A message from the chancellor: The University’s role in political discourse

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz discusses the importance of UNC-Chapel Hill being a place where ideas and opinions are argued, tested and freely expressed.

he seal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill affixed to a stone pillar at the Cameron Avenue entrance. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

On any issue of public concern, there are talented people at Carolina working on it. Our faculty and students are deeply engaged in addressing the biggest and some of the most controversial challenges of our time. They are having classroom discussions, conducting research and offering expertise to elevate public discourse. It’s a crucial part of the role we play in strengthening democracy.

Universities defend academic freedom not as a special privilege, but as a profound foundational responsibility. Protecting the ability of our scholars and researchers to go where their curiosity and convictions lead them, to pursue truth and add their expert voices to the public forum has been a core part of our mission since our founding.

Our university is a big and diverse place, making room for an array of different viewpoints, and that calls for thoughtful restraint on the part of leadership when it comes to weighing in on controversial issues. When university leaders commit the institution to a political position, it can chill dissent and silence alternative views. That does not mean our expert faculty should sideline themselves in any public conversation, but that the institution should remain a forum for discourse from many perspectives.

We are in the process of figuring out what this looks like at our university. I have met with members of our faculty, students and staff over the past month to discuss how we continue to uphold our values in an increasingly polarized world. Yesterday, our Board of Trustees voted to approve a resolution reaffirming Carolina’s commitment to academic freedom, emphasizing our university’s “respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.” Our leadership team will continue to discuss how to fulfill our responsibility to be a place where ideas and opinions are argued, tested and freely expressed.

These principles have been the bedrock of our institution since our founding. “While the University is in the political process, it is not of it,” UNC President Bill Friday famously explained. “The University stands there today completely capable of examining any controversial question, dealing with any great social issue, working to improve the state and all of its people.” This remains just as true today as it ever has been. This is the responsibility of a leading global public research university.

As we prepare for the return to campus for the fall semester, I look forward to continued discussions with you about how we can learn from one another, even when we might disagree.


Kevin M. Guskiewicz