Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs at UNC Charlotte Elizabeth Hardin is a busy woman.
And yet she took an hour out of her time on a Friday afternoon to talk with the Niner Times, which might sound surprising at first, given her prestigious title and back-to-back booked schedule, but not so much after you spend an hour in her office talking, getting to know the woman who, after all, is the recipient of the 2016 Loy Witherspoon Distinguished Service Award.
Besides being the Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs, Hardin is also an advisor and board member of the on-campus ministry, Cooperative Christian Ministry. Through Niner United, she has impacted the lives of many students who have come through the campus ministry, a fact she humbly shrugs off.
“I’m very committed to the mission of higher education and to the development of students, a portion of which is a spiritual form of development,” Hardin said.
One former member of Niner United, Rev. Jacob Pierce, recalls how Hardin loaned him her car so that he and a group of students could drive to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to witness the installation of a new bishop.
“It was just a car,” laughs Hardin now.
But Rev. Pierce, who at the time thought he was going to be a lawyer, has since gone on to become a pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte, and it’s difficult to imagine that the experience of watching the installation of a new bishop at the National Cathedral did not influence the change of course in his life.
Hardin works in higher education because of students like Rev. Pierce, and her devotion to public institutions stems from the fact that she is also a product of public education.
“My parents made a very intentional choice for me to remain in public school through high school,” Hardin said, while the rest of her family studied at private or boarding schools.
Hardin’s grandmother, who was born in 1904, attended Vassar College, went to law school and was admitted to the bar. Her father was, in her words, “very much a feminist.”
“My dad always said, although he was one of three boys, that you really didn’t have a choice in his family about being a feminist.”
Hardin made her family proud, first by attending the University of Georgia, and then by earning her MBA from Harvard University in 1985.
“There were not a lot of Southerners there at the time, and very few Southern women. Very few,” Hardin said. Pondering it for a few minutes, she could not think of even one, although she insisted that there must have been at least a couple more besides herself.
After graduating from Harvard, Hardin spent some time working at the university before joining the private sector. In 1995, she returned to working in higher education when she joined UNC Charlotte as a business planning analyst.
In 2003, Hardin moved to the University of Wyoming, only to return back to UNC Charlotte in 2006 for the position she still holds today: vice chancellor of Business Affairs.
Today, Hardin recognizes the profound effects of higher education, and the opportunities that public schooling provides.
“It’s really a profoundly formative experience, and it changes the direction of [students’] lives. That’s particularly true, I think, of public higher education, or any higher education that is inclusive of people who may not have the resources to go to the most expensive schools in the country.”
She says that her own role models include Loy Witherspoon and UNC Charlotte’s founder, Bonnie Cone.
“When I saw Bonnie Cone in action, I said that I would love to be like her. She’s just absolutely remarkable, and again, pretty fearless to do what she did at the time that she did. It would be hard to start a university now, but for this petite single woman to do that at a time she did is truly, truly remarkable,” Hardin said.
Elizabeth Hardin has her own advice to offer young women entering the workforce.
“Passivity, assertiveness and aggression. Having passivity honors other but not self, and aggression honors self but not other. Being assertive honors self and other. Assertive is the healthy place to be,” Hardin said.
But, perhaps, more importantly, Hardin wants students to figure out what their purpose in life is, and use it to serve the world around them.
“Frederick Buechner said that ‘vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’ You hear a lot about gladness, but what you don’t hear a lot about is the world’s great need,” Hardin said.
“There is a level of pain and challenge that surrounds us but we don’t see. And we don’t see it because we largely choose not to. That’s a big deal. You have to recognize what vocation looks like, and you have to recognize what the world needs.”
Much like she has, serving the students at UNC Charlotte.