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Mimi Chapman to leave role as chairperson of the faculty

Mimi Chapman, Chair of the Faculty at UNC, speaks in front of the UNC Board of Trustees as pictured on Wednesday, 22, 2023. Dr. Chapman emphasized the concerns of faculty regarding the development of the School of Civic Life and Leadership program.

During World War II, a ship of navigators found themselves lost in the Pacific Ocean and under fire. The crew was in need of someone who could use the stars and horizon to locate safe ground, and 23-year-old James Chapman stepped up.

The faded navigation chart he used to lead his boat to safety — a keepsake of gratitude signed by all of the crew members — currently hangs on his daughter’s beige office wall. 

Similar to the experience of her father, Mimi Chapman said that when she was thrust into being chairperson of the faculty at the onset of the pandemic, she had to take risks to address transparency, communication and empathy at the University. 

Chapman's term as chairperson of the faculty will end in June, and she will be succeeded by Beth Moracco. However, she will continue to be involved in the Coalition for Carolina.

Chapman first became acquainted with UNC at 17 years old when she came to campus to visit a friend who was enrolled. 

“I loved it from the second I arrived,” she said.

Although financial dissuasions kept Chapman from attending UNC for her master’s degree, she said she finally made her way back to campus in 1993 to pursue her doctorate in social work. 

After joining the faculty in 2001, she became involved in University governance by joining the Faculty Council. 

Chapman said faculty governance is a significant part of her life and running for chairperson in 2020 felt like a “natural progression” to her steady hand in University affairs.

Entering the role during the onslaught of the pandemic and mitigation of the Silent Sam settlement, Chapman said her initial priorities as chairperson revolved around “survival.” Rather than commit to concrete goals, she recognized the landscape of the University was shifting and wanted to focus on being an intuitive voice of the faculty. 

“So in that way, I feel like this has been a successful experience,” she said. 

Sue Estroff, former chairperson of the faculty from 2000 to 2003 and current member of the Faculty Executive Committee, said Chapman’s courage, clarity and commitment to speaking truth to power are some of her legacies. 

“I admire the composure she has been able to display throughout a fair amount of incivility on the part of trustees and other people who don't necessarily agree with the faculty,” Estroff said.

Estroff said she was proud of Chapman’s handling of the provost search and her outspokenness in support of granting tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones.

“I'm not one of these people who kind of has heroines and heroes. But there have been so many times when I've just kind of shaken my head and said, ‘You go girl,'” Estroff said.

In order to unite the leadership bodies impacting University decisions, Chapman said there must be a set of common values and outcomes that each entity is working toward. 

“The primary piece is to make sure that people are on the same page," she said. "And right now, it doesn't feel like they are."

Chapman also said that there is a commonality between almost all UNC alumni: wanting to pass down the greatness behind their degree to future generations. 

A former trustee once told Chapman that universities are about 10 years ahead of dealing with issues the wider culture has yet to confront, and she agrees. 

She said that the University’s top priority should be addressing how to be committed to its values in the face of national and community issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion and affirmative action.

Estroff noted that University governance has changed significantly over the years. She said it used to be that the chairperson of the faculty was not seen as a "threat" to the Board of Trustees.

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“Since that time, it's hard to describe how extraordinarily politicized the University system has gotten over the last 10 or 15 years with the legislative intrusion into the Board of Governors and to virtually every aspect of what we do," she said. "It's unprecedented.”

Moracco said that she hopes to expand on Chapman's traditions of communication and faculty input and said that Chapman leaves a rich legacy of leadership at the University.

“When you know the depth of that work, and the quality of people that are here, it's just an honor to be entrusted with standing up for all of those people in the best way that you can,” Chapman said. 

As she leaves her leadership position, Chapman said she hopes the faculty will remember the sincerity, accuracy and truthfulness she strived for. 

“I hope they felt like they had a champion,” she said. “Someone that stood up for them — that cared about their life on this campus and their life beyond this campus.”