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Column: UNC deserves an experienced chancellor who cares about its students

20231204_Soukthavone_university-chancellor-end-of-the-year-interview
Former chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz reflects on the year in an interview in his South Building office on Dec. 4.

Issues surrounding housing, mental health and right-leaning policies continue to develop at UNC. And with the search for a permanent new University chancellor, the search committee must select an individual who can implement systems to address these concerns in order to better accommodate all UNC students’ needs.

UNC students deserve to have a chancellor who will listen to them. 

Former UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz left the University earlier this semester, prompting the UNC System to designate another individual to fill his place until a permanent replacement can be found. UNC System President Peter Hans announced Lee Roberts, the former state budget director, as interim chancellor.

With this announcement came backlash against Roberts, as many believed him to be a controversial pick due to his background as state budget director under former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and lack of academic administrative experience. 

In his position, Roberts proposed a budget that allocated the lowest share of funding to higher education since 1981. The McCrory administration signed the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in 2016 while Roberts was a member of the administration. Roberts also served on the UNC Board of Governors starting in 2021 when the compelled speech ban in hiring and admissions decisions was passed. 

His appointment puts a spotlight on the importance of having an experienced chancellor who is dedicated to the betterment of our University. A role I don't think Roberts can or should permanently fill. 

The issue of housing has been especially prominent at UNC over the past few years. Last November, almost 600 students who applied for on-campus housing before the priority deadline were placed on the waitlist. This year, that number rose to 1,100 students as of Dec. 1, 2023. While Carolina Housing said it expects to be able to provide housing to everyone on the waitlist, students should not have to live with that uncertainty in addition to the other stressors they already face.

Although on-campus housing is not guaranteed to UNC students after their first year, with rising rent prices in Chapel Hill, it is many students' most financially accessible option. 

Housing is an important aspect of college students’ lives, and a chancellor willing to create plans to alleviate this stress is necessary.

Furthermore, the issue of mental health for all college students, including those at UNC is also something that needs to continue to be addressed with care by the University.

During his time as chancellor, Guskiewicz implemented well-being days and the Heels Care Network in fall 2021 following a series of suicides on campus to aid in supporting students’ mental health. These policies give students greater access to resources to improve their mental health and provide opportunities throughout the semester for students to have a much-needed break from constant academic stressors.

However, with the growing mental health crisis among college students, the next chancellor must prioritize creating new programs and improving those that already exist to support students’ mental well-being.

In the University’s search for a new chancellor, the search committee should be looking for an individual who can effectively address issues UNC students and faculty face, as opposed to an individual who might implement policies that negatively affect UNC’s entire network. 

A good chancellor promotes advancement for UNC. The wrong one will only send us backward.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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