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June 2008

Here to stay

For the past eight years, you have known me as James Moeser , chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But shortly after you read this column, I will become James Moeser , Chapel Hill resident.

Holden Thorp begins as chancellor on July 1, which means that my wife, Susan, and I will have the opportunity to spend time traveling and at our house in Charleston, S.C. Just because I will leave my office in South Building does not mean I am leaving the university permanently. I plan to return as a Fellow of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. Though Susan and I will move out of Quail Hill, the chancellor's residence, we aren't leaving Chapel Hill. We have a home here and will be full-time residents of the town we have grown to love.

I have spoken often about how we fell in love with Carolina and its campus when we first came here and walked the brick paths under the shade of its sheltering trees. But the university is only part of the attraction of this very special place. We also cherish the traditions and culture of the town of Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill helped define the new South, and in so doing defined itself, by having the moral courage to support free speech, civil rights and opposition to war. In the 1960s, the progressive citizens of this town worked with campus administrators to defeat the repression of free speech embodied in the Speaker Ban Law.

Chapel Hill church leaders and political activists joined with leaders in the African-American community, professors and students in a prolonged struggle for civil rights and the desegregation of public facilities, theaters and restaurants. At the height of the Vietnam War, not only did individual citizens support students in their anti-war protests, but the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen passed a resolution commending "Students, Faculty and Administration ... for the sincere, vigorous and non-violent expression of their dissent."

This peace movement continues to this day in Chapel Hill, with regular protests against the current war in Iraq. We are pleased to be part of a town in which citizens are always willing to take a stand on critical issues of the day yet remain tolerant of the opinions expressed by others and supportive of their right to express them.

The campus and its surrounding community have so many of the same core values of inclusion, integrity and service that it is unfortunate when these shared principles become overshadowed by brick and mortar issues, especially as the university has grown. I prefer to focus on examples of cooperation, such as last week's announcement by the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation of its plan to purchase University Square and Granville Towers, a smart business decision for the university that also has enormous potential to benefit downtown Chapel Hill through future redevelopment of that site.

The purchase will have zero impact on the local property tax base; the foundation plans to continue paying those taxes. Another partnership in the works is the university's offer, announced in May, to lease about 1.5 acres of property just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the Town of Chapel Hill for $1 a year. The town then plans to make the site available to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service for the construction and operation of a new homeless shelter.

This spirit of cooperation has also been evident in the latest iteration of the university's plans to develop the new Carolina North campus. Our detailed attention to the public's expressed concerns about traffic, sustainability and environmental protection in our planning has led to unprecedented cooperation among town and gown staffs and decision makers. A zoning agreement and development plan that will serve the university's needs and benefit the community is currently under thoughtful negotiation.

As I prepare to leave my post, let me share with you a reflection on the significance of Carolina's full name -- for we are not just the University of North Carolina, but the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That is a prestigious address, one that I am proud to keep as my own.

 

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





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