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Lack of graduate student representation on chancellor search committee raises concern

university-lauren-hawkinson-gpsg-feature
President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government Lauren Hawkinson stands in front of South Building on Sunday, March 26, 2023.

Of the 13 members that make up the recently announced chancellor search advisory committee tasked with selecting candidates to be the University’s next permanent chancellor, there are no graduate students.

The committee includes UNC System President Peter Hans, three of the 15 members of the UNC Board of Trustees, members of University administration, alumni, UNC Greensboro chancellor Frank Gilliam and just one student representative —  Student Body President Christopher Everett.

President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government Lauren Hawkinson said she was not surprised by the announcement. She said she knew there would likely not be space for a graduate representative because the number of members on the committee had been limited to 13.

“But then to see the makeup of the committee — and the fact that there are three members of the Board of Trustees alone on the committee — to then hear them say we don't have room for a graduate student was what really made me get angry for the first time,” she said.

According to the UNC System's policy on chancellor searches, the voting membership of the search advisory committee includes representatives of the BOT, faculty, the student body, staff and alumni.

The policy also states that the committee should consist of individuals broadly representative of the interest of students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and the UNC System. 

Former GPSG president and current Chapel Hill Town Council member Theodore Nollert said when he saw the committee, his first thought was that the list didn't have the same representation of campus as previous chancellor search committees. He said organizations often benefit from incorporating and including people with knowledge about different levels of the institution. 

At the University, he said decisions are increasingly being made at higher levels of governance without incorporating or taking the concerns and ideas of other student, faculty and staff perspectives seriously.  

“They're going to hire someone who is going to come in being seen as an outsider, probably, given that this committee doesn't incorporate the voices, perspective and votes of a fully representative sample of the campus,” Nollert said.

In 2019, Chastan Swain, then-president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, was selected as a member of the University’s search committee that selected then-interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to step into the full-time role.

But in the Feb. 12 announcement, as well as the announcement of the chancellor’s search advisory committee for N.C. Central University on Jan. 26, no graduate students were elected to serve as a member of either board.

Hawkinson said she understands that there isn’t a need for a graduate student to be on the chancellor search committee for every single university in the UNC System, but at UNC, graduate students make up over a third of the student body and are an important part of how the University functions.

“I just think it's a really important voice that will be missing, that won't be at the table,” Faculty Chair Beth Moracco, who is a member of the search committee, said. She expressed similar concerns about the lack of faculty representation on the committee.

Moracco said that graduate and professional students have a very unique perspective of both campus life and the University. Along with taking classes, graduate students often work with faculty on research projects, teach undergraduate classes and work closely with UNC staff.

Though UNC has done a good job of representing student graduates on committees on campus over the past few years, Hawkinson said, the System is still lagging in recognizing the students. 

“I think honestly, that's where this hurts the most,” she said. “People just don't understand still the value that graduate students bring to the University and that we can also bring that value to a chancellor search committee.”

Andy Wallace, the director of UNC System Media Relations, said the lack of graduate student representation came down to limited space on the committee.

Hans said the search committee will hold a listening forum for graduate and professional UNC students. He added that he hopes they will provide feedback to the committee.

“I happen to be quite supportive of some of the issues that they’re raising about stipends, for example," he said. "They’re doing a lot of teaching and we appreciate that. It makes it very difficult for them to make ends meet. So I think that should be part of the conversation with the search committee."

Both Hawkinson and Nollert said that they want the committee to show them that they have an understanding of the issues impacting graduate students and make an effort to sincerely confer with students about them.

Moracco said she plans to make contact with Hawkinson and Beth Mayer-Davis, the dean of the graduate school, to receive input from graduate students. She also said that she and other members plan to ensure that a range of voices are being heard by providing different ways for the community to share their perspectives.

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“I don't need to be agreed with to feel heard,” Nollert said. “But I need to be asked what I think to feel heard.”

@l_rhodsie 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com


Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is the 2024 university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant editor and senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics. 

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