As the story of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure battle at her alma mater unfolded, she said more than once that the treatment she received from the UNC-Chapel Hill administration and Board of Trustees was “bigger than her,” which many took as a reference to the mistreatment Black people (particularly Black women) face in academia.
Last night, she tweeted a similar line.
This time, the subject was not UNC-CH’s track record of racist policies; it was talk that the university’s chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, could be ousted from his role and replaced by a mouthpiece for the North Carolina GOP.
The UNC faculty council held an emergency meeting Wednesday after Chair Mimi Chapman says she was informed over the weekend that the university and UNC System leadership were moving to replace Guskiewicz and compiling a list of names for his replacement. She specifically heard that, in her words at today’s meeting, two “at best, controversial” men—Clayton Somers, the UNC-CH vice chancellor of public affairs, and John Hood, the current president of Art Pope’s John Locke Foundation—were on the shortlist.
In an unusual move, the Board of Trustees also declined the chancellor’s recommendations for new leadership of the board as an influx of new members were seated this week. Nor did they ask Chapman, or other faculty and staff leaders, to speak at the trustee meetings this week as they routinely do. Over the weekend, two trustees also were quoted in stories reported by N.C. Policy Watch about examining how tenure is awarded.
“That is a lot of smoke, in my estimation, for there to be no fire,” Chapman said at the meeting. The faculty council is drafting a resolution of support for Guskiewicz, although Chapman acknowledged “our chancellor is not perfect.”
“A change in leadership at this time would be deeply destabilizing to the state, the people we serve, and the UNC System,” the resolution said. “We emphatically oppose it because it does not follow the principles of shared governance, consultation, and established means of leadership change.”
Somers, the former chief of staff for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, has been at the university since 2017 when the public affairs role was created. In 2019, he was one of four people to craft the now-defunct $2.5 million settlement between the university and N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). The settlement was created behind closed doors; Somers previously knew the NC SCV’s lawyer, Boyd Sturges, through their shared time studying at Wake Forest Law School. A Daily Tar Heel op-ed described Somers as “a fixer” who operated in the shadows.
Hood, aside from his role in professionally and financially backing the state’s conservative agenda, helped found the John Locke Foundation, the conservative think tank whose members denounced the hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones. He also serves on the board of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
A new chancellor would have to be appointed by UNC System President Peter Hans. The state legislature (again, controlled by the GOP) is also able to submit two names to be considered for the position. This is a recent change; in 2020, the Board of Governors gave the system president the authority to add two names to the final applicant pool. At Fayetteville State University this year, the new rule meant that despite a candidate not being a finalist on the list of names sent from the school’s trustees to the Board of Governors, he was selected anyway.
The calls to replace Guskiewicz are coming from all sides of the political aisle, but the wheels for any change are set in motion by the Board of Trustees, who are appointed by the Board of Governors, who are appointed by state House and Senate leaders. The only person who is democratically elected to the university’s Board of Trustees is the student body president. Lamar Richards, the current student body president, was also the person who set a vote for Hannah-Jones’s tenure into motion by successfully petitioning for an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Deb Aikat, a UNC journalism professor, said he received texts during today’s faculty council meeting from faculty members of color who said they, and others, have little faith in Guskiewicz. He put it on record that some council members were ignoring the calls of the majority of the faculty in favor of individual opinions.
Also newsworthy, UNC’s Board of Trustees has a new chair and vice-chair (positions Guskiewicz had no input in deciding): David Boliek, the new chair, and John Preyer, the new vice-chair, were two of the four who voted against awarding tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones. They were voted into their positions unanimously. The Board of Trustees meeting continues tomorrow at 9 a.m.
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