Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was appointed to his new position in February, following the unexpected resignation of former Chancellor Carol Folt.
Following a controversial year on UNC’s campus, and a little over a month from the Board of Governors’ May meeting, University desk editor Myah Ward sat down with Guskiewicz to discuss recent incidents and the future of UNC’s campus.
The Daily Tar Heel: Since you’ve gotten started, how is your relationship with the Board of Governors?
Kevin Guskiewicz: So, we’ve had one full Board meeting just a few weeks ago over in App, in Boone. It was held on the campus of Appalachian State University and had a chance to meet most of the members, and they were very excited about UNC-Chapel Hill, and what we’re trying to do in terms of a number of initiatives ... we've started to develop a great working relationship with them. And then we’ve had a small working group on the monument that I have now met with a few times, and that likewise, I’ve gotten to know them much better. It’s going well.
DTH: So, this meeting that got pushed to May. What’s going to happen? What do you think is going to be decided at that meeting?
KG: I think we’re still in process. That group has been gathering information, feedback. We had two really good meetings here on campus between probably three-and-a-half, maybe four weeks ago. They met with the Faculty Council’s 15-member faculty committee, which is providing feedback. And then they met with my Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor and both of those meetings went great. And they were listening and taking notes. I’m assuming they’re taking that feedback back to the larger board.
DTH: And you think there is going to be a decision in May about whether or not the monument might return to campus?
KG: It’s their process, and so, I know that their plan was to move the decision back to May, to that May Board meeting, and I’ve been told that they believe the decision for the disposition of the monument will be made at that point, but there’s always the possibility that it could be delayed again, but I would anticipate that we have some answer.
DTH: The stuff that’s happened in the last few weeks — we’ve had the Unsung Founders Memorial incident and also acts of anti-Semitism. Why do you think this is happening now? And do you think it’s going to get worse?
KG: I certainly hope not. It’s been a difficult few weeks. I was very disheartened and disappointed with the events of last week. And these things happen on college campuses where there’s a lot of activity and a lot of, you know, academic conversations and debate and conferences around the challenges that we face in society, and so we’re going to always have — those conversations are always going to bring some conflict and so I’m doing everything possible to ensure that campus is safe. This public safety commission that will be announced, the composition of that committee and the mission will be announced next week, and I feel really good about the direction that it’s headed and the impact that it will have on our campus over the next several months in creating a conduit for our campus community to provide feedback to administration, to campus police and to rebuild the trust, I think, between students and campus police will be really important.
DTH: A lot of the statements in response to these events have said the University is conducting an investigation. So can you tell me a little bit more about what that actually means, and will there be a way for the campus community to see the results of these investigations?
KG: I believe it was March 22 campus communication, I had said that we would form this commission, and we would engage in campus conversations around inclusivity and diversity, and we’ll continue those conversations. And then the third component was that we would be investigating several incidents that have occurred and provide a means by which we can learn from those situations in which it was handled very well so that we can replicate that, but also to be sure that when we can handle a situation better, to learn how we need to act differently and have in place the right measures, policies, procedures and resources to ensure the safety of our campus community. And so all of those are underway, and I feel as if we are making progress.
DTH: Many students have expressed safety concerns on campus in different ways, so do you think students are safe on this campus?
KG: I do, I mean, I’ve listened. I’ve heard students express concern over the distrust that they have with police, and I started those conversations before I was Chancellor. I started those conversations as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and I remain committed to ensuring their safety. I do believe that we have a campus police force that cares deeply about safety of our students, faculty and staff. And I think that the measures we’re putting in place are just going to improve, we’re going to raise the bar and ensure safety.
DTH: As you know, this year has been a lot for everyone in the community, will next year be any different? As interim chancellor, how are you going to make this better?
KG: My goal is that we can really get everybody focused back on the mission of the University. We have so many great things that are happening here. We’re launching our Global Guarantee, which will set us apart, make us unique, striving toward becoming the leading global, public research university. The Global Guarantee will ensure that every student here, undergraduates and graduate professional students get a global experience that they can enter the world beyond Chapel Hill, as they go off to start their first career and this opportunity will have them prepared to do that. We have our new Gen-Ed curriculum which was just approved by Faculty Council on Friday, a historic moment for our campus. This is something that happens about every 12 to 15 years on campuses, when they revisit and reimagine their general education curriculum. And I think we’ll have the very best general education curriculum in the country. It’s inclusive, it’s innovative, it’s global, it’s contemporary, which is what I think we should be focused on is really preparing students for the careers of the future.
We have a new Institute for Convergent Science that will be launched here in the fall which is bringing together different disciplines to solve problems. It’s gonna speed the impact of new discoveries here at Carolina, and help commercialize some of the amazing work that’s being done. Our entrepreneurship program, which is open to ever student on our campus was just ranked fourth by U.S. News and World Report. Our goal is that every student at Carolina can graduate with an entrepreneurial mindset. So that’s what I’m focused on. Those are the initiatives that I want to turn our attention toward and hopefully start the new academic year off not focused on some of what we were dealing with last year.
DTH: I’m sure you’ve seen Chief Jeff McCracken’s letter to the editor —
KG: Somebody else just brought that up. I know that he wrote an editorial, and it was published today, and I’m sorry, but I have not seen it. And I will before the day’s over.
DTH: So my question is not as much about what he said in that, but it’s more about your perspective because his perspective stands in stark contrast to what demonstrators, how they feel police have handled protests. So my question for you is, how do you feel that these demonstrations have been handled?
KG: When I began my listening tour back in January, before I was even chancellor, I was dean of the college, listening to the concerns that faculty and graduate students in the college of arts and sciences had. I was hearing the real stories of concerns that were raised. And I took action. I basically said that we need to begin thinking about, even as dean, I approached the provost about the need to think about a commission or some sort of committee, and I began looking at what other communities had in place in the way of, sometimes they call it advisory boards, oversight committees, safety commissions and looking at what other universities had. And we began to find that the ones we felt looked to be the most effective and have put this together and will be announcing next week. So I hear there are two sides to every story, and I want to get to the truth. And that’s what I think we’ll be able to do through this commission and the investigations that are currently being conducted around some of the incidents. So that we can rebuild trust, and that’s my goal, and we’ve had over 50 protests on campus over the past year and a half. And fortunately we’ve had no serious injuries or deaths, and I’m not suggesting that that’s where you set the bar, that’s the mark, but our police force, it’s a difficult job and I think that we can always be looking to see how we can improve and that’s what my goal is.
DTH: While I know this isn’t ultimately up to you, if the opportunity presented itself, would you consider making chancellor official? Would you take that opportunity if it was offered to you to become chancellor?
KG: Yes, I’m excited. It’s a place that’s been great for me, to me for over 23 years now. I feel as if I have been able to lead from a few different seats as a center director, as a department chair, associate dean, dean and now interim chancellor. I’m enjoying it, I have a very sort of hypothesis centered approach to leading.
And so I like to take on challenges. And listen, I just left the AAU meeting, the Association of American Universities Presidents' meeting in D.C. yesterday where I enjoyed sitting around the table with the leaders of the 62 top research universities in the nation, and we all have challenges. And it was helpful to sit and hear from others about the way that they’re taking on some of the same issues that we’re dealing with on our campus and to also hear about other challenges that we don’t have here but I can better prepare and help prevent and mitigate if we learn from the way others have taken on issues. So I’m still learning, but I can tell you, and I’m listening. I think that’s a big part of this job, is to listen to the students, listen to the faculty, listen to the staff, and hear what’s important to them and what’s important to them and ensuring that we have a campus that’s safe, a campus that students can thrive in and where everybody feels welcomed and included. That’s what I’m working toward. And I’m excited, I would love the opportunity to lead our great university.
DTH: What has been your favorite part so far about being interim chancellor?
KG: I think really just getting out to meet with the students and faculty from across the campus which as a department chair, you tend to stay more focused in your department. As dean of the college, I was focused on the college, which granted is a big place, it’s the largest school on campus, but to have the opportunity to get out on this listening and learning tour, hear the amazing work that’s happening across the entire University has been really rewarding and insightful. And I'm excited, we’re going to restart the Tar Heel Bus Tour which is going to, it’s something that Chancellor Michael Hooker put in place in 1997, it ran for I think about 12 years and this fall, we’re going to start the engines back up on the bus to get out with faculty across the state of North Carolina to showcase the great work of our faculty and students and show the ways in which they impact the state of North Carolina, and really strengthen the partnership with the state of North Carolina. That’s been exciting when I’ve mentioned this to faculty and students they’ve gotten excited about that as an opportunity to showcase what an amazing place Carolina is.
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