UNC’s interim chancellor promises ‘bold’ leadership and says he could seek job permanently

Kevin Guskiewicz, the newly named interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, said Thursday he will start a two-month listening tour at the campus, which he said needs to be “strategic, bold and student-focused.”

The former dean of UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences for the past three years, Guskiewicz said he will be focused on the task at hand but didn’t rule out seeking the chancellor’s job permanently.

“I’m thrilled to be leading the university right now,” he told reporters in a brief media event at the Carolina Inn. “I’m confident that we’ll do the right things that I hope would allow me to be a candidate in that search. I’m excited about it.”

Guskiewicz takes the helm after a period of turmoil in the university following months of protests and concern over what to do with the Silent Sam Confederate monument. The former chancellor, Carol Folt, announced her resignation and simultaneously ordered the removal of the statue’s pedestal. She stepped down last week after the Board of Governors shortened the timeline for her departure.

Interim UNC system President Dr. Bill Roper, who appointed Guskiewicz, said he was the right person for the position. He stressed that Thursday’s event should not be focused on Silent Sam, but acknowledged that it’s an important issue for the university.

“He’s on record as saying that the monument should not be anywhere on the campus, and rather should be somewhere else,” Roper said, referring to Guskiewicz. “That’s my position as well, and I’m comfortable with his position. That’s one of the reasons that I thought he was the right person to lead UNC-Chapel Hill at this crucial time.”

Roper said he and the interim chancellor would work with the campus trustees and the UNC system’s Board of Governors on the process for the ultimate location for the statue.

Previously, Roper had said only that the statue should not be returned to its previous spot at McCorkle Place. Since that time, bills have been filed in the legislature that would impact the issue. One would repeal the 2015 state law that prevents the relocation of objects of remembrance. Another bill, pertaining only to UNC, would allow the chancellor to remove a monument and transfer it to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to be placed in a cemetery for Confederate soldiers.

Guskiewicz, a nationally known scientist on sport-related concussions, said he would probably have to back off his research in the new role. Previously, as dean, he had spent two mornings a week overseeing his lab.

He said he hoped to gather input from faculty, staff and students in the coming weeks. “While I’ve been here for 24 years, I still have a lot to learn.”

He recounted his first trip to Chapel Hill in 1995 when he was a graduate student at the University of Virginia and interviewing for a faculty job at UNC. “Twenty-four years later, it still feels just right,” he said.

Guskiewicz said the university has “a lot of momentum right now.”

“Carolina embodies a culture of collaboration that I think is unique to any other university in the nation with unwavering commitment to educating the next generation of leaders to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond,” he added. “We’re going to do great things together.”

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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