Guskiewicz becomes new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor amid continued Silent Sam conflict

By: - December 13, 2019 4:39 pm
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously voted to appoint Kevin Guskiewicz chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday.

The Board of Governors, UNC-System Interim President and Guskiewicz himself declined to answer any questions on the settlement Friday.

Guskiewicz, who has been serving as interim-chancellor for the last ten months, enters the role under a cloud: the controversial legal settlement that gives the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million.

At an afternoon announcement and celebration of Guskiewicz’s appointment Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin confronted the issue directly, speaking to Guskiewicz from the stage she shared with him and other UNC leaders.

Her remarks:

The announcement that Silent Sam would be permanently moved to another location other than UNC brought with it mixed emotions from the student body. Many students were excited to hear the monument would no longer occupy a space on campus but disappointed to learn that UNC would be paying a Confederate group $2.5 million to effectively handle the statue and by extension this problem. As a student myself who has spoken with other students about their experiences and thoughts: This is not enough.

Silent Sam may be gone but the feelings and sentiments associated with it remain prevalent both on campus and in the minds of students everywhere. Chancellor Guskiewicz, you now  bear the responsibility of making sense of this new situation — and to lead us forward now that Silent Sam is gone.

In order to do this, we want you to confront UNC’s history and acknowledge the wrongs it has committed in the name of the Confederacy and furthering a racist agenda with the settlement. We want to see you take an active stance against the sentiments of racism, hate and suppression that have taken space up on our campus for far too long. But most importantly, want to see you publicly denounce hate and provide actionable solutions for the minority populations that have been harmed time and time again because of this statue. It will not be an easy feat, but I think it’s important you get a good idea what assuming this role will mean to the students who call UNC home. Chancellor Guskiewicz, there is a lot to do. And I hope to work directly with you as we push forward solutions that better the lives of minority students in the wake of recent events. I hope you will rely on the student voice when making decisions that ultimately impact students and stand for students always.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin.

Guskiewicz has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement.

This week he made public a letter he sent to UNC System leadership in which he expressed concerns about how the $2.5 million might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans — and that the group’s values are inconsistent with the university’s.

Guskiewicz thanked Martin for her remarks, saying that he heard her voice and those of many across the campus.

“We do have work to do,” Guskiewicz said.

He took the opportunity to announce what he called a “long term, significant investment to  create a stronger community here at Carolina” — a $5 million commitment to a fund the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward Commission.

“It will include academic initiatives to strengthen our research and teaching, help us to study our past and learn from that past, heal from that past and move forward together as a community,” Guskiewicz said.

Guskiewicz praised the Carolina community as one where values are the backbone of the university.

“Few schools have what we have,” Guskiewicz said. “And that’s a community of students, faculty and staff who work across boundaries to collaborate and find solutions,” Guskiewicz said. 

“Our community fights for the values we believe in, all while excelling at the highest levels,” he said.

Guskiewicz said he would like to be a “servant leader” who makes decisions with — rather than for — the university community.

“Carolina is my home,” he said. “I love this university, and the opportunity to lead and champion this community is a profound honor. As chancellor, I will shine an honest and stark light on our campus. I will act on the challenges we face. I will make mistakes, and will work to change when I do.”

Guskiewicz was one of 24 applicants for the chancellor position, according to the UNC System office. Seven of those applicants were interviewed before the field was narrowed to two. UNC System Interim President Bill Roper then officially chose Guskiewicz, who was approved by the board Friday. He begins the job immediately at an annual salary of $620,000.

Guskiewicz joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995 an served as Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science. He is co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center and a recepient of the MacArthur Fellowship for his work on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of sport-related concussions.

Before his appointment as interim chancellor earlier this year, Guskiewicz had served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences – UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest college — since January 2016.

In a written statement Friday UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair Richard Stevens, who chaired the chancellor search committee, said Guskiewicz was obviously the man for the job.

“The Board of Trustees and I have been honored to work with Dr. Guskiewicz in his interim role and truly believe he is the visionary leader that Carolina needs today,” Stevens said. “Over the past 10 months, Dr. Guskiewicz has guided this university with a stable and sure hand. He is deeply committed to our University and its mission, prioritizing student success, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and addressing the critical needs of North Carolina and the world.”

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey agreed.

“Under his leadership as both interim chancellor and dean, he has won praise from his peers as the university has celebrated many successes,” Ramsey said in a statement. “Now that he is formally installed, the university will be able to harness this momentum and set a clear course for long-term achievement. His leadership will provide operational stability, while also promoting innovations in teaching and research that have secured UNC-Chapel Hill’s reputation as one of the top public universities in the world.”

Roper echoed that sentiment .

“Kevin Guskiewicz possesses the leadership qualities needed to take Carolina forward: strength, poise, humility, vision, the strong proficiency to listen, and the ability to bring people together,” Roper said. “Throughout his distinguished career in higher education, Kevin has demonstrated a sustained track record of success. I have the utmost confidence that UNC-Chapel Hill will continue to flourish and prosper under his continued leadership.” 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.