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Moving forward with boldness

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz took his oath of office Sunday afternoon at a physically distanced ceremony in Memorial Hall.

At his installation as Carolina’s 12th chancellor on Sunday, Kevin M. Guskiewicz spoke about the challenges faced by the “rising generation” — an uncertain economic future, a global pandemic and racial inequity — and how he will consult that generation and earn their trust.

“Our history, as imperfect as it is, is defined by the successive generations who have tried to close the gap between what we are and what we can be,” Guskiewicz said. “Our students, faculty and staff want us to be true to those ideals. Our ability to do so will determine our success as an institution. It will break or build our community’s trust. It will fulfill or fail our mission and mandate.”

Tar Heels throughout North Carolina and from as far away as Singapore and Hong Kong watched live on YouTube as Guskiewicz took his oath of office at a physically distanced ceremony at Memorial Hall. Following COVID-19 CDC and campus physical distancing guidelines, U.S. District Court Judge Richard E. Myers II stood 6 feet away while swearing Guskiewicz into office. From a distance, UNC System President Peter Hans presented the chancellor’s medallion with Guskiewicz’s name freshly engraved on it; the person who came close enough to slip the sterling silver chain over his head was his wife, Amy.

The ceremony departed from tradition in several ways because of concerns about the coronavirus. The first chancellor installation since 1957 not held on University Day, Oct. 12, the event also didn’t include the usual presentation of faculty, staff and alumni awards, the pomp of a procession of regalia-clad faculty or an audience swaying together to the strains of “Hark the Sound.”

But the introduction of several videos, including a brief bio of the new chancellor, and pre-recorded greetings and songs created an enhanced visual experience for the installation’s virtual audience. In the days leading up to installation, other virtual-only events included the traditional reception with the University Board of Trustees and a live interview, “Up Close: Kevin and Amy Guskiewicz,” in which the couple fielded questions from an online alumni audience about their children, pets and favorite restaurants.

At the installation, the bio video showed scenes of Guskiewicz’s hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and revealed the role a bottle of its native brew, Rolling Rock, played in his decision to become a Tar Heel 25 years ago.

As Amy Guskiewicz recalls in the video, at a dinner after interviewing here, Guskiewicz decided to order a Rolling Rock to show loyalty to his hometown. “And everyone ordered a Rolling Rock, and, right then and there, connections were made,” she said.

Video greetings

Most of the dignitaries normally in attendance at installation sent their greetings by video, congratulating the new chancellor and acknowledging the current coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Roy Cooper hailed Guskiewicz as “the right person at the right time” to lead the state’s flagship university.

“Kevin, you know this University, and your passion for its mission is clear,” said Randy Ramsey, chair of the UNC System’s Board of Governors.

Faculty chair Mimi Chapman thanked Guskiewicz for his bravery, and Jill Gammon, chair of the General Alumni Association’s board of directors, expressed her gratitude to him for “accepting this new and daunting role.”

Employee Forum chair Shayna Hill assured the 12th chancellor that he has “an army of staff support.”

Not everyone attended virtually. The audience included some of Guskiewicz’s closest colleagues and his family, including his four children and his parents, who traveled to Chapel Hill from their home in Pennsylvania.

Chair Richard Stevens of the University Board of Trustees brought his greetings in person. “He is authentic, genuine, humble and an effective listener, and it has been an honor for our Board of Trustees to work with him,” he said of Guskiewicz.

‘The rising generation’

In his address, Guskiewicz quoted from the University’s charter, which advised leaders to “consult the happiness of the rising generation.”

“Today, the rising generation is not happy. They are not waiting patiently in the wings; they are not content with accepting injustice. That’s a good thing. They shouldn’t be happy with how things are,” Guskiewicz said. “This is not what I want for the students of North Carolina. This is not the world I want for my own kids.”

To meet these challenges, Carolina will continue to increase enrollment, especially of first-generation, minority and rural students, and reach its $1 billion goal for student scholarships, he said. He also emphasized the importance of the University’s “global guarantee” to make sure every undergraduate has access to a transformative global experience.

“Our power as an institution does not come from stale tradition; it comes from the vision and renewable energy of our community. Our power does not come from old ideas. It comes from innovation, fresh ideas and action. It comes from consulting the rising generation,” Guskiewicz said.

Some of those innovations include:

  • The Program for Public Discourse, to bring together thought leaders from across political and intellectual divides,
  • The Data Science initiative, to teach students how to speak the language of a global economy,
  • The Institute for Convergent Science, to ensure collaboration across departments and disciplines to solve world problems, and
  • The Southern Futures initiative, to tell the complex and unique stories of this region and understand its full potential and impact.

Guskiewicz also pledged to “do more for more North Carolinians in more communities” and announced two $25 million gifts to the Kenan-Flagler Business School, an investment that will “ultimately double the size of our undergraduate business program, teaching more students and spurring economic growth in our state.”

‘Embrace criticism’

Of course, the rising generation isn’t always happy with the University or its chancellor, Guskiewicz acknowledged. He recalled a student in The Daily Tar Heel saying that the chancellor’s dog Charlie is better suited for the job than he is.

“Now, I think they’re wrong, because Charlie tends to nap during prime working hours,” he joked.

But he welcomes that feedback. He quoted then-UNC System President Bill Friday from a letter written at a time of unrest 50 years ago: “The University has always been the object of criticism, and this is a healthy circumstance …. Our state and its old University have thrived and grown great because its people are free to have their say. I fervently hope that we never lose this faith and never fall into a pervading fear that the institution cannot survive the exercise of this freedom.”

As the University’s 12th chancellor, he will approach conflict by finding ways to say “yes” instead of “no,” he said.

“We’re stronger when we agree from the start that those saying something new likely have something worth saying. We’re stronger when the institution consults that rising generation and works to further their happiness.”

And after closing remarks from Faculty Marshal Pat Parker, the bell on top of South Building rang a dozen times, welcoming No. 12.

Watch a replay of the ceremony