A message for our time

Published August 6, 2020

By Tom Campbell

Peter Hans officially became President of the UNC University System Monday. One of his first official acts was to send a message to the employees of our state-supported universities. We thought it significant enough to share with you.
Hans starts his letter by acknowledging that our university is facing a moment like no other in American higher education. The pandemic, protests and economic concerns add to challenges already facing our colleges and universities.
“Lives, livelihoods are under threat,” he says. “All of us are under immense stress. Many are in grief. Which is simply to say, we’ll all need grace and kindness in the days to come. So let’s offer it to one another. We all need good will and good faith, so let’s grant it to one another. There’s never been a more apt time to love thy neighbor, and the UNC System is one big neighborhood.”
What a wakeup call! We haven’t been good at demonstrating love for neighbor in many years, instead insisting on my needs, my demands, my position, my power. And it isn’t hard to see where these priorities have taken us. But if there were ever a time when it would be good to remember this call it is now.
Hans continues by reminding the employees it is their duty to chart the path forward. “Our state is counting on us to help drive the struggling economy and provide answers to the most pressing questions of our time. No matter who you are, where you live, what you look like, what you believe, where you came from, we’re all imperfect and striving – all linked by a common fate, all deserving of respect and dignity. These are the truths we are called upon to defend. The care we are obliged to give. The values we protect most dearly in times of greatest difficulty.”
This message is relevant for you and me. Perhaps in all the confusion and contention we have forgotten that we have a duty as citizens to seek answers, to consider options and move ahead every day for the common good, no matter our circumstance.
Hans concludes, “So here’s my pledge to you; I’ll be here each and every day with an open heart, open mind, doing my best to offer steady, stable leadership and support your best work. We will encounter more than enough turbulence without creating any of our own.”
President Hans’ message may have been directed to our universities, but it is one we all need to hear. He combines assurances like Roosevelt’s fireside chats during World War II, with exhortations like those great revival preachers of old.
It is clear that Peter Hans is answering the Old Testament call “for such a time as this.” In the tradition of William Friday and other great leaders from our past he shows he is ready and willing to assume his place of leadership in our state.
His prophetic and inspiring message speaks to all of us, calling out the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln talked about in his first inaugural address. May we all hear the tone and words, absorb them and pledge to live them going forward.