Dear Tar Heels,
Throughout its 226 years, UNC-Chapel Hill has directly experienced events that changed us, our nation and the world. With each change, the Tar Heels of those times had to find new ways to face those challenges, advance and thrive. COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, and the sweeping, rapid changes it has ushered into our society in just a short time, has now solidified its place on that long list. Today, it would be impossible to identify anyone who has not felt its impact in their daily lives.
We are coming to the end of a historic and tumultuous week, when many of you were not here. I wanted to reflect on the impact this virus has already had on so many of us here and acknowledge that the days to follow will continue to bring us more change and challenges. As a campus community, I know we will face these with the same resilience and determination demonstrated by many of our fellow students, faculty and staff who were among the first wave of Tar Heels affected by the changes.
We send best wishes for a fast and full recovery to all who have experienced COVID-19. There is no question that the highly viral nature of COVID-19 has created an environment where reducing exposure to the virus has driven dramatic changes to our daily lives. Here are but a few, with more likely to come.
Just several weeks ago, students in the UNC Global Study Abroad program, many already in classes at their host country institutions, were suddenly caught-up in sweeping COVID-19 outbreaks that were the vanguard of what is now classified by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic. Those students, many of whom had spent years dreaming and anticipating of these unique educational and cultural experiences, were forced to make practical, yet extremely difficult decisions to return home. Most of those students will be able to complete their course work online or through replacement courses. We will work tirelessly with all others to assist them in achieving their aspirations of a meaningful global academic experience. Today, we also announced the cancellation of all summer 2020 study abroad and international education programs. For the study abroad students who had to return unexpectedly or won’t be able to go this summer, I offer my regrets for the anxiety and change they have had to face. I hope that one day they can return to the countries they had to leave behind or had planned to visit.
In just 24 hours, Carolina’s winter and spring student-athletes, coaches and staffs went from the daily rhythm of practicing and competing to a sudden suspension of their seasons. This was done out of an abundance of caution for the well-being of those students and our community. I want to acknowledge the stress and uncertainty this turn of events has created for all student-athletes, particularly those who were scheduled to compete for a national title and those seniors who are in their final year of eligibility. Our hope is that you will be able to return to competition in the near future, but most importantly when it’s determined safe.
As previously announced, during the week of March 23 we will leap into the world of remote instruction. While this is a massive, in-semester pivot for most of our students and faculty, I am already inspired and heartened by the determination and resolve on the part of our faculty to begin working on how to best translate their courses into remote instruction. I have always known how much our world-class faculty care about their students. Yesterday, hundreds of our faculty showed up on campus to begin this process. Next week, our dedicated UNC ITS teams will be deployed to sites around campus to conduct full-scale training using Zoom and other technologies. I have no doubt they will be as prepared as possible on March 23 and the days that follow.
And, finally, I want to acknowledge the tireless effort and leadership from Carolina’s Emergency Operations Center. This is a cross-functional team that has worked 24/7 over the past weeks to confront the challenges brought by COVID-19 to every aspect of Carolina’s student affairs, academic departments, research enterprise and staff support, as well as to coordinate with local and state authorities. Their commitment, thoughtful approach, and rigor reminds me of the talent and teamwork on display every day across our campus. You can see some of their work and stay abreast of our responses at the University’s COVID-19 resource website.
Carolina has faced uncertainty throughout its history, and those who have walked this campus before us have always found ways to adapt, advance and thrive. The coronavirus is a serious threat that must be met with a bias toward the safety and well-being of our campus while maintaining the University’s teaching, research and service mission. There will likely be more challenges that will require more changes and more pivots, and this will prepare us to respond in the future. We will do whatever necessary to meet those needs to help our students achieve their academic goals and aspirations. I’ve always believed that on the other side of every challenge is an opportunity.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz