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Dear colleagues:

These last few days of our spring semester have been extraordinarily difficult. The presence of armed law enforcement officers on our beloved campus, arrests of students and members of our community, and images of violence on our grounds are deeply disturbing.

Many of you have written or called me and other faculty leaders to express a wide range of experiences with and views about the campus protests and the response by administrators and law enforcement. In the hours leading up to yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), we received messages from campus community members expressing sharply divided views, ranging from “full support” of the University’s actions in response to “violations of the law and University policy,” to expressions of shock and horror in describing the administration’s response to “a peaceful demonstration.” We also heard worries that inaccurate portrayals of student protestors could have “grave consequences for the students in question,” as well as concerns for the physical safety of faculty, staff, and students—both those involved in the protests and those who feel unsafe due to the environment created by the protests.

It is clear from these messages that we as a faculty are not of one mind. It is also clear that faculty, staff, and students have been deeply affected by the campus environment these past few weeks, regardless of their views. Recognizing this division, when the FEC met yesterday, we focused our discussion on describing what we have collectively experienced, identifying and drawing on our shared values as faculty members, and noting what actions would best help our campus to move forward. It was evident that we share a commitment to the university as a bastion of free speech, open inquiry, and academic freedom, as well as the desire for our campus to function in a way that supports our educational mission. We also have a shared feeling of faculty’s responsibility to support students, and concern for the well-being of our campus community members.

Consistent with these values, the FEC identified several immediate and longer-term needs for our campus, and actions that could be taken to address them. In the short-term, we identified three needs as the semester winds down and commencement approaches:

  • The need for clear information and guidelines for faculty and students about what to expect as we approach final exams and commencement. This includes parameters for flexibility with deadlines, revising modes for exams and other accommodations for students who do not feel safe on campus, as well as details about plans for commencement.
  • The need for information and reminders about the resources that are available to support student, staff, and faculty well-being.
  • The need for timely, accurate, and transparent communication about the status of the campus and rationale for decisions made that affect the campus community as we finish out the academic year.

This morning, I have also fielded numerous requests for information about the administration’s rationale for the indefinite closure of the Campus Y, with accompanying concerns about how the closure affects student, faculty, and staff, including access to the Mutual Aid Pantry, the Meantime Coffee Company, various student organizations’ offices, and use of the Anne Queen Faculty Commons for informal meetings, relaxation, workspace, and events.

I will communicate these needs to University administrators, and we in faculty governance will do what we can to address them as well. The FEC meets over the summer months, and we will continue to discuss how best to approach the longer-term issues we identified.

My next comments are personal ones. As a Tar Heel alumna, faculty member, parent, and the elected Chair of the Faculty, I have deep ties to Carolina and a fervent belief in its mission, and in public higher education as a precious social good. There is a long tradition of campus protests—including here at UNC Chapel Hill—advocating for social change. Though we tend to sanitize them in our historical rear view, these demonstrations can be tumultuous, disruptive, and yes, sometimes violence erupts. But more often they put us in the uncomfortable position of balancing our fundamental commitment to free expression, open inquiry, and academic freedom, with institutional regulations and perceptions of safety. To be clear, physical threats and other safety concerns, including the very credible reports and personal accounts of antisemitism, anti-Arab harassment, and Islamophobia that have occurred on our campus, must not be tolerated, and should be addressed swiftly and decisively. Moreover, we must be able to meet the educational mission of the university.

In “The President’s Report” to the UNC System Board of Trustees for 1969-1970, President William Friday included a section entitled “Student Unrest” in which he wrote: “The most pressing and controversial issue of the year has been and continues to be student unrest. This phenomenon, national and pervasive, has caused much distress to all age groups in our society [p. 9].” After discussing the need to “keep faithful to the steady course of sound teaching,” even during times of great stress, and for the university itself to remain “non-political,” he concludes: “As a vigorous and productive institution, the University has always been the object of criticism, and this is a healthy circumstance in its growth and service. Our state and its old University have thrived and grown great because its people are free to have their say. I fervently hope that we never lose this faith and never fall into a pervading fear that the institution cannot survive the exercise of this freedom [p. 12].”

Responding with force to demonstrators having their say on our campus should always be a last resort, taken only when necessary and only after communication, negotiation, de-escalation, and other options have been exhausted. I was not privy to the conversations and information that led to the decision to engage law enforcement, and so do not know when and how it was determined that we had arrived at that threshold, and I have heard from some administrators, faculty, staff, and parents that they firmly believe that the threshold was decisively breached. However, the indelible images of our students on the ground, hands zip-tied, and pepper spray being deployed has been haunting me since Tuesday, and I keep asking myself: “Did it need to come to this? What could we—as faculty, staff, and students, have done differently to avoid the chaos, confusion, and distress? How do we heal from this?” In the aftermath of the campus shooting in August, a colleague said to me that she felt that “something precious has been shattered” and wondered aloud how we would repair our feelings of safety and trust. Our campus community is in a similar fragile state now, and we must find a way to repair our sense of trust, safety, and community, regardless of our views about the campus protests and the response to them.

Looking forward, at the FEC meeting we discussed the need for efforts to learn from this experience, including documenting the decision-making timeline and inflection points, seeking information from published reports, and gathering personal accounts from both people who were present at the sites of the demonstrations, and those directly and indirectly affected by them. Critically examining these various sources of information may help us identify critical junctures for non-confrontational intervention that we can use in other, similar instances. As faculty, we also need to lean into what we do best, engaging our colleagues and students in constructive dialogue, leveraging our expertise in the history and context of conflicts, and modelling critical inquiry.

I am deeply grateful to all who wrote or called to share their views during this difficult time. Please take care of yourselves and each other as the semester wraps up.

With Appreciation,

K. Elizabeth Moracco, PhD, MPH
Chair of the Faculty
Associate Professor of Health Behavior
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Source: President’s report [1969-1970] – North Carolina Digital Collections (

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