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January 2008

Changes preparing UNC for the future

The new year has brought some important changes at Carolina, changes that affect students, faculty and staff as well as the community. These changes will improve health and safety on campus and will prepare us to meet the challenges of the future.

To protect the health of everyone on campus by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke, we have extended the smoke-free boundary to prohibit smoking within 100 feet of university facilities. The change follows legislative action last summer and reinforces the policy of the UNC Health Care System, School of Medicine and Campus Health Services, prohibiting smoking anywhere on the grounds and parking areas around the buildings. The new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, applies to all university faculty, staff, students, visitors and patients. The temporary signs now on campus announcing the policy will be replaced later by permanent ones.

In effect, Carolina is now a smoke-free campus, with no designated smoking areas. As we have restricted the areas where people can smoke, we have also provided many resources to help members of the Carolina community who would like to quit smoking, including information about smoking cessation classes and self-help "quit kits."

A second important change for 2008 is the installation of the UNC Emergency Alert System Siren. Some of our neighbors closest to campus may hear the sirens, and we want everyone to know what those sounds mean. The sirens will only be activated in an immediate life-threatening situation, such as an armed and dangerous person on or near campus or a tornado. These four sirens, which have public address capabilities, are mounted on 50-foot poles and placed strategically around campus and near university facilities on Airport Drive. In an emergency, the sirens will sound, followed by a public address announcement providing instructions such as go inside now. When the danger is over, a second siren sound will signal all clear.

We tested the new system Dec. 19 and are using those results to make improvements. We plan more testing this semester and will inform the campus and local communities in advance. The system is designed to be most effective for people outside. Many people inside buildings or in cars or vehicles likely will not hear the siren sound. When the siren system is activated, it will trigger an array of other emergency alerts that include text messages, e-mails and updates on a new emergency Web site.

Our discussions about a siren system began well before the Virginia Tech tragedy, but those events have accelerated our work on emergency communications, just as they have on virtually every other campus across the nation. Our Department of Public Safety has continued to work closely with local emergency responders on planning issues with mutual benefit. Our public relations staff also participates in the efforts of a working group of community communicators on issues about sharing information with citizens during an emergency.

Finally, as we seek to address the challenges articulated in the December 2007 report of UNC system President Erskine Bowles' UNC Tomorrow Commission, we face potential enrollment growth. The UNC system expects to absorb approximately 80,000 additional students by 2017. Under our current trustee-approved plan from several years ago, enrollment will increase to nearly 30,000 by 2015. The question is, given what we know about the expanding and more diverse population seeking access to higher education in North Carolina, will this be enough?

In the fall of 2007, for the first time in our history, enrollment exceeded 28,000, about 4,000 more students than we had when I arrived seven years ago. To address the physical needs of enrollment growth, we are undertaking a comprehensive update of our campus master plan, beginning with a space needs assessment for various degrees of growth, to incorporate recent master planning by the UNC Health Care System and the School of Medicine, and also to take into account the possible programmatic uses of all of our outlying properties, including Carolina North and Mason Farm.

Our challenge will be to maintain the quality and character of the Carolina experience while at the same time sending the message to the people who own this university that the door to opportunity is always open.




James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages at

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