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Some UNC Chapel Hill Professors Call For Chancellor Guskiewicz To Resign

File photo of UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Dec. 2019.
File photo of UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Dec. 2019.


File photo of UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Dec. 2019.
Credit Liz Schlemmer / WUNC
File photo of UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Dec. 2019.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz is facing questions from frustrated faculty. They're concerned over what he knew about a now thrown out settlement over the Silent Sam monument. WUNC's Liz Schlemmer reports.

Updated at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2021.

The chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has clarified his role — and what he told university faculty — concerning the $2.5 million settlement involving the Silent Sam statue.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz responded to questions about his involvement in a campus-wide message Thursday evening. He said the UNC System Board of Governors asked Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Clayton Somers to work with them to find a resolution for the Silent Sam monument after the BOG rejected the university's proposal for the statue.

Guskiewicz said that in his role as interim chancellor, he received "general, broad updates" from Somers, but "understood and accepted the UNC System and BOG’s authority to decide what to do with the monument and to negotiate, approve and implement the terms of the settlement."

The written statement from Guskiewicz came out the same day that a group of professors at UNC Chapel Hill called for him to step down for committing "serial breaches of trust" with faculty and the campus community.

Members of the Chapel Hill chapter of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to the chancellor’s office Thursday urging his resignation. The letter outlines incidents over the past two years they say demonstrate a "pattern of institutional dishonesty."

Reporting by The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper revealed last week that Somers was involved in legal negotiations between UNC System counsel and the attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That settlement was later thrown out by the judge who approved it.

This new information, gleaned from documents submitted by the UNC system as part of a legal settlement with The Daily Tar Heel, appears to contradict what Guskiewicz told the UNC Chapel Hill Faculty Council shortly after the deal was made public.

In December 2019, when asked by the faculty council whether any UNC Chapel Hill leaders had approved of the settlement or been involved in legal negotiations with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Guskiewicz told faculty "we were not consulted" and asserted that the UNC Board of Governors was responsible for the settlement.

Somers is a member of the chancellor's cabinet and the former chief of staff of North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore. 

Guskiewicz had been serving as the interim chancellor at the time of the settlement, and the UNC System Board of Governors elected him to take on the role permanently the following week. 

"The fact that the chancellor either didn't know about this decision, or knew about it, and lied to the faculty, is grounds for his removal," said AAUP Chapter President Michael Palm.

Palm said the association took a vote before sending the letter Thursday, and an "overwhelming majority" of the 73 dues-paying Chapel Hill members were in favor, citing Somers' involvement in the Silent Sam negotiations.

"But it's even more important to stress that this is not an isolated incident, that this is the latest in a long series of breaches of trust," Palm said.

The letter also points to the university's failure to release a memo from the Orange County Health Department recommending a remote start to the Fall 2020 semester, in addition to failing to release an unflattering federal report in 2019 detailing the university's treatment of students who reported sexual assaults. In both cases, the university released the documents following reporting by local media outlets.

"We're trying to capture the will of the faculty which has lost any faith or confidence in the leadership at UNC Chapel Hill," Palm said.

Before Chancellor Guskiewicz sent his campus-wide message, the chair of the UNC Chapel Hill Faculty Council Mimi Chapman said she did not support the AAUP’s call for Guskiewicz's resignation. 

"Calling for the resignation of a chancellor is a very inflammatory thing to do, even if it wouldn't have any particular influence," Chapman said.

Only the UNC System Board of Governors or the UNC system president has the power to remove a chancellor of a UNC system institution.

Chapman said she would like to hear Guskiewicz address the Silent Sam negotiations and what he knew at the time he told faculty the campus was not involved.

"It would make sense to hear from the chancellor about the situation, about how things unfolded and transpired [and] about the extent of what he knew about Mr. Somers' role in negotiating a settlement," Chapman said. 

The AAUP letter quotes Chapman saying last fall that the university’s failure to disclose the health department’s reopening recommendations represented a "serious breach of trust."

Chapman said the university’s administration, faculty and staff have worked hard to rebuild trust by collaborating more closely on pandemic safety protocols for the spring semester.

As faculty chair, Chapman reached out to Chancellor Guskiewicz prior to his campus-wide message to say faculty are concerned about the statements he made in December 2019 regarding the settlement. 

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.