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New UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Responds To Controversy On First Day

Lisa Philip

UNC-Chapel Hill’s new leader has denounced yearbook photos from the 1970s depicting fraternity members from the university dressed in blackface. The photos surfaced yesterday and have since caused outrage on social media.

At a press conference on Thursday about his appointment as the university’s new interim chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz said the photos do not “reflect what our university is about today, nor can I believe that [they] represent what it was about back in 1979.”

One of the photos, from the fraternity pages of a 1979 UNC yearbook, posted on Twitter by News and Observer reporter Colin Campbell shows two men dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes pretending to lynch a third man wearing blackface, from a light fixture.

The yearbook photos were widely circulated on social media yesterday afternoon, just as UNC System Interim President Bill Roper’s selection for interim chancellor was announced. Guskiewicz, who has worked at UNC for nearly 24 years, previously served as dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and is a neuroscientist who studies sports-related traumatic brain injuries.

Roper told reporters Thursday he chose Guskiewicz, in part, because he’s on the record saying the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam has no place on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

“That said, we have a process before us and we need to be working with the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors and others in positions of authority in our state in a lawful and respectful manner to create a way forward that allows us to learn from the past and then be prepared for the future, in a good way,” Roper said.

As UNC-Chapel Hill’s new interim chancellor, Guskiewicz will work with the campus trustees and five members of the UNC Board of Governors to come up with a new plan for Silent Sam. The proposal is due to the system’s highest board by March 15.

Guskiewicz’s predecessor, Carol Folt, announced her resignation last month. In the same email she ordered the removal of the base of Silent Sam from campus. Folt had planned to stay through spring commencement, but the UNC Board of Governors ordered her out on Jan. 31.

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