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.

UNC-Chapel Hill trustees elect new leadership

David Boliek

Despite rumors, status of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz is not a topic of discussion at newly configured board’s first meeting 

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees elected new leadership on Wednesday, following the appointment of six new members to the body. 

David Boliek will serve as chair of the board, with John Preyer as vice chair, Malcolm Turner as secretary and Clayton Somers as assistant secretary. All officers were elected unanimously. 

“I look forward to working together as a group with this board and this administration,” Boliek said. “…We’re at a place where it’s time to move forward.”

Boliek and Preyer were two of the four trustees to vote against tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones last month. None of the trustees who voted ‘no’ have publicly explained their votes. 

“Trustee Boliek is a wonderful listener,” trustee Gene Davis, who previously served as vice chair of the board, said. “He asks questions and is truly interested in hearing from others who have different perspectives.”

This is the first time that the board has met with its new members, a group that has made the body slightly more diverse, while likely maintaining its conservative bent.

Boliek also assigned chairs for the board’s three standing committees. Preyer will chair the Budget and Finance Committee, Allie Ray McCullen, the board’s longest-serving member, will chair the External Relations Committee and Rob Bryan, a newcomer and former Republican lawmaker, will chair the University Affairs Committee.

The news comes on the same day that the Faculty Governance Committee plans to hold an emergency meeting over concerns that the school’s Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, will be removed by the UNC System’s Board of Governors. 

“I’m not going to speculate on rumors,” Guskiewicz told Policy Watch on Wednesday. “I’ve got a job to do and I love leading this great university.”

The committee’s chair, Mimi Chapman, called the meeting after hearing rumors that the board, trustees and state lawmakers might pursue Guskiewicz’s removal following his handling of the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy. The trustees did not mention Guskiewicz’s potential removal during their meeting. 

Although the board of trustees can take a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the chancellor, the board of governors, which oversees all 17 UNC System institutions, is the only body with the authority to fire him.

UNC System President Peter Hans appeared to dispel the rumors in a statement. 

“The university’s mission is teaching, research, and public service, not rumors and politics. I would encourage everyone to take a deep breath, focus on that mission, and not chase conspiracy theories,” he said. 

Although the Faculty Governance Committee has expressed discontent with Guskiewicz in the past, Chapman told the News & Observer she was worried that he might be replaced by someone less fit to fill the position. 

The faculty will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

UNC Black community groups demand safety and equity on campus

A group of Black community groups at UNC-Chapel Hill held a press conference on Wednesday to present a set of priorities to address safety concerns of Black students, faculty and staff.

The priorities unveiled by campus leaders from the UNC Black Student Movement, Carolina Black Caucus and Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, center on safety and equity for the school’s Black community. This includes the termination of UNC Police’s Interim Chief, Rahsheem Holland.

Holland, who has been serving as chief since David Perry went on leave in May, was present at the Board of Trustees meeting last week where police forcibly removed demonstrators from the room. The vice president of UNC’s Black Student Movement, Julia Clark was punched in the face by Holland, as seen in a video from Spectrum News.

“The decision to allow Officer Holland to remain in his role further proves that this university holds no regard or remorse for the violence that is placed on Black students and community members,” Taliajah Vann, president of UNC’s Black Student Movement said. “Rahsheem Holland’s appointment to this position is a threat to the safety of — and is an affront to — the Black community whom he brutalized.”

George Battle, vice chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management at UNC, disputed Clark’s account and stood by the actions of the officer at the meeting.

“After the board voted to move into closed session pursuant to the North Carolina open meetings law, the demonstrators remained for a few minutes to express themselves. UNC Police then instructed the group to depart, and most did,” Battle said in a statement. “A small number of individuals did not leave the meeting when asked. UNC Police followed protocol and moved those protestors into the hall. We respect the right of our community to peacefully express themselves, but the law is clear that demonstrators cannot disrupt public meetings and proceedings. The situation was resolved with no injuries and proceedings were able to continue without further interruption. The officers on the scene dispute the allegation made by the demonstrators, however anytime an individual makes a claim of excessive force, UNC Police will review the claim.”

On Tuesday, the university announced that Chief Perry had resigned, and Holland would continue to serve as chief of the department until a replacement was found.

The group’s demands also include prioritizing the hiring of Black faculty and requiring departments to publicly report their faculty’s demographic makeup, as well as any formal allegations of racist practices. This comes as a wave of prominent Black faculty members have announced their departure from the university in recent weeks.

“We’ve all seen in the past couple of weeks how many faculty and staff members we’ve lost — but this is not a new issue,” Clark said. “We have been steadily losing Black faculty and Black students for years. There was a point in time where the Black student population at UNC was 12 percent, we are now currently at eight.”

The group also emphasized the need for the university to properly acknowledge and memorialize racist actions in its past. Leaders called for the construction of a permanent memorial for James Cates Jr., a Black Chapel Hill resident who was murdered on UNC’s campus in 1970 by a white supremacist biker gang.

The Unsung Founders Memorial

In addition, the group called for a restoration and contextualization of the university’s Unsung Founders Memorial, which honors the enslaved Black people who built the school’s campus. Clark said that poor signage has led visitors to disrespect the monument by sitting on it or even changing their children’s diapers on top of it.

“The Black people holding up the table and the chairs of the Unsung Founder Memorial deserve rest, our founders deserve rest,” she said.

Leaders of the Black Student Movement are expected to meet with the Board of Trustees Vice Chair, Gene Davis and board member Ralph Meekins on Thursday to discuss their demands.

“At this present moment, we remain open to any assistance that he can give us,” Vann said. “We are entering the space fully prepared to work with him and do everything we can to get action taken on these items. But we ultimately won’t know until we go. We have been perpetually disappointed by people in his role, even by him sitting in that room one Wednesday, when Black students suffered so much.”

The conference comes the day after Nikole Hannah-Jones, acclaimed journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, announced she would not be coming to UNC following a lengthy battle over her tenure.

Campus leaders commended her decision, saying that she should prioritize herself and not go where she was merely tolerated.

“We applaud her decision to teach at a university where Blackness is celebrated instead of barely tolerated,” Vann said. “And we encourage other Black academics to do the same.”

As Policy Watch reported, university administrators failed to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones upon her hire as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism — a position that since its creation has come with tenure upon hire.

The group ended the conference by reiterating what Student Body President Lamar Richards said in his editorial last month where he encouraged prospective Black students and faculty to look elsewhere. Leaders said the message still stands, but they are working to make the school safe for Black students.

“I would have transferred already if there was not a strong and powerful and loving Black community at UNC,” Vann said. “We get all of our love from each other, because we’re not going to find it from the administration or anybody else on this campus. So ultimately, we are doing the work now. But if this university wants to see more Black Students — if they want to have more talented Black students and faculty pouring into this place — they have to do the work and make the change to something acceptable, because right now it absolutely is not.”

A full list of the group’s priorities can be found below:

UNC-Chapel Hill police chief, David Perry, resigns

David Perry

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chief of Police, David Perry, has resigned according to a statement from the university.

“UNC Police Department Assistant Chief/Captain Rahsheem Holland, who has served as acting police chief since mid-May, will continue in that capacity. We will conduct a national search for the next UNC police chief, the details of which will be announced at a later date,” George Battle, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management said in a statement.

No reason was provided for Perry’s decision, and he has yet to respond to requests for comment. He had been on leave since May, after having undergone what he described as a major surgical procedure.

Perry’s initial hiring in 2019 drew criticism from some quarters due to his involvement in a controversy during his previous job. As Policy Watch reported at the time:

Perry comes to UNC from Florida State University, where his tenure as chief of police included criticism of the handling of two rape allegations against Jameis Winston, then FSU’s quarterback and later a player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The handling of the 2012 rape allegations and Perry’s actions specifically were criticized at the time. The controversy was the subject of reports from the New York Times and featured in the Emmy nominated documentary “The Hunting Ground,” about the epidemic of sexual assaults on American college campuses.

The Times investigation found “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”

In what may or may not have been a coincidence, today’s news comes just days after a high-profile UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meeting at which police clashed with demonstrators who were protesting the treatment of of prospective Journalism School hire Nikole Hannah-Jones and at which the board ultimately voted to offer her tenure. UNC Police pushed demonstrators out of the room after they refused to leave when the board went into closed session. Julia Clark, vice president of UNC’s Black Student Movement, said that Officer Holland, who now serves as acting chief, struck her in the face. A video of the incident appears to confirm her claim. 

Following the meeting, Battle released a statement defending the officer’s actions and saying that no injuries were sustained.

“After the board voted to move into closed session pursuant to the North Carolina open meetings law, the demonstrators remained for a few minutes to express themselves. UNC Police then instructed the group to depart, and most did,” Battle’s statement said. “A small number of individuals did not leave the meeting when asked. UNC Police followed protocol and moved those protestors into the hall. We respect the right of our community to peacefully express themselves, but the law is clear that demonstrators cannot disrupt public meetings and proceedings. The situation was resolved with no injuries and proceedings were able to continue without further interruption. The officers on the scene dispute the allegation made by the demonstrators, however anytime an individual makes a claim of excessive force, UNC Police will review the claim.”

Following the meeting, Clark posted photos of bruises on her face and arms. Other students said they had been punched by UNCPD officers as well.

Progressive group interrupts House committee meeting, demands “people’s budget” to address healthcare, housing and worker rights

A group of activists interrupted a House committee meeting on Tuesday, demanding a “people’s budget” with expanded Medicaid, affordable housing and worker protections. 

Members of the group, NC People’s Budget, stood up during the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee meeting, which did not allow public comment, and spoke over committee members. 

“We are here for the people — the People’s Budget,” said a member of the group. “You failed to let us make a public comment on this budget and you passed this budget without the people.” 

One other group member spoke up before the entire group was escorted out of the meeting. General Assembly Police arrested one member of the group following her comments. 

Last week, the N.C. Senate gave preliminary approval to a $25.7 billion budget. Because the state has not passed a comprehensive budget in the last two years, there is a surplus of over $5 billion. The proposed budget would leave $3.6 billion unspent — money Democrats and activists say could be going to larger teacher raises, Medicaid expansion and more. 

Rebecca Cerese, Health Engagement Coordinator at the N.C. Justice Center

“We don’t have scarcity of resources, we actually have an abundance of resources,” Rebecca Cerese, a member of NC People’s Budget said. “We want real investments in North Carolina.” 

Cerese is also the health engagement coordinator at the North Carolina Justice Center.  The Justice Center is also a signatory of the People’s Budget platform. (NC Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center.)

Among the People’s Budget’s priorities are increased wages, Medicaid expansion, rent and mortgage relief and more. The group is a broad coalition of progressive organizations, including Democracy NC, the NC Poor People’s Campaign and others. 

Following the comments from activists, committee members went on to debate appropriations for Health and Human Services in the proposed Senate budget, which includes $5.76 billion for DHHS. 

Rep. Gale Adcock

Rep. Gale Adcock, a Wake County Democrat, said that the budget missed the opportunity to provide health insurance to the over 500,000 uninsured people in the state, “Which, of course, would stabilize our rural hospitals and strengthen our behavioral health system, which is in crisis right now.” 

Adcock also lamented the fact that the budget did not include raises for direct care workers, such as those who work in nursing homes and hospice. 

The budget process is far from over, as the House still needs to approve their own version of the budget before they can collaborate with the Senate on a final version to send to Governor Roy Cooper. The legislature expects to have a budget on Cooper’s desk by the end of July. 

UNC journalism student Kyle Ingram is a summer intern at NC Policy Watch.