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Kevin M. Guskiewicz began term as 12th chancellor with investment in community

Kevin M. Guskiewicz began his term as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in December of 2019. In his first act as Carolina’s 12th chancellor, he announced a $5 million investment to help the University reconcile its past and improve its future.

In his first act as Carolina’s 12th chancellor, Kevin M. Guskiewicz announced a $5 million investment to help the University reconcile its past and improve its future.

At an event just hours after the UNC System Board of Governors’ unanimous vote to name him chancellor on Dec. 13, Guskiewicz shared details about a “long-term significant investment” that would “help us to study our past, learn from that past, build from that past and move forward together as a community.” The announcement drew enthusiastic applause from the audience gathered at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio for the new chancellor’s first public remarks.

The new fund will be used to strengthen research and teaching on Carolina’s history and enhance inclusion and belonging efforts through the work of the History, Race and A Way Forward Commission, the Campus Safety Commission and other initiatives.

“This is just the start,” Guskiewicz told the audience as he stood before a Carolina blue background, wearing a tie sprinkled with an Old Well motif. “If there’s one defining value of a university – and particularly of a university like Carolina – it’s a constant refining of ourselves as a community.”

The announcement is a continuation of the strategic, bold and student-focused leadership that made him UNC System Interim President William Roper’s choice for interim chancellor in February and the leading candidate in the search for a permanent successor to former Chancellor Carol L. Folt.

“As others have said, public service is a noble calling. I believe Kevin Guskiewicz has that calling,” Roper said. “He also has the all too rare combination of a commitment to service, humility and civility. Carolina is in very good hands with you at the helm, Kevin.”

The father of two current Carolina undergraduates, Guskiewicz embodies the University’s mission of research, teaching and service to the state. A renowned researcher and a distinguished professor, Guskiewicz has embraced his adopted home, including the challenges that come with the institution’s 226 years of history.

Richard Stevens, chair of the University Board of Trustees and the Chancellor’s Search Committee, expressed his confidence that Guskiewicz is the right choice to lead the University forward.

“A world-renowned neuroscientist and researcher and academic leader, he’s called Chapel Hill home for almost 25 years. For the past 10 months, he has served as interim chancellor, guiding this University with a sure hand,” Stevens said. “With the current challenges across our state, and indeed across the world, we need a leader who understands the broader issues we face in higher education. Kevin Guskiewicz is that leader for this important moment in our history — authentic, genuine, humble and effective.”

“The Board of Trustees and I have been honored to work with Kevin in his interim role and truly believe he is the visionary leader that Carolina needs today,” Stevens said in a message to the campus community. “He is deeply committed to our University and its mission, prioritizing student success, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and addressing the critical needs of North Carolina and the world.”

Campus leaders echoed those sentiments at an event celebrating Guskiewicz’s appointment Friday.

Anita Brown-Graham, professor of public law and government at the School of Government, said she realized Guskiewicz was the right person to be chancellor based on his response to “What’s your favorite place on campus?”

“His answer was, ‘In a classroom with our students.’ That was better than a perfect answer,” said Brown-Graham, who was also a member of the Chancellor’s Search Committee. “At the end of the day, we are here to develop the next generation of leaders at every level and in every sector. We are here in service to our students, and any Chancellor who fails to recognize that fails to understand our fundamental purpose.”

Employee Forum Chair Shayna Hill, who also served on the Chancellor’s Search Committee, said she was impressed by Guskiewicz’s authenticity. “From my very first meeting with Kevin, I knew that he was an absolutely authentic person. He listens with the intent to understand, and he has always made me feel valued and important. He recognizes the tremendous contribution that staff make to the University, and it is my belief that he will guide us through the changes ahead with grit and determination.”

Acknowledging the ongoing controversy surrounding the UNC System’s recent legal settlement involving the Confederate Monument, Student Body President Ashton Martin urged Guskiewicz to “publicly denounce hate and provide actionable solutions for the minority populations who have been harmed time and time again because of this statue” in her remarks.

“There is a lot to do, and I hope to work directly with you as we push forward solutions that better the lives of minority students in the wake of recent events,” she said. “My hope is that you will rely on the student voice when making decisions that ultimately impact students and stand for students always.”

Guskiewicz acknowledged that “we must ensure that every person on our campus feels safe, welcome and included.” He greeted his parents, watching the live stream of the event from his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, ending his comments with a familiar farewell: “And, for the first time as your chancellor, Go Heels.”

Genius and game-changer

A member of Carolina’s faculty since 1995, Guskiewicz is a neuroscientist and a nationally recognized expert on sport-related concussions. He received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (often called a “genius grant”) in 2011 and recognition as a Game Changer by Time magazine in 2013 for his innovative work.

Guskiewicz continued his research as a Kenan Distinguished Professor and director of two centers focused on traumatic brain injury as he took on academic leadership responsibilities as a department chair and associate dean of the natural sciences.

In 2016, Guskiewicz became dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, overseeing the largest academic unit at the University with more than 17,000 undergraduate students, 2,400 graduate students and more than 70 academic units. He directed the development of a strategic plan for the College and the first significant overhaul of the General Education curriculum in more than a decade.

Forward momentum

As a result of his active interim leadership over the past 10 months, Guskiewicz has already established momentum in several key areas:

  • Diversity and inclusion. At Guskiewicz’s initiative, the University held three community-building forums in the fall to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion goals and reimagine the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion. In a two-pronged effort to deal with divisive issues of race and history, the College of Arts & Sciences launched the  Reckoning Shared Learning Initiative while a new Commission on History, Race and A Way Forward in January will continue work begun by the University’s previous history task force.
  • Campus safety. During Guskiewicz’s interim tenure, the University hired a new UNC Police chief, David Perry, and created the position of vice chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management, to be filled by Charlotte attorney George E. Battle III in January. Guskiewicz also created a 20-member Campus Safety Commission and launched an independent external review to address concerns about UNC Police conduct and other campus safety issues.
  • Strategic planning. Carolina’s new strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, is in its final stages of development. A comprehensive roadmap for the next three years, the plan takes into account the UNC System’s strategic plan, the 2017 Blueprint for Next strategic framework and the Campus Master Plan.
  • Academics and research. Guskiewicz has promoted the expansion of interdisciplinary study and the modernizing of pedagogy through the new IDEAs in Action — Identify, Discover, Evaluate, Act — undergraduate curriculum, the new Institute for Convergent Science and planning for the Data Science @ Carolina initiative.
  • Service to the state. One of his earliest and most ambitious initiatives as interim chancellor was to revive the Tar Heel Bus Tour. In October, more than 90 faculty members and senior administrators took a three-day journey across the state to learn more about the communities they serve and how they can improve the lives of North Carolinians.
  • Fundraising. Guskiewicz’s selection also means continued momentum in the Campaign for Carolina, which has surpassed $3 billion in fundraising on the way to reaching the $4.25 billion goal by the end of 2022. In addition to helping to secure major gifts like this fall’s $25 million from the Walter Hussman Jr. Family to re-envision modern journalism, Guskiewicz is committed to raising funds to improve access and affordability through the Carolina Edge initiative, including the Carolina Covenant Scholars and Blue Sky Scholars programs.