Welcome to the Hot Seat, Lee Roberts!

Image source: https://www.unc.edu/posts/2023/12/15/former-state-budget-director-named-interim-chancellor/

The Coalition for Carolina is hopeful about Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts.

He seems to bring an open mind to the challenge. We bring an open mind to his appointment.

We’re encouraged that he has pledged to work “in a nonpartisan way.”

We’re heartened that when asked “who his boss is, within a complicated governance system,” he replied, “I don’t think there’s any ambiguity about the governance situation. The chancellor reports to the system president.”

We took note that – when asked how he would work with the UNC Board of Trustees, some of whom we believe have improperly interfered with university operations – Roberts said only that he wants their “input.”

Last week, before President Peter Hans appointed Roberts, we posted an online petition, “Stop the Political Meddling That Chased Away Chancellor Guskiewicz.”

Our petition urged President Hans to:

  • “Appoint an interim Chancellor who will maintain stability, earn the trust of the campus community and resist improper overreach by trustees.”
  • “Appoint a diverse and broadly representative search committee that will identify a great Chancellor who will lead Carolina for years to come.”

When he appointed Roberts, President Hans said, “He knows how to find common ground on challenging issues.” He added, “Lee Roberts is a patient leader, a generous listener, and someone raised with the values of public service.”

The news release said, “A full, nationwide search for the chancellor’s role will be launched in the coming months, with active participation from faculty, staff, students, alumni and the broader community.”

Like others in the University community, we have some concerns that Roberts does not have an extensive academic background.

We know, too, that Erskine Bowles didn’t have an academic background before serving as a superb President of the UNC System from 2005 to 2011. Tom Ross didn’t have an academic background before serving with distinction as president of Davidson College and then the UNC System. Bill McCoy was an excellent interim and acting chancellor in 1999 and 2000, despite having no academic background.

As for Roberts’ Duke University ties, we note that the President who took Duke to national prominence was a two-degree (undergrad and law) Carolina product, former Governor and Senator Terry Sanford.

Our greatest concern is the threat of continued political meddling and improper interference by some of the trustees – especially John Preyer, Marty Kotis and Dave Boliek.

Their actions led directly to Kevin Guskiewicz leaving Carolina for Michigan State.

Asked about the governance situation in an interview with Kyle Villemain of The Assembly, Roberts said he reports to the President and wants trustees’ “input.” You can read the interview here.

In another interview, with Korie Dean of The News & Observer, Roberts said he wants to “do no harm” to UNC as interim chancellor.

Adding that he plans to work “in a nonpartisan way,” he told Dean, “I think to be effective in this role, you need to be able to work with Republicans and Democrats and independents and everybody else. And I think that’s what I’ve done in my past roles.”

Those are encouraging words.

If his actions reflect his statements, he will have our support.

If we feel he falls short, we will let him – and you – know.

Sign Our Petition: Stop the Political Meddling That Chased Away Chancellor Guskiewicz

To President Peter Hans and the UNC System Board of Governors:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces a crisis. On December 8, 2023, we lost yet another Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz – because of political meddling by members of the UNC Board of Trustees.

We petition you to:

  • Stop trustees’ improper interference at Carolina.
  • Ensure that the next Chancellor at Carolina maintains the standard of excellence that we all expect at America’s oldest and greatest state public university.

President Hans, your selection of the next Chancellor will be the most important decision of your presidency.

Members of the Board of Governors, it is time for you to rein in the intrusive overreach by some members of the Board of Trustees.

Make no mistake: Kevin Guskiewicz is leaving Carolina – for Michigan State – because he had enough of political meddling.

Michigan State won. We lost.

Chancellor Guskiewicz put integrity, academic excellence and the good of our campus community ahead of partisan politics.

For that, the current Board of Trustees hounded him out of Chapel Hill.

Now, our campus is thrown into unnecessary turmoil and Carolina’s reputation for excellence, integrity and independence hangs in the balance.

All because of political interference and governance overreach by trustees.

We urge the Board of Governors to:

  • Determine which members of the UNC Board of Trustees have overstepped their proper statutory and ethical responsibilities.
  • Review the division of authority between the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees.

We urge President Hans to:

  • Appoint an interim Chancellor who will maintain stability, earn the trust of the campus community and resist improper overreach by trustees.
  • Appoint a diverse and broadly representative search committee that will identify a great Chancellor who will lead Carolina for years to come.

When William Richardson Davie laid the cornerstone for Old East in 1793, the University of North Carolina became a beacon of public higher education in America. We must keep it shining bright.

History is watching. 

Sign the petition here.

I understand why Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz is leaving UNC

Image source: Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill – https://www.unc.edu/discover/reflections-from-mimi-chapman/

Over the last four weeks, the University of North Carolina community has been on edge. After reporting surfaced that Chancellor Guskiewicz was the remaining finalist for the Presidency of Michigan State University and his acknowledgement that he was considering the option, all of us at Carolina have been waiting – for his decision and for what comes next.

Many in our community have asked him to stay. Alums, faculty, staff, and students have written both public and private messages hoping that he will keep his finger in the dike here at UNC. Although I offered my support, my message was not that he should stay or go. Rather, it was that he should go with his gut, be a chancellor or president where he can do some good.

The last four years have been brutal. As the former chair of the faculty, I’ve had a front-row seat for much of it, likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider his first faculty meeting following his permanent naming to the position. He had to describe, if not defend, a ridiculous settlement with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans to keep a contested Civil War statue permanently off our campus. It was an arrangement no thinking person would willingly be party to, and it of course was foisted upon this campus from forces far beyond it. 

Soon after came the pandemic. Our campus had to beg the UNC System and by extension the legislature to reduce our dormitory census to an amount higher than what our health department recommended. And then beg again to close the campus to stop an infection rate that threatened to overrun our campus health services or worse. The Chancellor and Provost had to do the negotiating, while others of us spoke publicly about the lack of thought and science behind such decisions.

Then came the tenure battle of Nikole Hannah Jones and the threatened firing of the Chancellor for supporting her and the faculty. Although he said nothing publicly against the actions that led to that showdown, behind the scenes he was negotiating to get her a vote. He made the audacious move to talk to angry students that day. 

Enough already.  Most people would find a golden parachute and be out the door. Kevin wanted to stay, to see if he could protect this place. 

Fast forward to February 2023 when he was lambasted by the BOT and directed to “accelerate the development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership.” In keeping with an ongoing bent toward revisionist history, the current board chair recently opined that both the Chancellor and the Provost were authors of a memo that proposed what is now known as SCILL, again asserting that somehow this is a benign effort, something that’s been in progress over years. The questions, debate and, indeed, anger over such a center – which was never described as a School before February – indeed began years ago. But planning by the faculty? No sir. 

Who wants to lead in such a situation? Imagine what it must feel like to prepare for two days per month with your board, the entity with which you are supposed to hold the institution in trust. Yet you might as well be walking into a viper pit, full of people who hiss one thing to your face and another behind closed doors. This one’s jockeying for political office. This one wants to get rid of tenured faculty. That one is a champion of civility, except to those who tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. Yet another is all about free speech for everyone except you. You, Chancellor, are not to speak unless we okay it. In fact, don’t make an announcement to reduce tuition for lower income families or lament a U.S. Supreme Court ruling the institution fought for nine years. 

One wonders why these people want to be involved in the university at all. Except for the basketball games and the glitzy fundraising events, they seem to hate everything about the place.  

Not long ago, I had occasion to meet the former president of New College in Florida.  She held the post for 19 months before she was fired by a hostile and politically motivated board.  We talked briefly about what her life had been like since. She said it had been a hard experience, and she has taken time away to think about her next move. But she talked about what she valued, how much she loved the students she’d taught over her career, how she treasured her colleagues who have remained at New College, trying to make a go of it in a changed landscape. She also said that the amount of pressure she was dealing with was not worth it. She told me she did not want to die from doing the job. It’s a stark statement, but I don’t think she’s wrong.

Choosing to serve in a public institution, in whatever capacity, is a gift to the larger world. It is a statement that says everyone deserves to have access to a college education, that the world needs research and scholarship that is done for the public good, not to enrich a corporation or stockholders. Kevin has made that choice throughout his career, and it is significant that he is going to another state school, a school where first-generation students can find a high quality and affordable education, one that will change their lives and the lives of their children. 

For his sake, I hope the board there understands, in a way that ours clearly does not, that they are getting a strong and capable person, someone who has lived public education through his whole career. I pray they let him lead with his heart and his intellect, let him choose his own team, support him as he joins with faculty and student leaders. If they do their campus will heal from the difficulties it has faced and be stronger. 

I’ll be rooting for the Spartans and rooting for Kevin as he takes this next step.   

We’re Mad as Hell … and We’re Raising Hell

Yes, we’re angry about what is happening to Carolina, and we’re going to keep raising hell about it.

In fact, we’re going to turn up the heat. Because the partisan political attacks on UNC are getting worse.

Politicians in Raleigh Must Stop meddling at Carolina and hurting this great University.

Not only do we fear a bitter blow: the possible loss of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, who has been a steady hand at the helm through stormy seas.

But, in just the last few months:

When we posted lengthy clips from Mac Donald’s presentation to the trustees and her speech to the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, some of our critics accused us of “cancel culture.”

To the contrary, we welcome Mac Donald. We’re glad she came and spoke. We want people to see the extremism of the politically and ideologically driven attacks on Carolina and colleges and universities across the nation.

Follow this link to access both of her presentations.

If you’re as angry as we are, join us. Help us combat these attacks.

    We can educate. We can speak up. And, ultimately, we can vote.

Educate:

Every week, the Coalition for Carolina sends out information on what’s happening. Follow us – and share the information with your family, your friends and all friends of Carolina.

Speak up:

Email trustees and legislators. Even better, call them. And even better, talk to them face to face.

Believe us, when they hear from you, they listen.

Vote:

Before you vote next year, educate yourself on where the candidates stand on issues affecting Carolina.

Our Coalition is non-partisan and non-political. We can’t and don’t endorse candidates.

We can tell you where the candidates stand – and what they’ve done.

And we will.

You can help us do this work – and you can stand up for Carolina – by making a financial donation to the Coalition for Carolina.

As you think of your end-of-year contributions to good causes, keep us in mind.

Donate on our website. Or, reach us at contact@coalitionforcarolina.org to get directions on where to send a check.  

Let’s turn anger into action.