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'Make actual changes': Students voice their opinions at first chancellor listening forums

The Old Well and South Building, pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023.

On Monday and Tuesday, the UNC Chancellor Search Advisory Committee hosted listening forums that allowed undergraduate and graduate students to voice their perspectives as the search for the University’s next chancellor continues. 

Many undergraduate students expressed doubt about the committee's prioritization of student input.

Aside from undergraduate student body president Christopher Everett, alumnus Jim Phillips Jr. was the only member of the search committee present at the undergraduate forum.

Everett was also the only member present at the graduate student forum.

Undergraduate students expressed a lack of trust in the authenticity of the search process. Many emphasized the need for a chancellor who protects cultural spaces across campus and is committed to supporting faculty and staff. Graduate students mentioned a variety of topics, including the need for a chancellor who will fight for students’ healthcare rights, housing issues and for graduate students to be valued.

Both groups highlighted the importance of having a chancellor who is accessible, addresses student concerns and prioritizes higher education over politics.

Graduate and Professional Student Government senator Ellen Risemberg, a doctoral student at UNC, said the GPSG Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution to support a ceasefire in Gaza and UNC's divestment from Israel. The resolution was then sent to the Board of Governors and interim Chancellor Lee Roberts, neither of whom she said responded — a pattern she also said was disappointing, but not surprising.

“The UNC School System in 2024 will never do the right thing and listen to its students,” Risemberg said.

She also said if graduate student input was valued, a representative would have been selected for the search committee.

The committee includes members from both the UNC Board of Trustees and the BOG, UNC faculty and staff, alumni representatives, the sitting chancellor from UNC Greensboro and UNC System president Peter Hans. The only student representation on the committee is Everett.

“It is important for us to create spaces for young students to be in positions of power and to be able to leverage that power to make actual changes when it comes to deciding where this University might go in the future,” sophomore Pragya Upreti said.

The UNC System’s policy on chancellor searches and elections requires the System president, the BOT and BOG to be represented in the search committee. The president, in consultation with the chair of the BOT, is tasked with creating a committee that includes individuals who understand the chancellor's responsibilities and are “broadly representative" of the interest of the UNC community. 

Upreti said she wants a chancellor with integrity who avoids empty words and follows through on the initiatives they champion. She said she wants to see opportunities for students to engage directly with the search committee for its dedication to student engagement to be true.

However, she said she is not hopeful about how much emphasis the committee places on students’ perspectives, and that the absence of committee members at the forums were a low that needs to improve as the process continues.

“We are very clear about the people who we see as a threat to this institution and their ideas and their regressive policies," Upreti said. "And I don’t want any part of that to be diminished when it comes to translating this information to them directly."

Next Steps

Over the next several weeks, faculty and staff forums will be held, along with additional student sessions which may continue into the fall. The chancellor search website is also a medium of communication that includes a survey designed to gauge characteristics and values the University community wants to see in the next chancellor.

Anita Brown-Graham, a UNC distinguished professor of public law and government and the associate dean for strategic initiatives at the School of Government, serves as the liaison between the chancellor search committee and the campus stakeholders. Once the committee selects a search firm to aid in the process later this month, the entities will develop a leadership profile using the student feedback provided by Brown-Graham. Beginning in May, the committee and search firm will then nominate candidates and begin to screen and interview candidates by June.

“[This forum] is, in my opinion, pretty evident of strategic choices that have been made on administration’s part to try and diminish student voices,” UNC junior Reyna Patel said.


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