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The Daily Tar Heel

We talked with Chancellor Guskiewicz about his role in Silent Sam settlement

"This settlement was the first confrontation that I had with the realities of a complex governance structure."

UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz (Center), 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. November 12, 2020.(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

It's been one month since the start of the semester and two weeks since the start of partial in-person instruction

University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis talked with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz about the progress of the spring semester, the fallout from the rush on Franklin Street and clarification on his campus message regarding his role in the Silent Sam settlement.

The Daily Tar Heel: How are you feeling about the progress of the spring semester?

Kevin Guskiewicz: I think our extensive planning is certainly paying off. We relied on science and data to make all of our decisions — consulting our world renowned infectious disease experts and our public health officials. I think we've also included a diverse group of individuals around campus through our Campus and Community Advisory Committee. And I think the result is that we're in a really strong position one month into the semester.

DTH: How are you feeling the next academic year?

KG: We're going to continue to collect data. So we're learning throughout the process about what's working, what's not working. And I think so far as we think about the fall semester, we are hopeful that we can try to be back into a normal campus environment ...

We're encouraged, also, by the increasing pace of vaccine rollout and the decreasing trends in case counts locally. But, and our experts will agree, that the vaccine will be widely available by the beginning of the fall semester, so that's good news. And I'll just add that we are hopeful that the vast majority of our courses will be in person, and on campus ... It's still very likely we'll have to have precautions put in place for that in-person experience. And we don't know exactly what that will look like but I certainly think that we'll continue to learn through the second half of this semester. 

DTH: What was your first reaction to seeing the crowd form on Franklin Street after the UNC's win over Duke?

KG: I was concerned, obviously. It was exciting that we had beaten Duke, but I hoped that that rush would not have occurred. I do want to emphasize, though, that the vast majority of our students are doing the right thing, continuing to be vigilant and following the COVID-19 community standards. We've been clear that that all students are expected to follow those standards on and off campus. There are no exceptions for a basketball game. 

DTH: So far, after the influx of reports that the Office of Student Affairs received, have any students received sanctions?

KG: I know that they are processing the disciplinary proceedings for cases that were coming in before that. I don't know where they are right now on the Franklin Street event, but I know they're taking it very seriously. I just don't know, as I stand here today, whether or not there have been any sanctions on from that event yet.

University spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny: We wouldn't be able to say if there were (sanctions) for FERPA reasons ... It'll all be in our quarterly conduct report, and we had just done one, so that won't come out until May. 

Guskiewicz said in a campus message on Feb. 11 that he was "aware of" discussions occurring through the UNC System regarding the disposition of the Silent Sam monument, but that he did not "participate in" these negotiations. 

Guskiewicz said Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Clayton Somers was asked to work with the Board of Governors to find a solution for the statue, and once Guskiewicz became interim chancellor, Somers provided him with "general broad updates regarding the progress of this project." 

DTH: What was the nature of these “general broad updates?”

KG: There were a variety of options that were being considered over the, over a lengthy period of time. I want to emphasize that this settlement was the first sort of confrontation that I had with the realities of a complex governance structure. As I said before, Clayton worked directly with members of the Board of Governors on the disposition of the monument and not on my behalf. So he was working directly with them, and I was provided with high-level updates around a variety of different options.

DTH: Were you aware prior to Nov. 27 that these discussions were with the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans? 

KG: I learned the specific details in the days leading up to the settlement, and as I mentioned in my campus message last week, I asked for further clarification around (the settlement) in a message that I sent out to President Roper on Dec. 11

DTH: Did you have an opportunity to object to or amend the settlement prior to it being finalized?

KG: I did not. I had learned of the details, as I said, very shortly before. As I said, I was not a decision-maker with this. The Board of Governors back in December of 2018 took control of that decision.

DTH: At a Faculty Council meeting on Dec. 6, you said, “We were not consulted,” regarding the negotiations for the $2.5 million trust. Was Clayton Somers included in that "we?"

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KG: Clayton Somers' role on this project was working specifically for the Board of Governors.

DTH: Why did you not disclose Clayton Somers' role in the negotiations until now, since he does have a role at UNC-Chapel Hill?

KG: Because it's not uncommon to have members of our team at UNC-Chapel Hill or at other System schools working on specific projects for the System office or for the Board of Governors. And so, he was not reporting to me on a specific project. He was working for the Board of Governors.

DTH: Did he represent UNC-Chapel Hill at all, or was that exclusively a Board of Governors project?

KG: He was working specifically for the Board of Governors.

DTH: One of the results of the DTH Media Corp. lawsuit settlement with the UNC System was that $74,999 be given to UNC-Chapel Hill for racial equity initiatives. What is the timeline for receiving those funds? 

KG: So we're in the process of deciding how those funds could be used. As you know, our strategic plan Carolina Next has, as its first initiative, build our community together. And so, there will likely be some opportunities there.

DTH: Did you know about the Nov. 21 settlement with the UNC System and the SCV, involving the $74,999, before it was made public, around the time of the BOG op-ed published on Dec. 16?

KG: I learned a lot of the details in the days leading up to the settlement. But again, the settlement was with the Board of Governors and the UNC System, and the campus was not party to the settlement. So I was not authorized to disclose details that they had not yet made public. 

DTH: In hindsight, do you believe that you could have been more transparent about your role in the Silent Sam settlement upfront?

KG: I am going to talk about this a bit at Faculty Council (Friday). This was a challenge for our campus for decades. Silent Sam has caused a lot of pain on our campus for decades. I know that the news of this most recent legal settlement reopened some of those wounds for many people on our campus. And so even though the statue's gone, the painful history of race on our campus remains. Silent Sam was a symbol, but those issues didn't disappear when the statue was removed.

I think that's why the first and most important part of our strategic plan is build our community together. I'm excited about the change that's happening on our campus, slowly but surely, even during the pandemic. From the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council to the History, Race and A Way Forward commission and many other important initiatives — I think we are making a lot of progress.