Dear Carolina Community,
Like many of our faculty, this week I returned to my favorite place on campus: a classroom of students. There was a mix of anxiousness and excitement among the graduate students and co-instructors gathered for “The American Professoriate,” our semester-long deep dive into the major issues facing higher education. We have an extraordinary group of students, in fields from English literature to neuroscience, and I can’t wait to hear their views on everything from democratic discourse to the ethics of the meritocracy. I’ve enjoyed talking with many of our faculty about how excited they are to be “back in their element.” Many of us realized how much had been lost during this pandemic.
During introductions in my class, one of the students commented how incredibly happy she was just to be back in front of a chalkboard. Another student looked squarely at me as she joked — pointedly — that she was trying to relish the moment, since it was just a matter of time before I would have to send an announcement that the campus was going back to fully remote classes. As the class burst into nervous laughter, I assured her and the other 25 students that I am committed to staying in front of the chalkboard. But, there is no doubt – this will require a commitment from everyone within our community to do their part.
I am grateful to the thousands of people, from our staff in the libraries and dining halls to our researchers who have developed treatments for COVID-19, who are making this year in the classroom possible. And it’s not just those hours spent in the classroom that are inspiring. It’s been a special week, with the opening of the new Asian American Center on campus yesterday, which was delayed by the pandemic for a year. It’s meeting with students on Wednesday who, through the UNC Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, have developed a UVC light sanitizing device that kills pathogens on the surface of any item, such as phones, keys and laptops. It’s walking through the Pit each day and seeing tables for student groups and students signing up for opportunities they are passionate about. Like many of the faculty and students I have spoken with recently, I have missed these moments and I am so glad that we can experience them again.
We know we cannot eliminate COVID-19 cases given the level of community spread in North Carolina and the Triangle. We are seeing positive cases on campus, and we planned for this. I am proud that nearly 90% of our students and over 82% of our employees are vaccinated. Our goal is to achieve 100% soon. This high vaccination rate is doing what it was intended to do, which is to protect even those with COVID-19 exposure from severe illness. We must remain vigilant in encouraging vaccination and mask-wearing among all our campus community members. We have updated our COVID-19 Community Standards with regards to testing, contact tracing and in-person instruction. I also encourage you to wear a mask outdoors in group settings, which I have witnessed on many occasions over the past few weeks. Thank you!
There have, of course, been instances of off-campus behaviors that do not comply with our COVID-19 Community standards. That’s disappointing, and it puts all of us at risk. I know it’s important to have the social connections outside of the classroom, but we must be good neighbors. I want to thank all of you who are abiding by those standards and working so hard to keep our community healthy and safe.
In the classroom, I have been encouraged by faculty and students who have worked together through the challenges we are facing. Our Student Affairs, Campus Health, Carolina Housing and Carolina Testing teams have been incredible and are conducting proactive, targeted testing in residence halls to avoid the spread of the virus. Working in a collaborative manner, we will continue to carry out our mission. We expect that faculty will continue to be flexible with students who are experiencing symptoms and must be absent from class.
Walking out of my first class on Tuesday, it was pouring rain and a group of students attending an Honors Carolina event were waiting on the porch of Graham Memorial. We started talking to one another, and they told me about their favorite classes, the new things they were learning, and the joy they felt about being back in the classroom. They couldn’t stop talking about their newfound favorite classes and “favorite professors” like Bradley Hammer, Rita Balaban, Terrence Holt, Jennifer Gates-Foster, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Sherry Salyer and many more. We have incredible world-class faculty at Carolina, and they are at their best when they are at “the chalkboard” with our students.
These moments, talking to each other while we waited out the rain, are the moments that define the Carolina experience. It is an experience worth having and I am so glad that we can share it together again. It reminded me why we do what we do. We must always be student-focused.
I look forward to seeing you around campus…and I will be happy to meet you on the porch of Graham Memorial. It may be my new favorite place on campus.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz