Just hours into his term as the interim UNC – Chapel Hill chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz had a controversy to handle.
He was named to the interim role by interim UNC System President Dr. Bill Roper on Wednesday afternoon. Less than two hours later, Colin Campbell, editor of the News & Observer state government news publication NC Insider, tweeted a photo from the 1979 UNC yearbook of two members of the Chi Phi fraternity dressed in KKK attire while a third member was in blackface with a noose around his neck.
Guskiewicz addressed the issue on Thursday morning at his introductory press conference.
“I don’t believe that reflects what our university is about today, nor could I believe that it represents what it was about back in 1979,” the interim chancellor said. “So, we were disheartened by that, and we’ll continue to monitor it.”
Roper was also speaking with reporters and condemned the actions in the photo.
“There’s a number of things about our past that we need to understand and deal with,” Roper said. “That’s a horrific part of our past; one that I think has no place then or now in our university system.”
The photo of white students in blackface comes as Virginia’s governor and attorney general are facing backlash after both were associated with blackface photos. The issue also comes as the university is working to determine the future of the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam that stood on the UNC – Chapel Hill campus for more than 100 years.
The statue was toppled by protesters last August. Then-chancellor Carol Folt ordered the removal of the remaining base of the monument in mid-January when she also announced her intention to resign at the end of the academic year. The UNC System Board of Governors accelerated that resignation date to the end of January.
Public records previously reported by WCHL show that Guskiewicz was concerned with the impact the statue was having on the campus in the fall of 2017, when the statue was intact.
He wrote to the administration in 2017 that “many of our faculty and students believe we should reconsider the place of memorials such as Silent Sam. Intolerance once motivated the creating of such memorials. It now finds new life by their continued presence.”
Roper said on Thursday that the feeling Guskiewicz had expressed on the statue was part of the reason he was the right choice to lead the university.
“He’s on record as saying that the monument should not be anywhere on the campus,” Roper said. “It rather should be somewhere else, and that’s my position as well. And I’m comfortable with his position.
“It’s one of the reasons that I thought he was the right person to lead UNC – Chapel Hill at this crucial time.”
Five members of the UNC System Board of Governors are working with the Chapel Hill campus to develop a plan for the future of the monument by mid-March.
Photo via digitalnc.org