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Letter: A failure of faculty governance


UNC Chancellor, Kevin M. Guskiewicz (left), speaks during the UNC Board of Trustees full board meeting held at The Carolina Inn using COVID-19 protocols limiting the in-person attendance to 25 and having some participate via Zoom on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner.

At the start of last Friday's Faculty Council meeting, Chair Mimi Chapman went out of her way to dismiss a letter recently issued by the UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of the American Association of University Professors. That letter outlined Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s “serial dishonesty” and called for his resignation.

Between the faculty chair delegitimizing the letter and the chancellor’s announcement to the Zoom-assembled crowd that “I’ve said all I’m going to say” about his knowledge of UNC System discussions about the final disposition of the Confederate monument, it’s no surprise that Faculty Council members remained silent when asked if they had any questions. 

Chapman’s opening remarks framed any critique as illegitimate, in effect shielding high-level administrators from tough questioning by the faculty. Whenever that happens, it counts as a failure, not a triumph, of faculty governance.

Faculty leaders should hold administrators accountable for their actions. Guskiewicz has long had a slippery relationship with the truth. He lied about his attempts, as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, to undercut academic freedom; he failed to release a Department of Education report on UNC's Clery Act violations until the media got wind of the report's existence; he withheld from the campus community an Orange County Health Department memo recommending online-only teaching for the first five weeks of the fall 2020 semester; now we know that he was untruthful when he reported to Faculty Council in 2019 that no Chapel Hill administrator had weighed in on the discussions that nearly led to a $2.574 million payout to a pro-Confederacy group.

Despite this clear pattern of covering, concealing and camouflaging, the faculty chair and the faculty executive committee she leads have consistently failed to demand explanations from the chancellor or to ask that he do the honorable thing and resign. 

It is not possible to have authentic shared governance between faculty and administrators when administrators dissimulate. This becomes harder still when the chair of the faculty criticizes colleagues for detailing the pattern of lies. 

UNC-Chapel Hill is stuck with a dishonest leader at the helm, and our faculty leadership has communicated, once again, that a chancellor's lies are not only tolerable, but acceptable. This does not bode well for faculty at UNC.

Sherryl Kleinman, Emerita Professor of Sociology

Jay M. Smith, Professor of History

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