Interim UNC-system President Bill Roper announced Kevin Guskiewicz as interim chancellor on Wednesday, effective immediately. Following former Chancellor Carol Folt’s Jan. 31 resignation, Guskiewicz’s appointment has quickly become a controversy among student activists.
A neuroscientist and nationally recognized expert on sports-related concussions, Guskiewicz has been the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences since 2016, and a member of UNC’s faculty since 1995. Last semester, he was criticized for his response to the teacher assistant strike against a relocation proposal for Silent Sam.
At a brief media availability Thursday morning, Roper affirmed his selection.
“He has a distinguished career as an academic leader and innovator, a scientist, a person of stature, and I’m quite confident he’s the right person to be the leader of this great global public research university from this time going forward,” he said.
In 2010, Guskiewicz was named to NCAA’s Concussion Committee, the NFLPA’s Mackey-White Committee and the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee. In 2011, Guskiewicz received a MacArthur Genius Grant. He is a Kenan Distinguished Professor and has been the recipient of 23 funded research grants, published more than 90 journal articles and six textbook chapters related to sport concussions, according the website of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science.
UNC Media Relations provided statements from UNC Faculty Chairperson Leslie Parise and Board of Trustees Chairperson Haywood Cochran, who both supported the decision.
“I know he has the very best interests of our students, faculty and staff in mind and his energy and focus will serve us well,” Parise said in a statement.
During his comments at the availability, Guskiewicz said he was deeply honored to be asked to lead the University and that he planned on spending a lot of his first months as interim chancellor on a listening and learning tour around campus.
“There are many things happening on our campus that I look forward to working with our students, faculty and staff and administrators on, and we need to be strategic, bold and student-focused,” he said.
In response to questions about the 1979 yearbook photo depicting a student wearing blackface, Guskiewicz and Roper condemned the photo as a horrible part of UNC’s past.
When asked about Silent Sam, Roper said although it was an important issue, the media event wasn’t about the Confederate statue.
“(Guskiewicz is) on record as saying that the monument should not be anywhere on the campus, and rather should be somewhere else, and that’s my position as well,” Roper said. “I’m comfortable with his position. That’s one of the reasons that I thought he was the right person to lead UNC-Chapel Hill at this crucial time.”
Campus Y Co-president Alli Whitenack was a part of a group of student leaders that met with Roper last week to give input on the search. She said students emphasized how important having a chancellor with a clear track record of working with and listening to students was.
“I don’t think that Roper checked really any of the boxes that we wanted him to consider in making this decision,” she said. “It just really demonstrated the University’s dedication to its image over its opinions and the safety of and feeling of inclusion of students.”
UNC graduate student Lindsay Ayling, a participant in the TA strikes, said she was disappointed in the decision to make Guskiewicz the interim chancellor because of his response to the demonstration.
“It’s clear to me Guskiewicz seems to care more about maintaining UNC’s public image than he does about ensuring justice and equality for UNC students.” she said. “Guskiewicz has shown he’s willing to take action against anti-racist TAs, but he’s not willing to take action against police who brutalize students – I expect that’s why he was appointed interim chancellor.”
Campus Y Co-president Jessica Bolin said the priority of a chancellor should be the safety and well-being of the student body, but UNC prioritizes preserving their reputation and grants over students.
“Everything that has happened this year has really called into question who we value and what we value as a University, and to me, the students who have been hurt by all the events that have been happening – whether they be the survivors of assault or harassment, activists who are brutalized by the police – they’re the ones who are fighting every day for the mission of the University,” Bolin said.
But tensions between protesters and Guskiewicz go back to the April 2018 Arts Everywhere Campaign, when student protesters aimed to bring awareness to the lack of funding for the UNC art department. Protesters criticized the campaign promoting art for funding while neglecting the art department, said senior Annie Simpson, a studio art major and an organizer of the protest.
As dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Guskiewicz met with the student protesters at the time, but Simpson said he was not forthcoming about the breakdown of the campaign’s funding.
Most recently, Guskiewicz has been criticized for his response to two sexual misconduct allegations against Tanner Glenn, the founder of the Institute of Politics. While dean, Guskiewicz provided space, facilities and equipment to serve to IoP, according to a recent article by The Daily Tar Heel.
The article reports that following the unanimous IoP vote to terminate Glenn, Guskiewicz told IoP leaders the allegations against Glenn had been dismissed. Official complaints to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office made by two women against Glenn were dismissed by the office, though both women stand by their statements.
While Guskiewicz offered a comment to The Daily Tar Heel, he did not directly respond to voicemails or emails with questions about the IoP’s funding, allegations against Glenn and the student leadership team’s termination vote.
UNC history professor Jay Smith said in an email statement that he thinks Guskiewicz knows UNC well and can provide some continuity, but the selection is troubling to him. He said that Guskiewicz, in his role as a dean, tried to block him from teaching a course on college sports because of complaints from friends of UNC athletics.
“Our new interim chancellor has a demonstrated a track record of obstructing academic freedom and showing shocking contempt for the processes of shared governance,” Smith said in the email. “How is he going to stand up to legislators and governing boards? I don't see that happening."
At the media availability, Guskiewicz said he plans to focus primarily on his role in the next few months, but didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking the permanent chancellor position.
“Carolina embodies a culture of collaboration that I think is unique to any other university in the nation,” he said. “We’re going to do great things together.”
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