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New interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill no stranger to faculty, student tensions

Kevin Guskiewicz, newly appointed interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When Kevin Guskiewicz was named interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill this week, he was hardly an unknown quantity.

Guskiewicz joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995 and has been dean of the College of Arts & Sciences since 2016.

In that role he’s been no stranger to tensions between faculty, students and administration.

Guskiewicz has been criticized by students for what they say is a weak response on two sexual misconduct allegations by the founder of the Institute of Politics, Tanner Glenn.

As laid out in a recent piece in the student newspaper, The Daily Tarheel, students feel Guskiewicz did not act quickly or seriously enough on the allegations – and didn’t do so with transparency.

From the Daily Tarheel story:

 

“During a Dec. 20 phone call that included Guskiewicz, Treul and Ives, Guskiewicz requested a document from the student leadership board outlining all existing issues with Glenn, according to Ives’ notes. The Dean and Treul decided to avoid passing out that document ‘so people could not have some sort of coordinated attack.’

After the phone call, the notes stated that the Dean asked the student leadership board to create a plan for staff by mid-February. Guskiewicz also planned to meet with Glenn that day to ‘talk about the need to think about his next career move and express disappointment that Tanner did not take responsibility for his mistakes.’

Guskiewicz did not respond to a voicemail or emails from the DTH with questions about the IoP’s funding, allegations against Glenn or the student leadership team’s termination vote. ”

 

Last semester, Guskiewicz was drawn into the controversy over the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument that led his predecessor, Carol Folt, to step down from her position.

Guskiewicz and provost Bob Blouin wrote an e-mail discouraging faculty and instructors from supporting the withholding of last semester’s final grades over opposition to the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

The email warned of legal ramifications if they participated in the protest action.

“We trust that our instructors will not act in a way that harms the interests of students and their families,” they wrote in the letter. “And that these instructors meet the legal, ethical and moral responsibilities for which they have been contracted. Please consider that your failure to meet your responsibilities to your students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Ultimately, the final grades were released in time to avoid any consequences for either students or instructors.

But Guskiewicz’s dust-ups with faculty go back further.

In 2017, he was part of a case wherein a faculty member filed a grievance over being prevented from teaching a class on the history of sports. The class touched on the UNC athletic scandals of recent years.

Though an independent faculty grievance committee at UNC found administrators’ behavior in the case had been “inconsistent” with UNC’s commitment to academic freedom, UNC leaders rejected that committee’s conclusion that administrators had meddled in the affair.

Some faculty members are talking this week about their discomfort with Guskiewicz as interim chancellor – and his announcement that he will seek the position full-time.

But Leslie Parise, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty, provided a statement of support for Guskiewicz on the day of his appointment.

“As a faculty member, Dean of the College, and accomplished researcher, Kevin has shown his ability to work across schools and departments and lead with both compassion and critical thought,” Parise said in her statement. “I know he has the very best interests of our students, faculty and staff in mind and his energy and focus will serve us well.”

How Guskiewicz navigates these ongoing controversies as the school’s new leader remain to be seen.

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