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After five years as the University's chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz will step down from his position on Friday to become president at Michigan State University.

Guskiewicz served the University for 24 years before his February 2019 appointment as interim chancellor. In December 2019, he officially stepped into the role of university chancellor.

Though excitement surrounded his arrival, Guskiewicz was quickly met with challenges and controversies that would mark his tenure as chancellor.

COVID-19 pandemic response

Months after assuming the role, Guskiewicz was faced with a global pandemic. He released a statement informing students of the ability to return to campus in August 2020, only to reverse the decision weeks later. 

Some faculty, like Faculty Executive Committee member and Linguistics Department Chair Misha Becker, felt the decision was a poor one. Becker said she thought a lot of people saw the decision as “a bad move.”

Still, Andy Hessick, associate dean for strategy and planning in the UNC School of Law,  said that looking back, it must have been very difficult to work with such limited information. 

“He did a really good job dealing with a novel situation with a lot of different important things at stake,” Hessick said

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure

In May 2021, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure at the University despite support from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media dean and faculty. The decision sparked protests and conversations regarding the fair treatment of Black students and faculty at UNC. 

“The University’s leadership continues to be dishonest about what happened and patently refuses to acknowledge the truth, to offer any explanation, to own what they did and what they tried to do,” Hannah-Jones said in a press release. 

Following public backlash, the Board of Trustees later granted Hannah-Jones tenure, which she declined. She later reached a settlement with the University for less than $75,000 after threatening legal action. 

University governance and the School of Civic Life and Leadership

Becker said Guskiewicz has faced many “uphill battles” as chancellor, specifically with the N.C. legislature, the BOT and the Board of Governors. 

“He could do a lot of great things if they let him,” Becker said.

The chancellor’s role is to carry out the policies of the two governing boards: the BOG and the BOT. Navigating disagreements between these constituents is difficult, Hessick said, because the groups are sometimes “diametrically opposed."

Student Body President Christopher Everett said since students and community members aren’t privy to closed-door conversations, they’ll never see the struggles which take place behind them. 

For example, in Jan. 2023 the BOT passed a resolution to accelerate the creation of the School of Civic Life and Leadership, a widely controversial decision due to the lack of input from the faculty in its creation. 

“So here was this outside body that was creating this thing when they really didn’t have the authority to do that,” Becker said. “And we are going to be sort of stuck doing all the work, to create the school, and it wasn’t our choice.”    

Mental health concerns and campus security

Multiple mental health crises have also impacted Guskiewicz's time as chancellor.

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In the fall of 2021, four students committed suicide on campus. Guskiewicz responded with a single well-being day and the Heels Care Network, a campaign which promotes mental health awareness. 

“We are facing major challenges and the ongoing toll this takes on our health cannot be underestimated. This cannot be solved by one person, or on one day, alone,” Guskiewicz said in a statement

A campus shooting took place on Aug. 28, 2023, and a later firearm incident on Sept. 13 raised concerns about campus safety and issues surrounding student's mental health. Becker and Hessick both said they have seen an improvement in communication since the first incident. 

“They fully recognized that communication needed to be better, and they’ve worked to improve it,” Hessick said

Student movements

Many protests marked Guskiewicz’s tenure, from recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations to a 32-hour accessibility sit-in in spring 2023. Everett said that Guskiewicz and the administration have always been very intentional about upholding constitutional rights and the First Amendment. 

“I think that he has done very, very well about making sure that students have the ability to express their viewpoints and their ideologies,” Everett said.

In a campuswide statement sent out Oct. 13, Guskiewicz reiterated the University’s commitment to upholding students' abilities to “express their opinions under the First Amendment.”

“We should lead by example, in showing how people of different backgrounds and perspectives come together and truly listen and learn from each other in an environment where everyone feels safe and supported,” Guskiewicz said in the statement.

Moving forward

Guskiewicz will be remembered most, Becker said, for opening up tuition assistance in the summer of 2023. Beginning this fall, UNC will cover tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates whose families earn less than $80,000 per year. 

“I would hope that he’s remembered as someone who, like, really, really loves and loved Carolina,” Everett said

In a campuswide email sent out Monday, Guskiewicz implored campus community members to consider the role they play during their time at the University.

“I encourage you to think about your own role and your place in that story,” Guskiewicz said. “What do you want your legacy to be?”

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