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The Daily Tar Heel

'Expect the unexpected': Guskiewicz talks his first year as chancellor

UNC chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz watches the UNC men's basketball team during a game against the College of Charleston in the Smith Center on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. UNC won the game 79-60.

Kevin Guskiewicz was named UNC's 12th chancellor on Dec. 13, 2019. One year later, University Desk editor Maddie Ellis spoke with Guskiewicz about his first year in the role, his biggest lessons and what's next. 

This interview has been edited for content and clarity. 

The Daily Tar Heel: What are the biggest takeaways from your first year as chancellor? 

Kevin Guskiewicz: To expect the unexpected, that's for sure. We started off with the launch of our strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, right at the end of January. And we were so excited about implementing the plan, and we have, but certainly we lost a little bit of momentum given the COVID-19 crisis we were faced with ... There was a lot that happened there during a very short time, but I'm happy we've gotten to the end of this fall semester, and I think we have a good plan in place for the spring. 

DTH: What was the biggest challenge in your first year as chancellor? 

KG: It's obviously COVID-19 and just the uncertainty about it. We were sitting here back in mid-March, not knowing how long it was going to last. I would guess that most of us didn't expect it to last as long as it has, but we certainly have learned a lot through that. And again, as I said I'm proud of the fact that Carolina is one of the leading institutions in the country that's helping to solve this grand challenge, the biggest challenge perhaps of our lifetime ...

And I think just the fact that we've been able to still deliver a really quality education, despite these challenges, and we've been able to connect our students, who are studying remotely, back to campus in the ways that we have. 

DTH: What are you hoping to accomplish next year? What does success in the spring look like to you? 

KG: I think we, just like we've listened to our community and learned from the fall semester, we did many things right, but clearly some things didn't go well. We're moving forward with increased community input and transparency and we've made the changes that are necessary in terms of the robust testing program that will be in place, the further de-densification of the residence halls with about 3,500 students on campus. It's going to take a commitment of everyone in our community to ensure our success and that means abiding to the COVID-19 community standards that are in place and are unchanged for the most part from what we had in place for the fall, with the exception of the testing requirements. 

And so we'll closely follow the path of the virus over these next several weeks, so that we can be prepared for a safe and successful start and finish the spring semester.

... I think it's really about being able to provide the type of on-campus resources that I know our students are craving and we know that they need to really have the kind of Carolina experience that they want, and that they deserve. And that's what we're trying to do, to provide that for as many people as we can safely, who want to be here, having access to those resources. 

DTH: What percent of classes are scheduled to be in person as of now? 

KG: The last time I checked with the provost, who has daily contact with our deans and registrar, it was in the neighborhood of about 20 percent. 

DTH: How will re-entry testing work? 

KG: Students will be required to produce evidence of a negative COVID test within a few days of the re-entry to campus. And those results will be loaded up into what's called Hall Pass, which is an app that students will have access to on the phones. It can be done either in their home communities or it can be done when they get back here to campus so they'll have that option.

DTH: Will more information about the spring be communicated over break? 

Joel Curran, vice chancellor of University communications: There will be a lot of communication pushed to students ... we want to make sure that we don't send too much, but that it is packed with important information. One of the things that we learned through the Campus and Community Advisory Committee that was presented to us last week is, when we are giving updates, to send text messages and be clear: "COVID-19 information update." 

DTH: How will the University ensure the safety of campus workers who interact in student spaces?

KG: It's about continuing to communicate, educate around the importance of those COVID-19 community standards. If the students are following the standards as they've been laid out, we believe that the RAs and the workers will also be safe in those environments. 

JC: I also want to point out that we should not have any issues with PPE for the employees. Staffers will have ample access to the appropriate levels of masks, any other PPE material that they need.

KG: We have had 1,500 students living in our residence halls this semester, and so we're going to add an additional 2,000 to that. But we've learned from that and our housekeepers and RAs have done a great job this semester. And as best we can tell through our contact tracing, we've not had any transmission from student to staff member in those residence halls, cafeterias, libraries, Student Union, etc., over this fall semester. And so I think that's a good indication that what we have in place can work. 

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DTH: In an op-ed published in The Daily Tar Heel, over 60 faculty members signed a letter calling for another remote semester. Does the University have a response to this? 

KG: We value the opinions of our faculty, staff and students. I'm pleased with the way we have gathered that feedback over the course of the semester through our Campus and Community Advisory Committee ... And so I'm confident that we have engaged the broad constituency to help us in making these decisions. 

I'll also add that this robust testing program was something that we heard loud and clear early in this fall semester that many of our community members wished had been in place, and so we put forth I think a strong effort to be sure that we could build a robust testing program, probably one of the best programs in the country I think with regard to the number of students and employees we'll be able to test over that spring semester. So I feel really good about that, and I know that has reassured many of our faculty that I've spoken to and our staff, that this is going to work.