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Q&A: Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz reflects on 2022-23 school year

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz speaks with Editor-in-Chief Guillermo Molero during an interview in his South Building office on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Editor-in-Chief Guillermo Molero spoke with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on April 24 to discuss the highs and lows of this academic year, tenure and accessibility at UNC. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: It's been definitely an eventful semester and eventful school year. What are some of the highs and lows in your mind of 2022-23?

Kevin Guskiewicz: I think we were able to successfully launch our new general education curriculum for our first-year students, something we've been working on for several years. We welcomed in one of the largest classes in the history of the University, the most diverse class that we've ever admitted to the University, this past fall. And I think we've overcome, you know, many of the challenges that the pandemic had brought for the past few years. 

We again set another record in research funding, of topping the $1.2 billion mark for research. Something that has been a goal of mine for several years is to give every student that wants a research experience that opportunity, every student that wants to study abroad an opportunity, and every student that wants to land an internship an opportunity. So, it's about really providing opportunities for students. I think it's been a great year in that regard.

DTH: I'll segue on into stuff that's been in the news more recently. Last week, a bill was introduced into the N.C. General Assembly lining up the steps to get rid of faculty tenure. How do you feel about the role of tenure on campus? And what do you think the impact of getting rid of tenure would be for the University?

KG: So, a little over 50 percent of our faculty at Carolina are tenured. 

Tenure protects one of the fundamental principles of academia, which is academic freedom. And I feel it's very important. As I said in front of the Faculty Council on Friday afternoon, we have to just continue to educate General Assembly members about what tenure really means and in a way that allows us to recruit and retain the world-class faculty that we have that allows us to be a top-ranked university in the world.

I think it would be disastrous, to be blunt, if tenure were removed, and I think it could be disastrous for the state of North Carolina. 

One of the roles that a great university like Carolina plays is helping to drive the economy. And you do that by allowing the research and the scholarly endeavors that our tenured faculty are able to carry out to help attract talent to the state of North Carolina. Tenure is critically important to the mission of our university.

DTH: With regard to the development of the School of Civic Life and Leadership, that revolved around a greater discussion about academic freedom and the state of free speech on campus. Would you agree with the sort of outside assessment that those two pillars are under attack at UNC?

KG: Well, I am a firm believer in the fact that we have to prepare students to be good listeners, to be able to participate in conversations across difficult topics and issues. Viewpoint diversity is critically important to prepare our students to be able to participate in a thriving democracy, both while they’re students at Carolina but perhaps more important, once they've graduated from here. 

In order to do that, we have to model public discourse. When we started the Program for Public Discourse about four and a half, five years ago, there was some resistance at the time, and we decided to step out as the nation's first public university and said, we want to do this. You can have constructive dialogue and discourse around these potentially controversial issues. And we've done that.

So, what's the next step? Well, it's to look at how we might build our curriculum around this. And I'm optimistic that we will get there.

DTH: There's been a lot of discussions about accessibility on campus. Most notably, there was the protest on the steps of South Building where two students chained themselves up in front of the door for 32 hours to make a statement that they don't feel included on campus. How have you transitioned that into more discussions with student and campus leaders to try to make the campus as accessible as it can?

KG: We must do better. And we are working to improve accessibility. We've been working on this for several years. 

I sat out there on the front steps with those students that day, and we had a really constructive conversation. 

There's probably no topic for which I've spent more time meeting with and listening to students about than accessibility needs. And it pains me that some of them do not feel welcome on our campus because of the challenges that we've faced with accessibility. 

It’s almost 230 years old, the campus, and we have old buildings. But we have to continue to keep them updated. And one of the things that I've learned over the past year around accessibility needs is that some of them are, some of the disabilities that students have are invisible. Those with hearing impairments, visual impairments, that we have to do a better job of recognizing those disabilities as well. 

We have to be sure we're listening to the needs of our students. And so I'm going to continue to listen. We've already made a number of significant changes in the past year, but there are many more in front of us that we have to attend to.

DTH: Well, one last question. Commencement is in two weeks. What is your advice to the class of 2023 as they head out into the world?

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KG: First of all, I'm very excited about commencement. There's nothing that I love more than that sea of blue out on Kenan Stadium on commencement day.

But to answer your question, I'm a big believer that you should always be curious. That, to me, is the most important advice.