Politics & Government

National expert on concussions will become Interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill

Kevin Guskiewicz, dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences and a well-known expert in concussion injuries, is the interim chancellor at the campus, effective immediately, according to a news release from the UNC system Wednesday.

The appointment of Guskiewicz was made by Interim President Dr. Bill Roper, who had sought advice from faculty, students and others in meetings last week.

Guskiewicz will succeed Carol Folt, who announced her resignation last month, the same day she ordered the removal of the base and remnants of the controversial Silent Sam Confederate statue. Folt left the job last week, earlier than she had planned, after the UNC Board of Governors acted to move up her resignation date.

Since she left, UNC’s provost, Bob Blouin, has been in charge.

Roper had said he wanted a person of stature who knew the university and the state. “Kevin is that person,” he said in the news release.

“After widespread and helpful input, I strongly believe Kevin is the best person to lead UNC-Chapel Hill,” Roper continued. “Kevin is an outstanding researcher, innovator, and strategic thinker, and I look forward to working with him over the coming months, along with the strong leadership team at Carolina, including the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, the UNC Board of Governors, the faculty, staff and students, and the entire Carolina community. Together, we will grow and strengthen all that Carolina does to serve the state, region, and world.”

Guskiewicz is likely to be sitting in the chancellor’s seat when the ultimate decision is made about the statue’s location. A Board of Governors committee is charged with working with the chancellor and the campus Board of Trustees on a plan for the toppled statue, which is now in storage. Faculty and student groups have been adamant that the statue not be returned to the campus, and Guskiewicz himself suggested it be relocated elsewhere.

In the news release Wednesday, Guskiewicz said it is an honor to lead UNC forward.

“When I became dean, I pledged to be ‘strategic, bold and student focused,’ and those imperatives will continue to guide me in this role,” he said in the announcement. “I am excited and energized by the possibility and promise of the things the Carolina community can accomplish together.”

Dean of arts and sciences since 2016, Guskiewicz has led the university’s largest academic unit consisting of 70 departments, programs and centers. A neuroscientist who specializes in sport-related concussions, Guskiewicz is a Kenan professor in exercise and sport science and co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. He also directs UNC’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes.

His work on concussion research is celebrated, and he won a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2011. Two years later, Time magazine named him a “game changer” for the innovations he has developed. His research has influenced changes in protective football equipment as well as rules adopted by the NCAA and the National Football League.

According to a biography on his office’s website, he landed a large gift in 2017 that doubled the size of the university’s entrepreneurship program. He has pushed changes in academics to include more experiences that help students connect the classroom to the real world, including internships, research and study abroad. UNC faculty are now developing changes to the general curriculum under Guskiewicz’s oversight.

“I’m trying to create opportunities for more cross-disciplinary research,” Guskiewicz said in a video for the university’s fundraising campaign. “I’m trying to provide our students with a global education for an increasingly interconnected world. I’m trying to prepare them for careers that haven’t even yet been invented.”

Before becoming dean, he was senior associate dean over natural sciences and chair of his department. He has an undergraduate degree in athletic training from West Chester University, a master’s in exercise physiology/athletic training from the University of Pittsburgh, and a doctorate in sports medicine from the University of Virginia.

As dean, Guskiewicz had a crisis on his hands late last year when a number of graduate student teaching assistants threatened to withhold grades if the university carried on with a proposal to build a $5.3 million history center to house the Confederate statue. That plan was later dropped and the graduate students submitted their students’ grades, but they promised to repeat their grade strike if necessary in the future.

Guskiewicz later held a series of listening sessions to hear concerns from graduate students, but many did not attend in protest of the administration’s handling of the statue. A boycott of Guskiewicz’s meetings was urged by graduate students who have been at the center of activism against Silent Sam and police actions against protesters.

Last September, Guskiewicz conducted a survey of faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences, with about 19 percent responding. The poll showed that a majority either wanted Silent Sam moved to a historic site or kept out of public view altogether. About a quarter of the respondents wanted it displayed somewhere on campus.

In a letter to Folt last October, Guskiewicz suggested Silent Sam be relocated to Bennett Place, a Civil War landmark in Durham, the News & Observer previously reported.

“While we recognize that this issue is complicated, the monument has become a distraction that stands to jeopardize our continued status as one of the nation’s premier public research universities,” he wrote in that letter.

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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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