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The Daily Tar Heel

We sat down with Chancellor Guskiewicz to talk coronavirus, the Clery Act and more

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz makes opening remarks ahead of the awards at the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture and Award Ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. "We must continue to confront our history so we can learn from that history, fuel from the learnings and move forward together," he said.

Kevin Guskiewicz permanently took on the role of chancellor in December 2019, and previously served as interim chancellor for almost a year. During his time in charge, the University has experienced controversy over a Silent Sam settlement, a Department of Education report that UNC violated campus safety laws, the effects of a global coronavirus outbreak and more. 

University desk editor Maeve Sheehey sat down with Chancellor Guskiewicz before the start of spring break to discuss his first few months as permanent chancellor and the future of the University. This interview has been edited for content and clarity. 

The Daily Tar Heel: First of all, how have your first few months as permanent Chancellor gone? 

Kevin Guskiewicz: It's going great. We're implementing our new strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. There's a lot of excitement around it. We're officially charging the eight captains for each of the eight strategic initiatives. And so we're excited about it. And the new gen ed curriculum in the College of Arts and Sciences is — we're gradually implementing that — ideas and action, it's called and we're very excited to move it forward. It'll be fully implemented in the fall of 2021. But we're piloting a number of courses right now and getting departments prepared to implement the courses. 

And our Office of Undergraduate Education has been doing a great job of helping with that and preparing for a state tour, which will be a follow up to the Tar Heel Bus Tour from this past fall. And we're going to be out in about six towns across North Carolina because the bus tour really went great, but I was not able to be at every stop.

DTH: And what's your ultimate goal for this state tour?

KG: It's really to showcase the great work of our world-class faculty and students and to show the impact that we have in serving the state of North Carolina. As the nation's first public university, and as I like to say the most public of the public universities, we have a responsibility — and so it's getting out and meeting the citizens in North Carolina and showcasing the impact that we have in preparing the next generation of leaders — citizen leaders, as I like to say. 

DTH: Something that’s on everyone’s minds is the coronavirus. What threats do you think it could pose to the Carolina community? 

KG: We're monitoring it closely. It's an evolving situation across the globe. We're very fortunate here at UNC-Chapel Hill to have probably one of the world's best communicable disease research teams in place. And so we're leaning heavily on their guidance, as well as working closely with the CDC and the Orange County Health Department to be sure that we have the appropriate measures in place to protect our students, faculty and staff, as well as visitors who would be coming to the area… 

… So I think we have several teams working on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our campus community. But I just want to encourage everybody to continue to follow the updates we're providing on our website

DTH: And I know it’s been kind of a whirlwind semester — there’s this coronavirus issue, and before that there was the controversy over Silent Sam. How have you been dealing with these challenges during your chancellorship?

KG: Well, as I've said repeatedly, there's always going to be challenges in a university setting. This is a great university that certainly has challenges. And with regard to Silent Sam, this is in the hands of the Board of Governors and the System Office, and I remain optimistic that we will get to the right place. I've said consistently and made my point clear that I don't believe the monument should return to our campus. That's where I continue to work toward that goal.

DTH: We’ve heard a lot about the first initiative of the strategic plan, building community together. What are the next steps here? 

KG: This is the first of those strategic initiatives. And I strongly believe that if we have a campus community in which everyone knows their voice is important, that they feel a sense of belonging, and we have the climate in which everyone feels they belong, these other seven initiatives will come together in a very positive way. 

I think that the $5 million fund that I announced in mid-December, the Build our Community Together fund, is important to move us forward. It'll help fund the History, Race and a Way Forward commission — which, I charged that commission back on Feb. 7, to explore, engage and teach the history of our University such that we can learn from that history heal and from an understanding of our past. It'll also help fund two new faculty positions. These individuals will be experts in the study of slavery in the U.S. And that will play an important role in working closely with the commission eventually…

DTH: Do you have any updates on the search for the two new faculty positions?

KG: That search is being conducted out of the College of Arts and Sciences. And so I don't have an update, but I know that they have formed a search committee. They're moving forward…

DTH: I also wanted to bring up the University’s Clery Act violations. Have there been any fines levied on the University to this end as of now or any actions taken against the University?

KG: There has not been but I know that there are discussions occurring between the Department of Education and our Office of University Counsel, and so we will probably have some updates in the next few months.

DTH: And what's the University doing to address the Clery Act issue at this time?

KG: We've put in place a number of initiatives. The Coalition for prevention of sexual violence has begun their work. They've had at least two meetings so far. We've also made a commitment of $2 million over the next five years for staff to hire, go out and to hire a leader that will assist in the implementation of many of the recommendations that came forth over the past 18 months around prevention of sexual violence, and will also help us to understand how the AAU climate survey results should be interpreted and how programming might help improve that climate. 

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DTH: And when you say programming, do you mean academic programming?

KG: I think you could cover everything from how we build this education into our curriculum to programming through student affairs and campus health and around issues of mental health as it relates to sexual violence and drug and alcohol awareness because we know there's an intersection there between, certainly, alcohol-related issues and sexual violence. 

DTH: Have you heard any concerns from the community about how the University has been dealing with these issues over the past several years? 

KG: Well, as I said, that Clery Act report pertained to incidents from 2009 to 2016. And we've made many changes since then. The hiring of George Battle as our new Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management, the hiring of a Clery coordinator and the hiring of a new police chief that has a lot of expertise in this area, and has served as a consultant for the Department of Education. Over the years, I do think that we are in a much better place today than we were certainly in 2009. And we have heard concerns raised about how the University has or has not responded to some of those earlier complaints. But I feel confident that our leadership team has moved us in the right direction over the past year and a half, two years. And that we'll see results. 

DTH: At a recent Faculty Council meeting, they announced that UNC is behind peer institutions in faculty salaries, and because there is no new budget there have not been raises. So how is the University addressing these discrepancies?

KG: I am concerned about faculty salaries — in the lack of a raise for this past year, combined with the fact that we've had small salary increases over the past several years. Being a world class university, our faculty are often the targets of other great universities… Fortunately, we've been successful in retaining the vast majority of those faculty. But in the absence of a state budget, it just compounds the problem. Our faculty salaries are in the lower quartile compared to our peer institutions in many of the disciplines. Not in all of them, but in many of them. And that's where we're really trying to focus our attention and ensure that we can bring those faculty salaries up whenever possible. 

DTH: How do you maintain faculty morale at a point when salaries are behind peer institutions?

KG: I think this new strategic plan is important. I'd like to keep pointing to that because I think we have a roadmap for success with this… My goal is to try to bring faculty into these initiatives and to get them excited about the opportunities that are there that can help them thrive at Carolina and it'll help differentiate us from our peers, identifying what it is that the world will turn to Carolina to solve…

And I am committed to continue to work and to impress upon the General Assembly and the Board of Governors that our salaries need to be addressed, as do our benefits around our health insurance plan and retirement plan. These are all areas that can help improve morale. 

DTH: Out of all the listening bodies and listening sessions during your chancellorship, have you heard anything that’s been surprising to you or that has made your team take action?

KG: One of the positive things that emerged from these listening learning sessions has been this culture of collaboration that we have in Carolina, that I think differentiates us — and is what I know keeps a lot of faculty here because they feel that they can thrive in this environment whenever they have access to faculty from other departments, other schools on campus that want to help move their research forward…

…We did respond to the Campus Safety Commission just last week with responses to their 27 recommendations that came out of the summit — feeling really good about that. And they cover everything from improving the lighting on campus to make it a safer campus to ensure that our police officers have the proper training and their certification covers a lot of that, but there's other training that we believe based on some of the recommendations can even help build more trust between the police force and the campus community… So I'm confident that those recommendations and the responses to those recommendations are going to make us a safer campus in which again, people feel a sense of belonging. 

DTH: What has been your proudest moment as permanent chancellor so far? 

KG: I think getting in front of students is still something I've really enjoyed, sitting with the Student Advisory Committee and hearing what's important to them, and hearing their excitement about the future of Carolina. I love the fact that we are preparing our students for careers that don't even exist yet today. And I think that's the beauty of our new general education curriculum: that it does allow us to prepare students to pivot later in life. 

I love the fact that we still lead the nation in the number of students who graduate with dual degrees or at least one major and a minor, and I think that again further differentiates us and better prepares our students to go out into the world, and become those citizen leaders that I know they can become. So it's really just hearing the excitement of our students and responding to their needs and trying to help them reach their goals.