UNC Faculty Council holds emergency meeting on potential ousting of chancellor

Screenshot of today’s emergency UNC-Chapel Hill faculty committee meeting

Faculty Chairwoman says a source told her Clayton Somers and John Hood are being considered as replacements for Guskiewicz.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Faculty Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss concerns over the potential removal of the school’s chancellor by the UNC Board of Governors. 

“I would not ask you to do this if I did not believe that the situation was dire and in need of your immediate consideration,” committee chairwoman Mimi Chapman said.

Mimi Chapman

Chapman called the meeting after a source contacted her over the weekend claiming they were involved in discussions about finding an interim chancellor to replace Kevin Guskiewicz. According to Chapman, the source said that Clayton Somers, a current BOT member, and John Hood, president of the Pope Foundation, were floated as potential candidates. 

Chapman said these candidates were “choices, who are not academics and who would be considered, at best, controversial choices.”  

Policy Watch has not independently confirmed Chapman’s claims, and she did not name the source.

Reached by email, Hood said “Professor Chapman’s allegation came as a complete surprise to me.”

Somers was among four people involved in the $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement in which the University paid a neo-confederate group to take the school’s confederate monument. The Pope Foundation promotes conservative public policy and is funds several related groups, including the John Locke Foundation.

Chapman said she contacted Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin on Sunday, who told her they were hearing the same information. She also pointed out that none of Guskiewicz’s recommendations for Board of Trustees membership had been accepted and that several trustees had been quoted in Policy Watch saying they needed to take a thorough look at the institution of tenure.

“That is a lot of smoke, in my estimation, for there to be no fire,” she said.

Though Chapman and the council have been critical of the chancellor in the past, she said it is not the time for a change in leadership.

“Our chancellor is not perfect,” she said. “There are things that we may have wanted to see or hear him do differently, and yet he is someone we know. Many of us have served with him for many years, and he could not have assumed his post at a more difficult moment.”

After over an hour of debate, the council passed a resolution in support of the chancellor. The full resolution can be found below.

Members argued about whether the resolution should focus on the process of changing leadership, or the person in question, Chancellor Guskiewicz.

Chancellor Guskiewicz

Chapman reiterated that the resolution was not meant to be a full endorsement of all of Guskiewicz’s actions, but rather a statement of support for the process and practice of shared governance.

“I don’t think that a resolution of this kind at all means that we should not be pressing our Chancellor,” she said. “Pressuring him on issues of equity and inclusion and holding his feet to the fire on promises he’s made.”

Other faculty members opposed the use of the word “confidence” in relation to the chancellor, mentioning multiple disagreements with his past actions.

“I feel that we are sending a very different message if suddenly the faculty get together and say that we have complete confidence in all our leaders and everything is fine and dandy,” Deb Aikat, a professor in UNC’s Hussman School said. Aikat was one of the members who abstained to vote on the resolution.

One member of the faculty council, who asked not to be identified by name, told Policy Watch that the emergency meeting was “ill-advised in the extreme.”

“What was intended as a show of support for the chancellor became a public show of the weakness of the support for the chancellor,” the member said.

The concern over Guskiewicz’s potential ousting comes in the wake of the Nikole Hannah-Jones controversy. As Policy Watch reported, UNC’s Board of Trustees initially failed to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, acclaimed journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, following conservative criticism of her work. 

Last month, following demands from student activists, school faculty and UNC’s student body president, the board held a special meeting in which they granted tenure for Hannah-Jones. A few days later, she announced that she would be declining the offer and teaching at Howard University instead. 

Guskiewicz stated multiple times that he wanted Hannah-Jones to be a professor at UNC, but did not go so far as to publicly support granting her tenure. In May, Dean Susan King of the UNC Hussman school said that Guskiewicz stood up for Hannah-Jones to the board of trustees, and told members she was a strong candidate.

Before the council met, the board of trustees held its first meeting Wednesday morning with its newly appointed members. The board elected its new leadership, with David Boliek as chair, John Preyer as vice chair, Malcolm Turner as secretary and Clayton Summer as assistant secretary. 

Boliek and Preyer were two of the four trustees who voted against tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones last month. They have yet to speak publicly about these votes. 

The trustees could recommend the removal of Guskiewicz, or take a vote of no confidence, but the UNC System’s Board of Governors, which is appointed by the legislature, is the only body with the authority to remove a chancellor. Members of this board have yet to comment on the rumors that they might remove Guskiewicz, but the system’s President, Peter Hans, appeared to dismiss the idea in a statement. 

“I would encourage everyone to take a deep breath, focus on that mission, and not chase conspiracy theories,” he said.

Trustee Gene Davis, the former vice chair of the board of trustees, echoed the sentiment.

“There’s been a lot going on in Chapel Hill,” he told Policy Watch on Wednesday. “And we think that it would benefit all of us to take a deep breath and — let’s re-center on what’s important — which is solving the problems of our state, and serving our students, preparing young people for the jobs of the future.”

As for any push for Guskiewicz’s removal from the General Assembly, a spokesperson for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore told The News & Observer that she was “unaware of any such effort.” 

The board of trustees will meet again on Thursday at 9 a.m.

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