UPDATE: This story has been updated with statements from UNC, which were issued to the campus community and sent to Chapelboro.
A group of UNC faculty is calling for UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s resignation as more details emerge regarding the university’s involvement in the 2019 settlement over a Confederate monument previously on the Chapel Hill campus.
The UNC chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement Thursday regarding new details in the UNC System and North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans’ 2019 settlement over the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. As new details have come to light amid a settlement between the UNC System and the Daily Tar Heel’s parent company, the group of approximately 70 educators is pointing to discrepancies in what university leadership told the campus community about UNC’s involvement.
The UNC System settled with DTH Media Corp. last week over a lawsuit filed by the media company in January 2020, alleging university system leadership violated North Carolina open meeting laws in its negotiation with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. As part of the settlement, a full deposition from former UNC System Vice President of Communications Earl Whipple detailed how the settlement was ultimately negotiated by UNC System lawyers, the SCV’s lawyers and UNC Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Clayton Somers instead of a five-person committee of university system governors. A signed statement from the UNC System as part of the DTH Media Corp. settlement confirmed this, saying Somers attended a November 21, 2019 meeting held with the parties’ attorneys which involved discussing the SCV’s terms of settlement.
In December 2019 and acting as interim chancellor, Guskiewicz spoke to the university’s Faculty Council and said the UNC administrative leadership was not consulted or asked to approve the $2.5 million trust and possession of the monument given to the SCV.
“This news,” reads the AAUP statement, “means that interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was either inexcusably ignorant or deliberately dishonest in front of a large audience at the Faculty Council meeting in December of 2019, when he insisted that ‘we [at Chapel Hill] were not consulted’ about and did not ‘weigh in’ on the decision.”
In Whipple’s deposition, he said neither Somers or Guskiewicz were consulted prior to the publishing of an op-ed column in the News & Observer detailing some of the negotiation for the university system’s settlement.
The UNC chapter of the AAUP said in its statement it believes transparency and faculty participation are crucial elements to governance of universities. With a member of Guskiewicz’s administrative staff being included in discussions of the settlement, the group widely voted in support for a change at leadership due to the lack of such elements.
“The serial dishonesty displayed by the chancellor and his associates regarding the most sensitive and important matters confronting the University in recent years has eroded our confidence in UNC’s leadership,” wrote the AAUP chapter. “To move the campus forward with mutual trust and a realistic prospect of shared problem-solving, we urge Chancellor Guskiewicz, and others who have contributed to UNC’s pattern of institutional dishonesty, to step down.”
The statement shared by the group of faculty also points to Guskiewicz’s communication of the Clery Act review recently conducted by the federal government, as well as communication this summer about guidance from the Orange County Health Department regarding COVID-19. In both instances, the chancellor sent messages to the campus community about the results or topics via University Communications.
The university’s Vice Chancellor for Communications Joel Curran shared a statement with Chapelboro Thursday evening about the AAUP’s vote.
“We are aware of a statement by a small group of faculty about matters that we have addressed publicly many times,” he said. “Chancellor Guskiewicz has demonstrated his commitment to the role of the faculty in our shared governance over his 25 years at Carolina, including eight years serving on the faculty leadership.”
Additionally, Guskiewicz shared a message with the campus community Thursday night to clarify the university’s position in the Silent Sam settlement of 2019. He said members of the UNC System’s Board of Governors requested Somers to work directly with them on their efforts to find a solution for the Confederate monument’s future. Guskiewicz said while Somers gave him “general broad updates regarding the progress of this project,” he had no knowledge of the details that led to the SCV earning control of the multi-million-dollar trust and monument.
“During the fall of 2019,” wrote Guskiewicz on Thursday, “I understood discussions were shifting toward the potential for a resolution that could result in the permanent removal of the monument from our campus. While I did not participate in the negotiations regarding any settlement, as I have previously stated, I was aware discussions were occurring through the UNC System, and I learned that the specific terms of the settlement were nearing completion shortly before Thanksgiving.”
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