Campus News

Leadership and landscape changes, good financial news

The chancellor continues the discussion, covering the provost transition, recent building renaming and strong financial results on multiple fronts.

Guskiewicz says this semester he is looking forward to Spring Commencement, when a class of students who spent half their time at Carolina in the midst of a pandemic but persevered.
Guskiewicz, shown here at the Oct. 10, 2021, Commencement ceremony for 2020 graduates, says he has his sights set on Spring Commencement, when a class of students who spent half their time at Carolina in the midst of a pandemic will graduate. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part Q&A. It has been edited for brevity and clarity. The first part ran Jan. 19.

The conversation continues, with Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz addressing the provost transition, the recently passed North Carolina state budget, balancing the University’s budget and more.

Bob Blouin is stepping down as provost after nearly five years in that role. What are some ways he has helped shape the University?

Bob has been a devoted partner to me and so many others on our campus as both provost for the past four-and-a-half years and as dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy for 14 years. He’s strategic in his approach to decision-making. As provost, he has helped transition what was a strategic framework called the Blueprint for Next into a strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, that I consider a critical roadmap for the University. He was at the forefront of that.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve stayed true to that plan throughout the pandemic. Diversity is really important to Bob, and we have placed more emphasis on initiatives to improve equity, inclusion and community engagement. He’s an incredible listener, and he has helped me build out a leadership team that I’m very proud of, a group of really talented individuals — deans and vice provosts and vice chancellors — who make up a talented and diverse team.

And when I realized I needed someone to run point on our COVID response — to sit at the table in the situation room and to be sure were making informed decisions — Bob was the first person to step up and say, “I’m ready and willing to take this on.” He did it really well. The number of hours that Bob Blouin has committed to helping us with our risk-mitigation plan around COVID is incredible.

In February, Chris Clemens becomes the next provost. Why is he the right leader at this time?

I’ve worked side by side with Chris on a number of initiatives over the past seven years. I’ve known him for about 15 years, and he knows our campus. He’s a strategic thinker who believes in our roadmap for the future, and that’s really important to me. He also believes it’s critically important that we strengthen our partnership with the citizens of North Carolina. When I came in as chancellor, I knew we would have to prove that the tax dollars going to what I believe to be the crown jewel of the state — the University for North Carolina, as I like to say — were dollars well spent. And Chris believes in that, too.

He also understands the important role that the provost plays in advancing the academic mission of the University. That means maintaining excellence among our faculty so we can deliver on the promise that we make to our students every day. While Chris is a scientist, he’s very much a humanist, a social scientist, someone who believes in the importance of undergraduates having breadth across different disciplines and depth within a chosen discipline. And then the third component is practice — breadth, depth, practice. He believes in the importance of experiential education, meaning study abroad, research experiences and internship opportunities. He’s also a strong proponent of graduate education, supporting research and of encouraging entrepreneurship. So his values, I believe, align with the mission of the University.

The University’s Board of Trustees recently voted to approve the two new building names you presented — Hortense McClinton and Henry Owl. Why was this an important step for the University?

I’m so happy that our Board of Trustees accepted the recommendation to honor these two incredible individuals. These are two people whose values align with ours and who represent in some ways the diversity that we aspire to. Even though both were here at Carolina many decades ago, I think their names on these buildings will inspire our student body, but especially those who are Native American and African American. That was one of the highlights of my semester.

In November, North Carolina passed its first budget in three years. How will it benefit UNC-Chapel Hill?

First and foremost, this is the first time in several years that our employees will receive a salary increase. That’s so important for retaining our world-class faculty and our talented and devoted staff. I want to also emphasize the importance of the funding for restoration and renovations. We have over $870 million in deferred maintenance. This is an aging campus with a lot of needs, some of which will finally be addressed. And then there was an $18 million commitment to support our READDI Initiative, which is critical for researching and producing treatments for the next pandemic. Carolina certainly benefits from this budget, and we were grateful that a budget was reached.

What updates can you give about efforts to balance the University’s budget?

I could not be happier with where we are. We are very close to being able to announce that we’ve balanced the budget. We had a little over $100 million structural deficit which had been growing for about nine years, and we couldn’t continue to aspire toward the goals of the strategic plan if we had to keep finding offsets for that structural deficit.

This was a commitment that I made in September 2020. A lot of hard work has gone into identifying the best approach to get there, knowing that it was going to be difficult for all of the unit leaders — the deans, vice provosts and vice chancellors. We wanted to protect our mission and people as best we could. And I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that. Because of that, we’re in a much better position now to support our people and the priorities of the University.

What does it mean that you could balance the budget during a global pandemic?

I had a lot of people challenging me on that, saying it was the worst time to balance the budget. And I kept saying, no, this is the best time to do it. As I’ve said over and over, we want to be that reimagined university, not one that’s going to try to go right back to doing business as usual. So I think that it was the right time to say we were going to balance the budget.

The Campaign for Carolina met its overall goal of $4.25 billion nearly a year early — despite a long-running global pandemic. What does that say about the support of the broader Carolina community?

Our alumni and donor base believe in Carolina. They have really stepped up to support the priorities we’ve identified. They believe in the roadmap for the future of this magical place that they love. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort made by so many. But it’s the same as with the research funding: Yes, the number is nice, but it’s the impact the money will have that’s important. It’s about the opportunities that it creates for our students, for our faculty, for the citizens of North Carolina.

Even though we met the overall dollar goal, we still have 11 months to the close of the campaign. There’s still work to be done. And I’m committed to raising more money around scholarships and aid for our students. We want to provide opportunities for every student who has earned their way here to graduate as debt-free as possible. That’s one of the reasons we are consistently ranked as a top five public university. I also want to spend these last months of the campaign raising money around professorships for faculty. We want to recruit and retain the very best faculty in the country. It’s going to take more than just professorships, but that’s one of the ways we can accomplish that goal.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to walking out on the stage at Kenan Stadium on May 8, the day of Spring Commencement, and looking out over that sea of blue, thinking about the incredible opportunities that those students are about to experience and what this place meant to them. This is a special class because they will have spent over half of their Carolina experience navigating a pandemic. I’m especially aware of this because I have a son in that class. They’ve had to endure a lot. I think it’s going to make them all stronger as they go out into the world to face new challenges.

I’m not one to wish away time, but I will look forward to that moment through the months ahead.