Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, who navigated UNC through some of its most challenging times, had an intermittently tense relationship with the University’s governing boards and oversaw a record-breaking fundraising campaign, was appointed president of Michigan State University on Dec. 8.
Ending weeks of speculation, Guskiewicz said he will step down as chancellor Jan. 12 and begin his new post at MSU March 4. His tenure was one of the shortest for the head of the University in the past 100 years.
In a statement released shortly after Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees held a Zoom meeting to announce him as the institution’s 22nd president, Guskiewicz said he plans to work with UNC senior leaders and the UNC System Office “to ensure a smooth and effective transition period for our great University.”
Guskiewicz also expressed confidence UNC administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends will continue “being passionately public and committed to our vision,” while preparing students “to tackle the grand challenges facing our world.”
Guskiewicz said he has enjoyed his nearly three decades on campus and has loved leading the University for five years.
“We have accomplished so much together, and I am proud of where Carolina is today,” he said. “We have faced challenging times, but also incredible moments of opportunity. Thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me to ensure our status as the leading global public research university we have aspired to be. It has not always been easy, but as I have often said — easy is boring. We certainly have not been bored.”
Guskiewicz has not said why he is leaving the University.
During the Michigan State trustees meeting on Friday, Trustees Chair Rema Vassar, Interim President Teresa Woodruff, head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and Search Committee Chair Dennis Denno said repeatedly they were excited Guskiewicz accepted the MSU presidency. Some board members mentioned UNC faculty and others had mounted a campaign to try to persuade Guskiewicz not to leave UNC.
Chair of the Faculty Beth Moracco ’92 (MPH, ’99 PhD) noted the MSU board members’ enthusiasm over appointing Guskiewicz in a statement. “Though we have known for several weeks that this news was a possibility, it was still difficult to hear,” she said. “The enthusiastic ‘yes’ votes expressed by the MSU Board of Trustees during their meeting to approve his appointment this morning demonstrate that they know how lucky they are, but their gain is our great loss.”
As word spread of Guskiewicz’s decision, people took to social media to express their views. Many said they were sad he’s leaving the University and blamed politics for his departure.
Gov. Roy Cooper ’79 (’82 JD), a Democrat, posted a sharp tweet on X, formerly Twitter, targeting the Republican-controlled North Carolina Legislature, which appoints members to Carolina’s Board of Trustees and UNC System Board of Governors, for the reason Guskiewicz may have decided to leave.
“As the nation’s leading public university, UNC attracts worldwide leaders to the office of chancellor, but meddling from legislative appointees is driving them away,” Cooper tweeted. “Because the GOP legislature seized University Trustee appointments and installed hard right appointees on the UNC Board of Governors, our reputation is beginning to suffer.”
“The brightest star of all no longer,” one person tweeted. “You will be sorely missed,” tweeted another.
Not everyone considers state lawmakers responsible for Guskiewicz’s decision. “It’s a loss for UNC but the university which I love and graduated from is to blame…all their woke policies, the whole COVID/Wuhan connection, giving preferential treatment to certain applicants which the Supreme Court has to rule unconstitutional … making everything difficult for him to stay,” Tom Hungate ’81 posted on Facebook.
UNC System President Peter Hans ’91 tweeted that Guskiewicz has led the University “with grace and goodwill through some very difficult moments” and is leaving Carolina stronger than it was when he arrived. “Kevin is a brilliant researcher, a kind colleague, and a mentor to many young people. The Guskiewicz family have been good friends to me and I know that Kevin and Amy will remain devoted Tar Heels.”
UNC Board of Trustees Chair John Preyer ’90 released a statement Friday wishing Guskiewicz and his family well “in their new pursuits” and said the board has successfully collaborated with him on a range of important initiatives, “including campus budget reform, student advocacy, career services, free speech, academic freedom and the new School of Civic Life and Leadership.”
Preyer said a university of UNC’s stature deserves “a thoughtful and thorough national search for its next chancellor,” and he hopes Hans considers candidates “with strong Carolina ties and stellar credentials who would keep the University moving forward on all fronts until a new chancellor is appointed. Given the challenges and opportunities the University faces, a steady hand through the transition will be important for everyone involved.”
Among names that have surfaced to lead the University on an interim basis are Lee Roberts, a member of the UNC system’s Board of Governors and a former state-budget director for former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and Provost Chris Clemens. A spokesman for the UNC System said Hans plans to name an interim chancellor “in the next week or so.”
Moracco called on UNC’s governing boards to name an interim chancellor that has experience with university governance. “During times of rapid transition, it is especially important that our senior administrators have deep experience with University leadership,” she wrote. “It’s my expectation that the interim appointment will be someone with both the background and the leadership skills necessary to step into the highest position on our campus.”
Guskiewicz came to Carolina as an assistant professor in exercise and sport science and was later named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, interim chancellor and then chancellor in 2019. He succeeded Carol Folt, who left UNC to become president of the University of Southern California.
During his five years as chancellor, he was faced with several controversies, including a proposed $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the Silent Sam statue, a payment that was later overturned by a judge; becoming one of the first universities nationwide to reopen its campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, only to shut down in-person classes after one week; and navigating the Board of Trustees’ delay in offering a tenure position at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones ’03 (MA), who later accepted a position at another university. This year, some members of the UNC System Board of Governors admonished Guskiewicz for failing to notify them of his plans to expand free tuition and fees to students in the incoming 2024 class whose families make less than $80,000 annually.
In his statement announcing his decision to leave UNC, Guskiewicz highlighted accomplishments during his tenure, including:
— Laurie D. Willis ’86 with reporting from Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23