Professor Chris Clemens appointed UNC-Chapel Hill Provost


The old well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

UNC-Chapel Hill administrators on Thursday selected astronomy professor Christopher Clemens as the university’s new executive vice-chancellor and rector, effective February 1. He will be the university’s second in command behind the chancellor.

Clement, Distinguished Professor Jaroslav Folda, Department of Physics and Astronomy, UNC-CH, recently served as Director of the Carolina Institute for Convergent Science and Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Convergent Science. During his two decades at Carolina, Clemens also served as President of Physics and Astronomy, Senior Associate Dean for Natural Sciences, and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Innovation at the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I am honored to be able to serve my community at a pivotal time for university,” Clemens said in a statement. “The challenges and disruptions we have undergone are substantial, but I believe they also provide opportunities to reflect on our core mission with students, to promote the public good, and to put our research and scholarship to service in such a way. innovative service to the people of North Carolina. “

Chris Clemens 2.JPG
Astrophysicist and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Chris Clemens is the university’s new executive vice-chancellor and rector. Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill

The UNC-CH board voted to endorse Clemens on the recommendation of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz at a special board meeting on Thursday morning. But the university did not announce the hiring until Thursday evening.

“The chancellor needs a provost and a team around him whom he trusts and a provost who he believes will help move the university in the right direction,” said the chairman of the board of directors. administration, Dave Boliek, in an interview.

Boliek said Guskiewicz made it clear to the board that Clemens should join his leadership team as the next dean of UNC-CH.

At the meeting, which was held mostly behind closed doors, directors voted on three action items regarding staff that had not been publicly disclosed at the time.

Every director voted yes on the points, with the exception of student body president Lamar Richards. He voted no on the first point, which was the hiring of the provost, and abstained from voting on the other two points, which were administrative changes in salary.

Richards could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Commitment to research, education and open inquiry

As Rector, Clemens will lead the academic and strategic planning of the university.

He was the first Senior Associate Dean, Research and innovation at the College of Arts & Sciences until July. This position was created in 2019 to “drive strategic planning and provide advice in the academic divisions and research programs of the College, encouraging new models of innovation, new initiatives and new collaborations,” according to the university.

Clemens also sits on the advisory board of the UNC Program for Public Discourse and was Acting Faculty Director in his first year. The university program has sparked controversy over its alleged conservative political tendency as developed and funded in 2019, The Daily Tar Heel reported. Last spring, the program received a $ 8 million donation for a new speaker series to promote constructive public debate on current issues, including racial justice.

“Chris’s deep understanding of the connections between rigorous interdisciplinary research, excellent teaching and the value of open inquiry makes him the right fit to take on this role at this pivotal moment in Carolina history,” said Guskiewicz in a press release.

He acknowledged Clemens’ academic collaboration and his “commitment to the kind of interdisciplinary work” that is part of the university’s strategic plan.

Clemens received a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. He was then a NASA Hubble Fellow at Iowa State University and Sherman Fairchild Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech before joining the faculty of UNC-CH in 1998.

Clemens is replacing Bob Blouin, who announced his resignation in May after four years as the head of the university’s academic business, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Blouin planned to hold the post of provost until his successor was hired and he will now resume his teaching work at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Blouin is one of the many senior administrators of UNC-CH who have left or are leaving their post this year. Five deans, all of whom report directly to the provost, are also part of the exodus of UNC-CH leaders which came as UNC-CH was propelled into the national spotlight on issues of political influence, race and academic freedom.

Pressure on the provost’s decision

While the Dean’s search was kept out of the public eye, which is typical, campus administrators, faculty, and students were part of the search process.

A designated search committee sorts the applications, interviews the applicants and makes some official recommendations to the Chancellor. The Chancellor then chooses a finalist from this list of candidates and presents that candidate and their credentials to the UNC-CH Board of Directors for approval.

As this research drew to a close, UNC-CH President Mimi Chapman wrote a editorial for The Daily Tar Heel claiming that Guskiewicz was “under significant pressure to make a particular choice”.

“Our administrators and the UNC system dictate its choices to the point that it really has nothing to do,” Chapman wrote.

Interference by administrators, donors and officials of the UNC system in research, especially for the academic director of the university, undermines the authority of the chancellor and ruins the relationship between administration and faculty, staff and students, she said.

But Boliek, when asked about accusations of pressuring the decision, said: “Board members advise the Chancellor on a multitude of matters.”

Boliek said Guskiewicz told him he was following this advice and using it as he would with advice from trusted advisers at the university.

“I think it’s fair,” Boliek said. “It’s his job and it’s our job.”

“We must support those whom the Chancellor presents to us”

Chapman, who has interviewed and met with several provost candidates, said his qualms were not with one particular person, but with the process. She said she was ready to support and work with whoever Guskiewicz chooses as their provost, as long as it was “his choice, freely made.”

Administrator Gene Davis said any pressure on the Chancellor to pick a certain candidate is unfortunate and unnecessary as Guskiewicz is the CEO of UNC-CH and that should be his hire.

“We have to support whoever the Chancellor introduces us to,” Davis said, adding that he and at least five other administrators had told the Chancellor they would vote for his choice.

The hiring of a marshal is a big step for GUskiewicz in building his leadership team, something he was unable to do during the pandemic, Davis said.

More changes in the leadership of UNC-CH

Along with the new provost, Guskiewicz also took steps to strategically align the entire administrative team by hiring Christi Hurt as the new chief of staff and transferring Amy Locklear Hertel to a redefined role of executive vice president.

Hurt currently serves as Senior Prevention Strategy Officer, Student Affairs, a position created last spring to lead the university’s sexual assault and gender-based violence prevention, intervention and support efforts.

Previously, she was Chief of Staff and Acting Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs at UNC-CH, Assistant Professor in the School of Government, Director of the Carolina Women’s Center and Acting Title IX Coordinator. Hurt is a three-time graduate of UNC-CH.

Hertel, who served as the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff and the Chancellor’s Senior Advisor on Academic Affairs for four years, will take over as the new Executive Vice President. She has degrees in social work and law and is a faculty member at the School of Social Work. Hertel was hired as chief of staff to former Chancellor Carol Folt and previously served as director of the American Indian Center since 2012. She is a member of the Lumbee and Coharie tribes of North Carolina.

The Trustees also approved the salary changes in conjunction with the hiring of the Marshal and the two additional staff members that require the approval of the UNC System Board of Governors.

This story was originally published 9 December 2021 6:35 pm.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer in the Investigative and Corporate Team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named the 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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