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Message from Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz about Carolina’s True North

"True North is one’s orienting point, the guiding light that helps leaders stay on track."

Sun goes down and peeks through the Old Well
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

I’ve asked myself over and over during the past month about my True North. True North is one’s orienting point, the guiding light that helps leaders stay on track. It’s derived from their most deeply held beliefs, values and principles. It’s their internal compass, representing who they are at the deepest level.

I believe my “internal compass” is no different than so many of our 345,000 living Carolina alumni, 30,000 students, 3,900 faculty and 8,700 staff. We hold the distinction of a leading global public research university because of our values and our commitment to serving the public good. We solve the grand challenges of our time by tackling big issues and striving to make society better.

Like many of our faculty, I’ve devoted my entire 26 years as an academic researcher and scholar to this calling — of valuing academic freedom but knowing there was a duty that accompanied this freedom. With the privilege of academic freedom comes a duty to uphold the values of the institution and pursue excellence in teaching, research and service.

Yesterday’s Board of Trustees meeting addressed an important matter, which has been of great interest to our campus community, especially those who have felt undervalued in our community. I am pleased that the issue of tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones has been resolved, and I believe she can add great value to our University community. Our students are eager to learn from her, and we are ready to welcome her to the Carolina faculty.

I’ve said before — our tradition of shared governance at the University is now and has been one of great collaboration, and often one of great tension. I have the utmost respect for our faculty and the work that they put into reviewing candidates for tenure and making recommendations to our Provost. And I also respect the role that our Trustees play in governing the University.

I have had numerous conversations with many members and leaders of our campus community as well as our Trustees over the last few months. I have worked hard to navigate a complex shared governance model which I respect and believe has an important role to play in higher education if we are to build a stronger partnership with the public.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — the University of the people, ranked among the very best universities in the nation and the world for over 25 years must rise to our collective and shared True North. Our True North leads us to provide the very best education and experience for our students, who will become the leaders of the next generation. We need faculty and staff who will challenge us all to be better. We need faculty who will always be focused on intellectual diversity and teaching our students how to think, not what to think. We are committed to this as a University.

Our plan for doing this work is embedded in our strategic plan — Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, our new general education curriculum — IDEAs in Action, and the Program for Public Discourse. Citing Walt Whitman at our Spring Commencement in Kenan Stadium, I urged the 6,300 graduates to “Be curious, not judgmental.” Ask questions and don’t assume you know the answers. We are better prepared and committed to doing this now more than ever before.

There is nothing more important to me than our students, our University community and this True North. I have enjoyed looking out my window at the Old Well every day for the past several years. A day hasn’t passed when there wasn’t a photo being taken with a grandparent and a recent graduate, or more recent Carolina graduates posing with their kids in strollers often wearing Carolina caps. These individuals have a special connection to Carolina and take pride in calling themselves Tar Heels. I have reminded my colleagues that given UNC-Chapel Hill’s age — 227 years old — we are all considered “interim” and each of us has been called to serve for a very short period of time relative to the age of our University. We must be sure that our future alumni, as well as those grandparents, parents and recent graduates, feel the same connection to Carolina that so many have felt for decades. The pictures at the Old Well must continue and those pictured must be just as proud to be Tar Heels in the future as those from years ago.

Part of my True North is building our community together. As I have said many times, we cannot be the leading global public research university without a commitment to building our community together. I know there are members of our campus community who do not always feel they are part of this journey. We must support and value every member of our community, and particularly our Black faculty, students and staff who, by sharing their experiences, have helped us understand their disappointment on our campus. I am absolutely committed to pressing on to make Carolina a welcoming place in every way possible. We want all members of our community to realize their full potential.

We are better positioned today to focus our attention on the mission and goals of the University as we prepare for the start of a new semester. We have a lot of work to do, and I have heard from many of you with your ideas. I will be sharing our next steps forward in the weeks ahead.

As we move into this holiday weekend and start a new academic year, I hope you will take time to consider your True North — what drives you, what is your orienting point and your guiding light. I appreciate all you do for Carolina and know that you care as deeply as I do about our future.


Kevin M. Guskiewicz