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Now that Guskiewicz is leaving UNC, how will a new chancellor be chosen?

The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Liz Schlemmer
The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC-Chapel Hill is looking for its third chancellor in the past decade, after Kevin Guskiewicz announced on Friday that he is leaving to become Michigan State University's next president.

A chancellor search is a long, drawn-out process where most of the important discussions and decisions occur behind closed doors. And the most important one — the final choice — will be made by UNC System President Peter Hans, who consolidated more power over the process in policy changes made last May.

First, Hans will, most likely this week, name an interim chancellor, who will take over after Guskiewicz’s last day on Jan. 12. Interim chancellors sometimes become permanent, as has happened with UNC-Chapel Hill’s last chancellor search and in the most recent UNC System search for UNC Asheville’s chancellor.

Once an interim is named, Hans, with consultation from UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair John Preyer, will name the members of a search advisory committee. Hans has the authority to name the members and determine the parameters of whom they will seek, but there are some rules around how the committee is formed.

The search advisory committee will have 13 voting members and is required to include Hans; members of the Board of Trustees; at least two members of the Board of Governors (the Chair and a governor appointed by the board’s committee on University Governance); at least one member of the faculty, the student body, staff and alumni; and a current or former UNC System chancellor.

Peter Hans
Gerry Broome
FILE - In this May 1, 2018, file photo, Peter Hans delivers remarks during a news conference in Raleigh, N.C.

Previously, boards were allowed to have up to 20 members, but it was reduced after the UNC System Board of Governors adopted the new rules in May. The prior policy also forbade Board of Governors members from serving on search advisory committees.

"A university of the stature of UNC-Chapel Hill deserves a thoughtful and thorough national search for its next chancellor, beginning immediately upon the appointment of an interim chief executive,” said Preyer in a statement late last week. “The trustees, the faculty, and other key members of the Carolina family stand ready to participate fully in the search.”

After the search advisory committee is formed, schools typically hold listening sessions where campus and community members give feedback on what qualities they’d like to see in a new chancellor. In the past, multiple chancellor search open forums have been held in-person and virtually.

Once the listening sessions are over and the committee starts vetting potential candidates, the process becomes a confidential search, meaning that candidates will be unknown to the public. According to the policy, this “is intended to maximize the quality of the candidate pool by not discouraging the interest of individuals who would not otherwise apply in the event of a publicly disclosed candidate pool.”

Searches conducted in secret have a history of causing distrust among faculty.

Eventually, the search committee will determine three finalists and send that list to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees for a confidential vote. Then, it goes to Hans.

According to the policy, Hans “may choose to interview one or more of the candidates.” Once he makes a final selection, it goes to the Board of Governors for approval.

The chancellor search process will likely take at least six months, but the timeline can vary.

The system’s most recent search for UNC Asheville’s chancellor lasted four months, starting in late July and ending in late November. An interim chancellor was named at Winston-Salem State in early July and the search advisory committee was announced last week.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s last chancellor search in 2019 took about 10 months after an interim chancellor was named.

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