The Making of a Roadmap

(UNC/Jon Gardiner ’98)

Racial reconciliation was an ambitious first priority. Soon, Kevin Guskiewicz had to confront how to adapt to a pandemic.

by David E. Brown ’75

When he stepped to the microphone as Carolina’s 12th chancellor in December, Kevin Guskiewicz put his feet into the fire of the racial reconciliation that has rocked the campus for years. At the time, UNC’s long-debated Confederate monument was the property of an advocacy group, and efforts to contextualize the University’s complicated history were going nowhere.

Guskiewicz directed $5 million toward a restart, saying Carolina would study the past, teach it and take a hard look at legacies that were proving hurtful — it was clearly the biggest point he wanted to make on his big day. “Diversity and inclusion must be a priority,” he said, “and we must ensure that every person on our campus feels safe, welcome and included.”

With everyone else, he had no idea of what lay ahead.

March 9: Stand by, we have a problem. March 11: Take an extra spring break, stay out of Chapel Hill and prepare for remote instruction; events canceled. A week later: We’re shutting down nonessential operations.

(Photo by Grant Halverson ’93)

From the ghost-town spring to the ambitious plan for the fall semester, the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the first year of Guskiewicz’s chancellorship — which really began in February 2019, when he was named interim chancellor. For most of this year, the ongoing crisis has been the subject of almost all of his public messages.

The pandemic could have provided an excuse for the work on race and reckoning to slip into another holding pattern. In fact, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward has met throughout the year; in June, the trustees said “enough” of a moratorium on building renaming, and the momentum carried through to the removal of four building names at a pace the movement’s advocates had not seen before.

As it happened, the early July news that 37 people in athletics had tested positive for COVID-19 after they arrived on campus broke just minutes before the Review was to sit down with the chancellor. Asked for his reaction to the news, Guskiewicz pointed to his administration’s “roadmap” for the fall return:

“I think it says we have a plan, a roadmap going for the University in terms of how we’re dealing with this, that we have a roadmap for athletics. The plan’s working well. [I’m] proud of the fact that the student-athletes were very quick to … report their symptoms, and they got tested quickly and identified, and once there was what we call a cluster, then we were able to take an off-ramp and suspend any kind of group workouts and to try to make sure that it’s contained and allow them to get back to their business at the appropriate time.”

That morning, The Chronicle for Higher Education had reported that more schools were falling back from campus reopening plans to hold mostly remote or all-remote classes for the fall.

“I’m on a lot of the calls with the [Association of American Universities] presidents and chancellors, and so we’ve been trying to learn from each other over the last four months, and still most of those 65 AAU institutions are still planning to have some in-person instruction, and I guess lately there have been a few more that have gone entirely remote. I’m not surprised — I think that for some institutions it’s easier to do that because they have had a lot of online programs for several years and others are behind a bit in that regard.

“I’m happy with where we were this past spring — the faculty made an incredible pivot to the remote learning environment, the students made the adjustment, and it turned out to be a really successful spring, and many of our classes will be taught in an entirely remote format; others will be in some sort of a hybrid model — some in person and some remote, and others will be still taught in person, as we sit here today. As I’ve said repeatedly, we have to have offerings and be prepared to pivot if need be.”


You’re staying with the four teaching method options. What do you feel like Carolina can do that some other schools don’t think they can?

“I don’t know if it’s about what we can do that they can’t. I think having been here 25 years, one of the things that I can sit here and look you in the eyes and say that I know about this place [is] … I know that our students learn and grow best when they’re on campus in an environment where they have access to some of the co-curricular, extracurricular activities that complement that in-person classroom environment. And I don’t suggest that that’s much different than what might be happening with a student at Harvard, Stanford. But our faculty find ways to engage students … so we’re trying to do as much of that as we can.

“And we’ve got faculty who’ve said I want to be back if we can be back safely, so that’s how I’m framing it.”

For first-year and transfer students who cannot come to Chapel Hill (such as international students, who can’t travel or can’t gain entry) or won’t (for health or family concerns ), UNC created the Carolina Away program.

“Not every student wants to be here. That program is going to create some of the group-type activities even online that we never would have been able to do before, so that’s something new and unique that we’re going to be able to do that maybe other places can’t — learning communities that are going to focus on global business, another on global health, and we’re going to have a new series of COVID-19 courses for these students that will be taught by some of the best scholars in the world on this topic of infectious disease and pandemic.”


If you were talking with a parent, what would you tell them about what happened in the spring that helped shape your vision about this fall?

“Unlike most universities, we still had 850 students living in our residence halls after spring break. We learned through that experience. We still kept dining options available for these students, we still had our campus health open and functioning — a lot of campuses shut everything down. So I think we have the benefit of that experience from the spring. I think we’ve done a lot to help our faculty think about this hyflex model.

“We have some of the leading scholars in the country that have been helping others to develop these hyflex models, where you can teach part of your course remotely, part of it in person and concurrently teaching students in a synchronous model in the classroom, even though they might be in Colorado or Ohio, and those that are living overseas on a 12-hour clock change — they can learn asynchronously through the way that we’re going to record these lectures. So we’re much better at that today than we were five months ago.”


(UNC/Jon Gardiner ’98)

What stories can you share from the experience in the spring?

“Office hours — I’ve had many faculty tell me that they feel they’ve made a stronger connection to their students by doing Zoom office hours. Students show up for them, they show up on time, they’re not sitting out in the hallway wasting their time waiting to be the next person in line to get into the office hours. And they’ve felt a stronger sense of connection in that face-to-face remote. I think that’s something again that we’ve learned how to do a better way. Many of the faculty who are planning to come back and teach in person this fall have said they’ll likely still hold their office hours remotely, and again they’ve learned they can do that better in that manner.”


What’s the bar right now for this to be a successful semester?

“I think it’s when we can look back in late November, early December and say, wow, it was different, but it was really good. And I’m just confident we can do that. Whether it’s that Carolina Away student that was studying from some place in western North Carolina or studying from somewhere in China or India — that we can look back and say we were able to adapt. That’s what great universities do. Society is looking for us to teach others how to adapt during times of crisis.”


It may be hard to imagine right now, but if we were having this conversation in the absence of a pandemic, who do you admire among the previous leaders of this University? And why?

“I’ll say that I think I have a special connection with several of them, and I lean on each of them at different times around different topics or issues. I was out on a morning jog — I start most of my days with some sort of a jog and run the neighborhoods and campus — I came upon James and Susan Moeser, and joked with them, I said, ‘James, I thought you told me this job would be easy.’ And he joked and said maybe I didn’t read the fine print in the job description.

“I’ve called on James a number of times. I’ve called Carol [Folt]. I just talked to Holden [Thorp ’86]. But Michael Hooker ’69 [chancellor from 1995 to 1999] and I started on the same day. July first, 1995. Paul Hardin signed my offer letter as an assistant professor. As I was reminded, it was probably one of the last offer letters that he signed [as chancellor].

“I didn’t get to know [Hooker] well, but I loved his passion for leading not only the first public university in the nation but the one he was going to make sure remained passionately public, and as I have liked to say, we’re the most public of the publics. So I wanted to restart the bus tour that Michael launched in 1997 and ran for 11 years and to bring some of Michael back.

“I’ll tell you one real quick story about Michael, and I’ve tried to follow his lead on this front. It was about 1997–98, I was being recruited by another university and decided to stay, and I was sitting in my office as a young assistant professor, and the phone rang, and he said, ‘Kevin, this is Michael Hooker, and I just wanted you to know that I heard the great news that you decided to stay in Chapel Hill, and I will do everything I can do to make sure you know you made the right decision.’ It was a 40-second call, but it meant the world to me, and I’ll never forget it. And sadly I only had one or two other interactions with Michael [who died in office]. We lost a great leader, so I’ve tried to bring some of that back, and I’ve picked up the phone and made some of those calls. I even did it as dean when I could to just try to reassure people they made a good decision, and I’ve gotten heavily involved in a lot of retentions of our great faculty.”


(Grant Halverson ’93)

Hooker was a different kind of leader. He used to say his fondest memory of his undergraduate days was sitting in McCorkle Place or in the Graham Memorial reading literary periodicals. He was adamant that people know about his hunger for learning.

“But he was bold. As I learned over the years, he wouldn’t take long to make a decision, he wasn’t afraid to make a bad decision, but he was bold, and I’m probably a lot more calculated in my decision-making. But I learned from him that there are times when you have to make a decision, be bold and go with it. It might not turn out the way you planned but to go with your gut instinct and be willing to live with it.”


One can imagine that without the pandemic, racial reconciliation would be the top issue right now. A couple of things that have been going on for years now are the percentage of students of color in the student body and retention, particularly of Black males. What needs to be done about these issues, and how fast?

“Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good is our strategic plan, and I’m proud of that plan. I’m a big believer in roadmaps. Even in the college [of Arts and Sciences, where Guskiewicz was dean], we developed a roadmap for boldness, and the college has benefited from that and the Blueprint for Next, which [we] decided that we needed to turn that into a more action-oriented, measurable strategic plan. And the first initiative in that plan is ‘build our community together.’

“And it’s about making certain that every member of our community knows they belong here and that we have the programs in place that allow them to thrive, that every student … knows from the day they step foot on this campus that they belong here. And that’s what I worry about when I look at some of the retention numbers that aren’t where we’d like them to be.

“I ask the question: Do we have the right programs in place, the right climate culture the day that student arrives, such that they know they belong here and they can thrive here? So that should be the initiative that I think is going to be a game changer for us, and I couldn’t be happier with the team — the team’s progress on that even during these past four or five months of the pandemic, and we have to do better in this, and I know that we will.

“It’s the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program that brings 30 to 40 underrepresented first-generation college students a year into Carolina to help them get on the right path to … excel in the sciences and go on to graduate school in the sciences and medical school and to create a pipeline of underrepresented students. I realize that’s a small number relatively speaking, but we need more programs like that, and I think Carolina Next and that first strategic initiative will allow us to get there.”


(UNC/Jon Gardiner ’98)

James Moeser said of going back to freshman ineligibility in varsity athletics, ‘My heart says we should, but my head says we can’t.’ Asked about athletics reform, Holden Thorp said he was not going to unscramble that egg. You’ve been close to athletics, and obviously that’s a very changing world right now. What, if anything, needs to be addressed about the concern over athletics moving away from the amateur model?

“I’m not a fan of moving away from the amateur model. We have a lot of challenges in front of us. We just had a discussion about this today in our ACC presidents-chancellors call, and so we have some time to figure this out, but not much. I’m not a fan of limiting the opportunities for first-year student-athletes, because I rarely ever believed that a one-size-fits-all is the solution, regardless the topic. I think that’s what that would lead to, and I think that having been here again on faculty for 25 years, every student’s different.

“I think we can do a better job of knowing that some students are going to thrive in the classroom and on the playing field from day one and others are going to be more challenged, and it’s our job to make sure that we have the programs in place, the right structure that can help that student be successful and go places. It’s not easy, but again I’m one who likes to take on tough tasks, and we’re going to figure that out.

“We’ve got to find a way to help that student-athlete, if you will, be successful and go places. I’m really confident in [Athletics Director] Bubba Cunningham and the team he’s put together now over nearly eight years, and I think he will — we’re going to continue to work on it.”

Guskiewicz turned back to the pandemic and some of the more hopeful developments.

“One of the things I’m really proud of for the faculty and researchers is we’re going to have the best research year we’ve ever had.” UNC received more than $1.048 billion in new research awards in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“I tell people, we never really shut down the University during this pandemic, and we didn’t. A lot of that obviously was around COVID-19 research and the impact that our public health and infectious disease researchers have. Microsoft Academia ranked Carolina the No. 1 university in the U.S. for COVID-19 research.” The only two institutions ranked ahead of Carolina were the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We had our School of Government faculty leading the way helping local governments try to figure out how to overcome some of the challenges that they were faced with.

“Kenan-Flagler and their business school scholars [helped] local businesses all across North Carolina think about how to be smart about reopening. School of Education thinking about home schooling — all of this is so new to society in general, and I think our University has really stepped up.”

David E. Brown ’75 is senior associate editor of the Review.



(Chartered 1789, students admitted 1795, first graduates 1798)



The Rev. David Ker, 1794–96 (first professor — languages)

Charles Wilson Harris, July–December 1796 (professor of math)

The Rev. Joseph Caldwell, 1796–97 (professor of math)

James S. Gillaspie, 1797–99 (professor of natural philosophy)

The Rev. Joseph Caldwell, 1799–1804



The Rev. Joseph Caldwell, 1804–12 (first president)

The Rev. Robert Hett Chapman, 1813–16

The Rev. Joseph Caldwell, 1816–35 (fourth term as CEO)

Elisha Mitchell, February–December 1835 (acting)

David Lowry Swain (class of 1825), 1835–68 (first alumnus to be president)

Solomon Pool (class of 1853; MA in 1856), 1869–74

The University closed during Reconstruction in 1870, with the last graduating class in 1868. Solomon Pool retained the title of president until 1874, even though the University was not functioning. UNC was reorganized and reopened in 1875.

Charles Phillips, chair of the faculty, 1875–76

Kemp Plummer Battle (class of 1849; MA in 1852), 1876–91

George Tayloe Winston (class of 1870), 1891–96

Edwin Anderson Alderman (class of 1882, PhB), 1896–1900

Francis Preston Venable, 1900–14

Edward Kidder Graham (class of 1898, PhB), 1913–14 (acting)

Edward Kidder Graham, 1914–18

Marvin H. Stacy (class of 1902, PhB; MA in 1904), chair of the faculty, 1918–19

Harry Woodburn Chase, chair of faculty, January–June 1919

Harry Woodburn Chase, 1919–30

Frank Porter Graham (class of 1909), 1930–32 (Unconsolidated)



The University of North Carolina, N.C. State College of Agriculture & Engineering at Raleigh, and the College for Women at Greensboro comprised “The Greater University.” Consolidation brought changes in the titles of the CEO for the Chapel Hill campus as follows:


Robert Burton House (class of 1916), 1932–34



Robert Burton House, 1934–45



Robert Burton House, 1945–57

William Brantley Aycock ’37 (MA, ’48 JD), 1957–64

Paul F. Sharp, 1964–66

Carlyle Sitterson ’31 (’32 MA, ’37 PhD), 1966–72

Ferebee Taylor ’42, 1972–80

Christopher C. Fordham III ’47 (’49 CMED), 1980–88

Paul Hardin, 1988–95

Michael Hooker ’69, 1995–99

William O. McCoy ’55, 1999–2000 (acting and interim)

James Moeser, 2000–08

Holden Thorp ’86, 2008–13

Carol L. Folt, 2013 – Jan. 31, 2019

Kevin M. Guskiewicz (interim), Feb. 6, 2019 – present

Special Report: A history of the chancellorship.




Frank Porter Graham, 1932–49

William D. Carmichael, 1949–50 (acting)

Gordon Gray ’30, 1950–55

J. Harris Purks, 1955–56 (acting)

William C. Friday ’48 (LLB), 1956–57 (acting); 1957–72



Reorganized by the N.C. General Assembly in 1972, with the UNC System for Higher Education comprising 16 universities.


William C. Friday, 1972 – 86

C.D. Spangler ’54, 1986 – 97

Molly Corbett Broad, 1997 – 2005

Erskine B. Bowles ’67, 2006 – 10

Thomas W. Ross ’75 (JD), 2011 – 16

Dr. Junius J. Gonzales (interim), Jan. 4 – Feb. 29, 2016

Margaret Spellings, March 2016 – January 2019

Dr. William Roper (interim), Jan. 1, 2019 – present

Three presidents houses? Try nine. Our chief executives didnt always hang out where the University expected they would.


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