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A look at the role of UNC's chancellor, 'the mayor of a small city'

university-chancellor-job-explainer

As UNC searches for its next chancellor, the job has been brought into the spotlight — leaving some students wondering what the head of the University does on a day-to-day basis. Here's a quick breakdown of the chancellor's role and responsibilities.

As the executive authority of the University, the chancellor is responsible for carrying out the policies of both the UNC Board of Trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors, but they maintain discretion in enacting decisions related to student affairs.

The chancellor makes recommendations to the UNC System president regarding University finance, academic programming and personnel matters.

Day to day, the chancellor is advised on University policy by a chief of staff, University provost, vice chancellors, advisory committees on campus and other administrative officers. A large part of the chancellor's responsibility is to carry out decisions made by other governing groups, according to the faculty handbook. 

“Chancellor Guskiewicz described it to me as sort of being the mayor of a small city,” Mimi Chapman, former chairperson of the faculty said. “Because you're responsible if there's a problem in the water supply or if the heat goes out in the [residence halls].” 

Chapman took on the role of faculty chair just as the COVID-19 pandemic was breaking, a hectic period in terms of University policy, and said she met with former Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz approximately once a week.

“[The chancellor] is really the public face of the institution,” she said.

In her role as chairperson of the faculty, Chapman was joined by the Faculty Executive Committee in advising the chancellor on University policy. She said she attempted to represent faculty concerns and to find a common thread with student views as well.

Another group that advises the chancellor on University policy is the Student Advisory Committee to the chancellor. UNC junior and committee member Logan Kaelin said the committee is comprised of nine undergraduate students and five graduate students who serve as a direct link between the chancellor and the student body.

In monthly meetings with the chancellor, he said the committee voices concerns on issues such as accessibility, campus safety, environmental concerns and mental health issues. 

Last summer, the University began installing security cameras outside of campus residence halls as a safety precaution, which Kaelin said was partially the result of advocacy by the committee.

However, he said, the chancellor rarely has the ability to honor every request the committee makes. 

“The chancellor, in that capacity, is really more of an advocate than actual policy maker,” sophomore Ernest Johnson, who is also a member of the committee, said

Former committee member Tyron Lucas said there was occasional frustration among students in the group when the BOT did not follow through on issues they found important, specifically regarding mental health support. 

Throughout his time in the role, Guskiewicz navigated through COVID-19 policies, a student mental health crisis and a controversial tenure denial

While the chancellorship comes with many responsibilities and powers, there are some things the chancellor cannot do. Guskiewicz had the power to announce UNC’s wellness days, but the chancellor cannot approve or deny tenure, nor do they have the power to establish a new school at UNC, as the BOT did last year with the School of Civic Life and Leadership.

“I think a lot of people think he might just have complete autonomy in what he's doing,” Lucas said. “But he actually doesn't.”

While the chancellor and chancellor’s staff set the agenda for BOT meetings, policy decisions can be made by the board and must be carried out by the chancellor, despite their agreement or disagreement. 

“It’s a huge job. It's a stressful job," Chapman said. "It's no coincidence that chancellors and presidents all over the country are turning over at a much faster rate than they did in the past.”

UNC's Chancellor Search Advisory Committee is hosting sessions to gather input from undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff on the process. It will host a session for undergraduate students on Monday from 2-3 p.m. in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in Wilson Library and a session for graduate students on April 2, from 5:30-6 p.m. in 101 Kerr Hall. The committee will also host a session for staff on April 3 from 9-9:45 a.m. at 2603 School of Government. It will host a session for faculty on April 29 from 3-3:30 p.m. virtually. 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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