
The phrase flagship campus or flagship university is often used with reference to state university systems in the United States, which often comprise numerous campuses in widely-separated locations. In this context, flagship means the original campus from which the system grew. Fulfilling the naval analogy, it is often (though not always) the site of the administrative headquarters for the system. A flagship campus is often a land-grant school dating from the wave of state university foundings that followed the Morrill Act of 1863.
According to a Robert M. Berdahl, former Cal-Berkeley chancellor, “flagship” came into existence in the 1950s when the Morrill Act schools were joined by a newer campuses built in a wave of postwar expansion of state university system. Because of their age, the flagship campuses of a system are often the largest and best financed and are perceived as elite. Berdahl comments that “those of us in ‘systems’ of higher education are frequently actively discouraged from using the term ‘flagship’ to refer to our campuses because it is seen as hurtful to the self-esteem of colleagues at other institutions in our systems. The use of the term is seen by some as elitist and boastful. It is viewed by many, in the context of the politics of higher education, as ‘politically incorrect.’ Only in the safe company of alumni is one permitted to use the term.” Nevertheless, it is common for state university officials to use the term “flagship” in official contexts, e.g. “It is a pleasure to report to the General Assembly on the accomplishments and initiatives of the State's Flagship University,” said Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr, President, University of Maryland, College Park as he testified to the Maryland General Assembly in 2006.
Here’s the interesting part: Yes, UNC-Chapel Hill was founded first and was the only campus of the University of North Carolina for 136 years, at least that’s what the UNC General Administration website tells us. When NC State was established in 1887, while it was state-supported, it was not a subset of UNC-Chapel Hill. Neither was Women’s College in Greensboro, but in 1931, the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina and included all three, all equal partners in that definition of UNC. It was only logical to use that name to represent the State of North Carolina. The system grew from there to today: 17 campuses, not all with the UNC designation in front of the city of location.
So, in reality, though UNC-Chapel Hill may be the oldest, it is not necessarily the Flagship of the UNC System as the elitist and boastful want it to be. And, neither is NC State University; nor is Women’s College, now UNC-Greensboro. And because to say so might cause someone to think you are elitist and boastful, even if you have a three-game football winning streak, next time I see Tom O’Brien, I’ll relay the message from my son. We at NC State University do not want either to be hurtful to the self-esteem of our brethren at sister school UNC-Chapel Hill or to be seen as elitist and boastful; there are enough elitist and boastful associated with UNC-Chapel Hill, and they can think of themselves that way all they want.
Though I must admit to rile a UNC-Chapel Hill fan is fun and easy to do; those Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia SC do it regularly. “How about another beer?”