“A Lot of Smoke to Be No Fire”: Faculty Sounds Alarm on Talk of Guskiewicz’s Removal


Kevin M. Guskiewicz, a neuroscientist and a household name in the relatively new scientific study of athletics-related brain injuries, was introduced as the University’s 12th chancellor in December 2019. (Grant Halverson ’93)

Members of UNC’s Faculty Council, prompted by information received by its chair about alleged moves to remove Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz from South Building, adopted a resolution Wednesday affirming their confidence in him and opposing any change in leadership.

That effort, along with others, has “had an effect,” Faculty Chair Mimi Chapman said two days later in a campuswide email. “Our chancellorship is stable for the time being.”

Wednesday’s Faculty Council resolution began: “During what has been one of the most challenging periods in the University’s history, we affirm our confidence in Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. We take this action recognizing that a University Chancellor must make decisions that not all agree with, and that there have been disagreements among the faculty about the best course of action.

“The Faculty Council further resolves: A change in leadership at this time would be deeply destabilizing to the state, the people we serve, and the UNC System. We emphatically oppose it because it does not follow the principles of shared governance, consultation, and established means of leadership change. We also reaffirm the principle of shared governance and collaborative decision-making outlined in Faculty Council Resolution 2021-5, On the Hiring of Chancellors.”

UNC Faculty Council Chair Mimi Chapman

Chapman set the emergency meeting earlier this week to discuss what she called a “dire” situation that had come to her attention.

“On Saturday, I was contacted by someone who was alarmed about a meeting that they had been a part of in which names were being solicited for an interim chancellor,” Chapman told the group on Zoom. “The tenor of the meeting was not if this would be the case, it was when it would be the case. Several of the names being floated were Clayton Somers [’93] and John Hood [’89] — choices who are nonacademics and who would be considered at best controversial choices.”

On Friday, two days after the Faculty Council’s action, Chapman said in an email to the campus community: “The actions of the Faculty Council … together with letters of support from many of our deans, campus groups, chairs of the Carolina Black Caucus and the Employee Forum, as well as large numbers of alumnae and donors who called BOT members and UNC System leaders — have had an effect. Our chancellorship is stable for the time being. I have no doubt that we did the right thing in acting when we did. Thank you for your commitment to and participation in faculty governance.”

Somers — UNC’s vice chancellor for public affairs, secretary of the University since 2017 and the trustees’ assistant secretary — is the former chief of staff for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore ’92. Hood is chair of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank, and president of the John William Pope Foundation.

Chapman shared on Wednesday that when she contacted the provost and Guskiewicz on Sunday evening, both “were hearing the same information from different yet similarly situated sources. Today, I have learned that yet another faculty member close to particular [UNC Board of Trustees members] heard directly from them that Kevin’s performance would be evaluated in coming days.

“Couple this with a few other facts. None of the chancellor’s recommendations for trustee membership were accepted. There is no livestream of the trustees’ meeting today. They did not ask me, the chair of the Employee Forum nor the Graduate and Professional Student Association, to speak at today’s meeting, as is their custom, saying that … since they didn’t have committee chairs yet they didn’t want updates from us. Last week, two of our new trustees were quoted in NC Policy Watch as desiring an extensive discussion about tenure. That is a lot of smoke, in my estimation, for there to be no fire.”

The Board of Trustees, who met Wednesday and and Thursday, announced earlier this week that they would return to “pre-pandemic formatting,” without livestreaming.

Meeting Wednesday in both closed and open session for more than two hours, the faculty committee members split at times on offering a resolution in support of Guskiewicz’s leadership; some members instead favored voicing opposition to a change at South Building in general and for condemning a lack of respect for shared governance.

Deb Aikat, professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, was one of 11 committee members who abstained from voting for the resolution.

Aikat told the group that he was hearing from alumni, students and faculty that they were displeased with Guskiewicz’s handling of the Nikole Hannah-Jones ’03 (MA) tenure case.

“They have expressed concern about how our UNC leaders botched [the Hannah-Jones tenure dispute],” Aikat said. “And 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 of our leaders, and everything is fine and dandy. I don’t think it is.”

In interviews since she was awarded tenure on June 30 as the Knight Chair in race and investigative reporting at Hussman — following weeks of backlash over the trustees’ earlier failure to act on her application — Hannah-Jones has been critical of Guskiewicz’s handling of the controversy. She ultimately declined Carolina’s tenure offer and accepted a similar position at Howard University.

Chapman noted at the outset of the meeting Wednesday that Guskiewicz “is not perfect. 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. And as I outlined last week in my op-ed in The Daily Tar Heel, he is attempting to lead in a governance structure that severely limits his ability to do so in a way that the faculty can fully support. As I wrote, we cannot be silent or try to work collaboratively with a structure that at least by all recent appearances has no meaningful intention of engagement with us.”

Chapman noted that University deans had submitted a letter to the trustees in support of Guskiewicz and that the Faculty of Color and Indigenous Faculty Group also had issued a statement of support.

“Further, the Black Caucus, the Employee Forum and student groups are meeting or have met to consider and convey support,” she said. “Outside groups are also mobilizing, and I believe other important constituencies to the University will be making a case for stable leadership.”

In its statement, the Faculty of Color and Indigenous Faculty Group said it had “noted, with concern, media reports about attempts to usurp and replace” Guskiewicz.

“We strongly oppose any efforts to remove our campus leader, without any input, whatsoever, from our faculty, staff, students and other members of the Carolina community,” the statement continued. “Such interference flies in the face of long-standing principles of shared governance at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

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