Kevin Guskiewicz to leave UNC after 28 years, become president of Michigan State

Saturday, December 9, 2023
UNC to lose Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to Michigan State
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz will leave Chapel Hill to be the president of Michigan State University.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- University of North Carolina Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz will officially become the new president of Michigan State University on March 4.

Michigan State University's Board of Trustees held a meeting Friday to formally announce the hire.

Guskiewicz is a long-time Tar Heel, having worked for the university for nearly 30 years. Questions remain about why Guskiewicz ultimately decided to leave the university. Many speculate that the influence of politics on university operations played a key role, but Guskiewicz himself has declined to comment.

He did release the following statement to the Carolina community Friday:

"Since acknowledging three weeks ago that I was weighing other professional opportunities, I have spent time talking with friends, colleagues and members of our beloved Carolina family. This has allowed me to think seriously about the future of our great University as well as my own future.

I have loved leading Carolina for nearly five years. We have accomplished so much together, and I am proud of where Carolina is today. We have faced challenging times, but also incredible moments of opportunity. Thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me to ensure our status as the leading global public research university we have aspired to be. It has not always been easy, but as I have often said - easy is boring. We certainly have not been bored.

Carolina has been my home for 28 years, and my family and I will always be a part of this community. From runs with my dog Charlie through campus to Sunset Serenade on the quad, from nail-biters in the Dean Dome to moving performances at PlayMakers and Memorial Hall, I have been inspired and challenged by you, our students, faculty and staff. This community has made me the person I am today, and words cannot express the gratitude I feel. I will never forget the outpouring of love and support you have shown to me, from when I first started as an assistant professor in exercise and sport science until now.

It has been an honor to serve the University in this role as chancellor. Thank you for that privilege."

Guskiewicz will become Michigan State's 22nd overall president and the fifth person to lead the university since former President Anna Lou Simon resigned in 2018 in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal.

The university has remained embroiled in controversy since the scandal. A Michigan State hearing officer determined in October that former football coach Mel Tucker, who was fired in September, sexually harassed and exploited rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy.

Women who were assaulted by Nassar sued the university in July, accusing school officials of making "secret decisions" in refusing to release more than 6,000 documents from an investigation into how he was allowed to get away with his behavior.

Divisions within the Board of Trustees, which contributed to President Samuel Stanley Jr.'s resignation last October after less than three years in the position, have also not improved. An effort to oust board Chair Rema Vassar failed in October after another trustee accused her, among other things, of bullying colleagues.

"I am aware that Michigan State University has faced more than its share of challenges in recent years," Guskiewicz told the board Friday. "Yet I see a strong university with an inspiring historical foundation that can reach new levels of excellence through its powerful commitment to student success, knowledge discovery and land-grant service. I commit to working alongside all of you to identify what I like to call a true north."

Michigan State's Board of Trustees hold meeting to announce hiring of UNC Chancellor.

The UNC Board of Trustees released a statement on the appointment thanking Guskiewicz for his service to the university. It will hold a search for the next chancellor as soon as an interim chief executive is appointed.

"My hope is that President Hans will consider interim candidates with strong Carolina ties and stellar credentials who would keep the University moving forward on all fronts until a new chancellor is appointed," said John P. Preyer, Chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees.

Hans is expected to name an interim chancellor within the next week or so.

Politics to blame for Guskiewicz's departure?

Tom Ross, who previously served as President of the UNC System, said he believes the current makeup and powers of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees could play a role in who assumes the chancellor position.

"To have somebody of that ability essentially be leaving the University of North Carolina, one of the premier universities, that sends a signal to others that may be interested. That maybe this isn't the best place to go right now, and that's a shame," Ross said.

Ross serves as Co-Chair of The Governor's Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina, which has released several recommendations including increasing the size of the Board of Governors and guaranteeing both the majority and largest minority in the General Assembly elect members to the board. Other suggestions have included giving the governor the power to appoint four members, increasing the term length from four to eight years but instituting a one-term limit, and creating a waiting period for lobbyists or NC General Assembly members wanting to serve on either board

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, blamed "meddling from legislative appointees" for driving away talent from the chancellor's office. "Hard right appointees" from the Republican-led legislature are damaging the university's reputation, he said.

The Board of Trustees is comprised of 15 members, eight of whom are elected by the UNC Board of Governors, six are appointed by the General Assembly, and the remaining member is the student body president, ex officio.

Board of Trustee member Dave Boliek responded to the governor's statement.

"Our board is about accountability, about oversight, and asking tough questions. And if the governor wants to call accountability, oversight, and tough questions 'meddling' then that is typical of his Democratic partisanship. "I think we've done a fantastic job," said Boliek, who highlighted the university's improved academic rankings.

Boliek was sharing his perspective, and not speaking on behalf of the Board of Trustees. He previously served as Chair of the Board of Trustees and is running for State Auditor as a Republican.

Ross expressed hopes that more voices would be included as the school works to identify its next Chancellor.

"When people feel like there are other issues involved that hamper the ability of a leader to do their job, that's where the real concern is. I think it's important in a search process, you have those people who know the most about a university, which are oftentimes students and faculty and administrators, those who know most about a university, those who have experience in higher education, they need to be part of the search committee," Ross said.

Guskiewicz's legacy at UNC

ABC11 previously reported that Guskiewicz was the finalist for the presidency at Michigan State.

Guskiewicz became chancellor in 2019. He's seen the university through the Silent Sam controversy, the COVID-19 pandemic, a Supreme Court ruling over the university's admission practices, and the deadly shooting of a professor on campus.

Through all of that, he remains well-liked by much of the faculty and staff at the university.

In recent days, the UNC community rallied around the chancellor, hoping to keep him at the university.

"There has been a huge outpouring of support for the chancellor, I've gotten multiple emails and texts from current and former faculty," said Beth Moracco, chair of the faculty and associate professor of health behavior.

Her name was on a letter written to the chancellor asking him to stay. Moracco has known Guskiewicz since she was a graduate student, too, and has worked alongside him for years.

"Whenever there is any kind of challenge or decision to be made, he reaches out to a wide variety of students, staff and faculty," she said. "He takes in all sorts of perspectives, considers all of them, keeps those lines of communication open."

Michigan State's student newspaper reported that he would only accept the job if he could do so without interference from the board.