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'It's just always been Kevin G:' UNC students and faculty react to Guskiewicz's departure

Priyash Hafiz stands in a maroon coat and black pants on UNC Chapel Hill's campus.
Brianna Atkinson
Priyash Hafiz is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz will leave UNC-Chapel Hill to become the next president of Michigan State University. And while it’s exam time in Chapel Hill, this morning’s announcement from East Lansing was greeted with mixed emotions back on the campus.

Freshman Janie Dewar said she’s surprised her first semester at UNC is ending with Guskiewicz departing for East Lansing. She initially heard he might be going last month.

“I was on the quad. And a lot of people were just very flabbergasted over the fact that he was leaving, because it's always just kind of been Kevin G. He's the chancellor,” Dewar said.

UNC-Chapel Hill students (from left to right): Erin Cole, Janie Dewar, Kyla Ritchie, and Gianna Loschiavo. All the students are freshman.
Brianna Atkinson
UNC-Chapel Hill students (from left to right): Erin Cole, Janie Dewar, Kyla Ritchie, and Gianna Loschiavo. All the students are freshman.

Guskiewicz has been the chancellor in Chapel Hill since 2019. He’s had to navigate the university through several high-profile challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, a campus mental health crisis, and the recent shooting death of a professor on campus.

Senior Priyash Hafiz has been at Carolina through all of these events. The news that Guskiewicz was leaving also came as a surprise to him. But after he got over the initial shock, he said he felt relieved. He said he’s often felt voiceless, and feels like Guskiewicz has never truly represented his interests.

“Since 2020, it seems like there's been another problem at UNC every year,” he said. “And so a lot of people, including myself, are happy to see him go.”

Added Hafiz: “A lot of us have had many complaints about how Kevin G has handled a lot of situations in the past and especially with a lot of how he's handled the Israel-Palestine conflict and UNC’s involvement.”

Christopher Everett, a senior and the president of the student body, has brought some of those concerns to the chancellor.

“The job of the chancellor is very, very, very complex. So I will say, overwhelmingly, there was more support for Chancellor Guskiewicz, than anything,” Everett said. “But I think in of myself. And in this role, we are very, very large advocates for him, because he has protected us from a lot of things.”

As for the faculty, many of them feel the same way. Beth Moracco is the chair of the faculty, and said she’s been hearing an outpouring of support for him to stay. 

“We've heard from many faculty who have spoken about the chancellor's kind of steady leadership particularly doing during a period of many crises and upheaval, and the fact that he has been a steady and thoughtful leader during that process,” Moracco said. 

The process of choosing the next chancellor is weighing on the minds of many. For faculty, Moracco said there’s a lot of uncertainty about how transparent the selection process will be, as well as just how involved the faculty will be allowed to be in the selection process. That concern over process, and finding the right person, is something Everett said students are worried about as well. Specifically, that whoever takes over might not have the same values as them. 

“I think that there is some concern in the ways in which higher education is moving. I feel like in some ways, it's become a lot less student focus and a lot less focused on diversity, equity inclusion,” Everett said. “And that's something that's very, very important to me and to a lot of folks, specifically at Carolina.”

Guskiewicz’s last day at UNC-Chapel Hill will be Jan. 12. The process to select a new, permanent chancellor will take a while.

First, a search committee will form and, over the course of the next year or so, identify final candidates. Then, UNC System president Peter Hans will make the final decision and the board of governors will vote to confirm his choice.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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