Winston Crisp, UNC-Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for student affairs, is stepping down, university officials said Thursday.
Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Robert Blouin announced Crisp’s departure in a message on the university’s website.
“With heavy hearts, we write to share that Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston B. Crisp has decided to retire later this month,” they wrote. “After more than 26 years of service to Carolina and her students, he will more than just be missed. His spirit, his humor, his kindness and his deep, personal belief in our mission has touched our entire community.”
Crisp, 51, has been a fixture at the university, overseeing services and programming for students.
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“As a highly respected and much loved leader at Carolina, Winston has always placed students first and brought their voices and those of our staff into his leadership,” Folt and Blouin said in their message.
It’s unusual for a top administrator to retire in the middle of the academic year.
Recently, WRAL reported a text exchange between Crisp and another staffer in his office on the night that the Silent Sam Confederate statue was toppled by protesters. The other administrator wondered about whether protesters would tear down the monument. Crisp responded, “One can hope,” according to the WRAL report, which was based on a release of public records by UNC.
Crisp is also co-chairman of UNC’s history task force, which is in the midst of coming up with a plan to contextualize the university’s history, including its ties to slavery. The effort was to include new signage and context for Silent Sam before it was ripped from its base.
In a statement released Thursday by Crisp, he said: “Over the past 26 years, I have been honored to have been able to work with some of the most wonderful individuals a person could know. The people who have made Carolina the special place that it is to so many have also made my time here priceless. After much reflection, I have decided that it is time for me to retire and move on to other challenges in my life. I will always cherish this place but look forward to seeing what my next phase of life has to bring.”
Crisp, a 1992 UNC law school graduate, was the school’s first assistant dean for student affairs and the first associate dean for student services. As a young administrator, he dealt with a tragic day in university history in 1995, when a mentally ill law student, Wendell Williamson, killed two people in a shooting spree in downtown Chapel Hill. Williamson was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a live in a state mental hospital.
Since that time, Crisp has been a leader in working to improve mental health services in higher education. In 2007, Crisp, then assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at UNC, spent several months lending a hand at Virginia Tech, where a mentally ill student gunman killed 32 faculty and students in a mass shooting. Crisp helped advise the university on new procedures regarding student safety and mental illness.
He was promoted to vice chancellor in 2010. This year, he was instrumental in convening a Mental Health Task Force at UNC.
In a tweet Thursday, Folt called Crisp a “priceless gem.”
Christi Hurt, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, will serve as interim vice chancellor, Folt said. Hurt was the administrator who had been texting with Crisp about Silent Sam the night it was toppled, according to WRAL.
The message from Folt and Blouin said a national search will be conducted to find a successor to Crisp.