UNC-Chapel Hill professors call for chancellor’s resignation over “serial dishonesty”

The UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of the American Association of University Professors is calling for Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s resignation.

Citing “serial dishonesty” in both the handling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument settlement and last semester’s mishandling of a return to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group sent a letter Thursday urging the chancellor to step down.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Citing reporting from the News & Observer, the Daily Tar Heel and Policy Watch, the AAUP chapter referenced recent revelations that UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Clayton Somers was directly involved in negotiating the Silent Sam settlement with the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans. The new information, disclosed as part of a settlement with UNC-Chapel Hill’s Daily Tar Heel newspaper, contradicted Guskiewicz’s previous assurances to the campus community that he and the campus administration were not involved in the deal.

The letter also refers to Guskiewicz’s decision not to disclose that the Orange County Health Department had advised the school not to open the campus for residential instruction last semester. The campus community found out about the department’s position through media reports. The administration moved forward with opening the campus and was forced to close it again after an explosion of COVID-19 infections that overwhelmed its quarantine dorms.

“The serial dishonesty displayed by the chancellor and his associates regarding the most sensitive and important matters confronting the University in recent years has eroded our confidence in UNC’s leadership,” the AAUP chapter wrote in a statement. “Transparency and faculty participation form the bedrock of effective shared governance at universities. To move the campus forward with mutual trust and a realistic prospect of shared problem-solving, we urge Chancellor Guskiewicz, and others who have contributed to UNC’s pattern of institutional dishonesty, to step down.”

The AAUP chapter at UNC-Chapel Hill is separate from the campus’ faculty council or its Faculty Executive Committee, which has repeatedly met with and expressed frustration with Guskiewicz since he became chancellor in December of 2019. The Faculty Executive Committee has not made a statement on the most recent Silent Sam revelations, though one of its members — law professor Eric Muller — expressed disappointment in an interview with Policy Watch.

Read the full letter here.

Late Thursday Guskiewicz released an online message to the university community, his first public statement on the Silent Sam deal since the Daily Tar Heel settlement last week

Guskiewicz addressed the contradiction between his public assurance his administration had no part in the deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Somers’ direct involvement in the negotiations, of which he said Thursday he was always aware.

“After an attempt by University leadership at that time to find an alternative path forward with respect to the disposition of the monument, the UNC System and BOG assumed full and complete authority to determine the fate of the monument in December 2018,” Guskiewicz wrote in the statement. “That authority remains in place to this day.”

“Shortly after, members of the BOG requested Clayton Somers, our Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, to work directly with them on their efforts to find a solution,” Guskiewicz wrote.  “Once I became interim chancellor and while Clayton was on this assignment for members of the BOG, he provided me with general broad updates regarding the progress of this project.”

“Initially, the discussions appeared to involve potential legislative actions,” Guskiewicz wrote. “During the fall of 2019, I understood discussions were shifting toward the potential for a resolution that could result in the permanent removal of the monument from our campus. While I did not participate in the negotiations regarding any settlement, as I have previously stated, I was aware discussions were occurring through the UNC System, and I learned that the specific terms of the settlement were nearing completion shortly before Thanksgiving.”

Students, faculty and staff said Thursday that the idea that Guskiewicz was given “general broad updates” on Somers’ work on the settlement raises further questions and does not align with his repeated and emphatic assurance that his administration had no role in the negotiations.

“No, we were not asked to approve the Board of Governors’ settlement,” Guskiewicz told the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council on December 6, 2019. “And therefore no, we were not consulted. Therefore, weighing in on the $2.5 million trust? No.”

In fact, according to court documents and Guskiewicz’s Thursday statement, a member of his cabinet was directly involved in negotiations on behalf of the board of governors and gave him progress reports.

 

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