Trustee Ralph Meekins Speaks Up Against Diversity Overreach

Trustee Meekins speaks at BOT meeting

One voice of courage and conscience spoke up this month in the debate over diversity at UNC.

Trustee Ralph Meekins, a Shelby attorney, said, “I am totally against” the Board of Trustee’s vote May 13 to remove from the UNC budget $2.3 million for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and to redirect the money to campus public safety.

Meekins said the trustees acted “without hearing from proponents of DEI, who are most aware of all that DEI encompasses and all of the benefits that are offered to our student body and faculty when implemented effectively. UNC’s DEI programs oversee a wide range of activities on our campus, and I believe they are necessary on our campus.”

He added, “while many would agree that some DEI efforts have become problematic and excessive, I’ve seen them myself. The fundamental principles of DEI and the ongoing need for development and support for the core of DEI principles are still key to the success of our campus.”

The trustees’ action, he said, “sends the wrong message to our students, prospective students, and alumni regarding how UNC values and treats diverse populations on our campus.”

Meekins has been a trustee since 2019. His term ends in 2027.

In his statement, he predicted that the trustees’ vote “will be in direct conflict” with the Board of Governors’ new DEI policy.

He was right.

On May 23, UNC System President Peter Hans nullified the trustees’ action. Hans said the trustees did not have the authority to amend the university’s budget and divert the funds to campus safety.

Our Coalition deeply appreciates Meekins’ strong support for the principles of good governance. Unlike other trustees, he approached the issue in a thoughtful way. He recognized the value of promoting diversity and protecting students against discrimination.

UNC needs more trustees like him.

You can view his statement in the video above. Following is a full transcript of his remarks:

I’m going to read for the first time. I’ve never prepared a written document where I read from in this meeting…I’ve been here for five years, but I’m going to do it today. I do want to recognize the fact that we lost Ralph Frasier last week. He was one of the last living members of the first three African American undergrads who came here. He died last week. Three brothers from Durham were the first three admitted…African Americans admitted to our school back in 1955, but they had to file a lawsuit against the Board of Trustees to be able to do that. So, just to give some context.

This motion was the first I had ever heard of such a change to the budget. Regrettably, I missed the majority of the budget meeting. At the time of the vote, I felt uneasy about making a decision without having been present for much of the initial discussion. As a result, I chose not to cast my vote either in favor of or against the motion to defund DEI.

Fortunately, as we heard from our chancellor this morning, in spite of this action that we have taken, the issue of how UNC Chapel Hill handles its efforts on diversity will ultimately be determined by our interim chancellor. I trust that he will await clarification from the Board of Governors regarding its DEI policy, as he said he would this morning, and also hope that he will adhere to its directives while thoroughly examining the matter, listening to all perspectives, and ultimately making an informed decision. It’s undoubtedly a challenging task, but I pray he approaches the changes to our DEE program with precision, using a scalpel and not a machete. Given his track record so far, I am optimistic that this will indeed be the approach that he takes.

Thanks for letting me do that.

Romper Room: Trustees Fail UNC Again

In just four days last week, the current Board of Trustees once again showed that they are incapable of being entrusted with the state’s “priceless gem,” the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To recap:

  • Dave Boliek used his position as a trustee to help win the Republican nomination for State Auditor. That’s wrong, and he should resign from the board.
  • The board – at the urging of Boliek and trustee Marty Kotis and without hearing from affected staff, students or faculty – voted to move all funding from programs that promote diversity and protect against discrimination to law enforcement.
  • The board announced that it would hold a closed-door session to examine the Athletics Department budget, indicating that they do not know the basics of open meetings law in the state. They had to back down after a judge ruled they would violate North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law. Chair John Preyer then tried to deny the plain facts of what happened.

Here are the details:

Boliek: Using UNC to Campaign

Boliek was wrong to use his official actions as a trustee to help his campaign for Auditor. That’s an abuse of his position.

On Monday, May 13, the day before the Republican runoff primary, Boliek said at the trustees’ meeting, “I think that DEI is divisive. I don’t think it’s productive. I don’t think it gives a return on investment to taxpayers and to the institution itself.”

The next day, Boliek narrowly won the runoff against Jack Clark. Boliek had finished second to Clark in the March 5 primary.

Boliek’s campaign website boasts:

“While board chairman, Dave led the fight at UNC to eliminate woke diversity and equity policies and create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership to help bring ideological balance to the notoriously liberal campus.”


Another trustee, Jim Blaine, is a consultant to Boliek’s campaign. The campaign paid Blaine’s company, “Martin & Blaine/The Differentiators,” $35,250 last December:

Boliek is using his position as a trustee to further his political ambitions. We call on him to resign.

The Attack on Diversity

The Board of Governors is expected to vote this week to repeal the UNC System’s diversity policies. But the trustees didn’t wait. They voted last week to eliminate from the university’s budget all $2.3 million in funding for diversity programs – and to transfer the money to law enforcement. They also want to revisit their financial relationship with the town of Chapel Hill because of their views about the Chapel Hill Police not participating in police actions on campus.

Neither the trustees nor the Board of Governors have taken time or made the effort to consider the impact of their actions on students, faculty, and staff at the state’s 17 UNC System campuses. Diverse campuses benefit everyone.

Here is what UNC Student Body President Jaleah Taylor said:

“As a Black student, I am very supportive of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. I’ve seen the benefits of them on campus. And so I’m hoping that the Board of Governors does not vote to approve this policy, even though it’s probably very likely.”

Read more here:

We recommend that you read the eloquent defense of diversity written by Dr. Mimi Chapman, one of our co-founders:

We also recommend The News & Observer’s interview with a professor who studies diversity programs and concludes that they “ultimately benefit students and account for small portions of university budgets.” He says “the loss of DEI offices could significantly hinder the ability of universities to deal with incidents of discrimination and harassment on campus — a responsibility they are required to uphold by federal law.”

Behind Closed Doors

Also last week, a legal challenge forced the trustees to back down on their plans to discuss the UNC athletics budget in secret.

On Monday, May 13, the same day of the anti-diversity vote, trustees said they would meet in closed session the next Thursday to talk about alleged deficits in the athletics budget.

Chair Preyer, according to WRAL said:

“I think it is imperative that we carve athletics out of the approval today, and we have an extended discussion in closed session at our meeting on Thursday, so that we can all hear just how bad it is and what needs to be done to remedy it, and I think that’s best to accomplish Thursday in a closed session.”

But, on Wednesday, Triangle attorney David McKenzie filed a legal complaint saying that a closed session would violate the North Carolina’s Open Meetings and Public Records law. He also said the board held an illegal secret meeting to discuss the matter in November 2023.

His complaint said:

“The public has a vested interest in the discussions surrounding UNC’s affiliation with the ACC and the financial management of UNC Athletics. These critical matters should be conducted in open sessions to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability. Shielding such discussions from public scrutiny undermines public trust and violates the law.”

A Superior Court judge agreed and issued a temporary restraining order. The trustees had to cancel the closed-door session.

Preyer read a statement at Thursday meeting to, in his words, “correct and clarify” the board’s intent. In other words, he had to backpedal.

WRAL summed it up: “The chairman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees said it would not discuss the school’s athletic budget in closed session Thursday despite saying it would do just that during a special meeting Monday.”

You can read more – and read McKenzie’s complaint and the judge’s restraining order – here:

At Thursday’s meeting, Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts defended athletic director Bubba Cunningham against trustees’ criticism: “Our athletic director is one of the most senior, well-respected, well-regarded, admired athletic directors in the country. He has broad respect from his peers and we don’t have a more capable, more experienced, more talented senior administrator here at Carolina.”

Cunningham is one of the few long-serving administrators still in place on campus. The trustees have chased off most of the rest.

Enough is Enough

These three events, all in less than a week, reinforce our total lack of confidence in the trustees’ current leadership.

Some trustees – notably, Ralph Meekins – have carried out their responsibilities in a responsible way. But some – this week it’s Preyer, Boliek and Kotis, next week it may be some other combination – are doing more harm than good.

They are an embarrassment to UNC. The chaos they cause impedes the ability of the interim chancellor, faculty and staff to manage day-to-day campus operations.

Most damaging, they undermine any hope that there will be a meaningful search for a permanent chancellor. Who would want to work with this board?

In January, UNC System President Peter Hans and Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey cautioned the trustees to, as one board member put it, “stay in our lane.”

Instead, the trustees gave us a dystopian version of romper room.

Two Coalition Founders Look at What’s Happened at UNC

Events have come fast and furious at UNC the past few weeks: protests, the police response, graduation and – unfortunately – more ill-advised and ill-timed actions by the Board of Trustees.

Today we share different perspectives on these events from two of the Coalition for Carolina’s founders: Dr. Mimi Chapman, professor in the UNC School of Social Work, and Roger Perry of Chapel Hill, former trustee and trustees’ chair.

Coalitions like ours take hard work. By definition, they bring together people whose views and points of view may differ, even as they work toward a common goal.

We are no different. Many times, our weekly newsletters reflect complete consensus. Other times, they represent a compromise. On occasion, we agree to disagree.

That is how a university community should work.

We’d like to hear your opinions, too. Write us at:

Mimi Chapman:

As balloons and banners were going up for graduation, police were called into our campus. Many of us saw this choice as an escalation, moving what was widely described as a peaceful protest into a scary confrontation.

The result? Raised and lowered flags, arrests, suspensions, pepper spray, and circulating violent images.

Amid the debriefing of the police action, several colleagues called and told me their personal experiences of being threatened by people involved in the protests. Students or outsiders – no one knows for sure – came in close saying, “We know where you live and are going to come after you,” That is not protest, that is harassment that presents a real danger.

As I went back and forth between drafting remarks extolling graduates and attending safety briefings in case of disruption or violence, I tuned in to the internal toll this was taking. Outwardly communicating joy and excitement while inwardly debating whether students, protesters, police, or fellow faculty should be viewed friend or foe. The COVID class that entered Carolina in the fall of 2020 so deserved the joy of a full commencement experience. Yet, could we give them that when there had to be warnings on the Kenan Stadium jumbotron reminding them what types of behaviors would result in arrest?

After my own graduation duties were done, I walked across campus and saw for myself the red paint on South Building’s steps, the bloody handprints around the door, and the signs calling the interim chancellor a “fascist” and a “pig,” which in my view he is not.

I found myself depressed about all of it: the police, the protests, the threats, the brokenness and sorrow this far away conflict has brought to our campus.

Yes, we made it through graduation. But is this over? How does our campus find our way back from the fissures it has opened?

To the rescue comes the BOT? Not.

Ever ready to take advantage of a difficult situation, they held a special meeting declaring that they would divert all DEI funds to law enforcement, making a specious connection between DEI programming and the protests.

Just shameless.

At a moment when the campus so needs a bit of quiet and calm, a moment to reassess and recalibrate, the BOT decides to pour gasoline on the fire with an argument that makes no sense.

DEI programs have been around for decades and certainly have nothing to do with the dreadful conflict in the middle east that has roiled campuses across the nation. Already on social media, I see faculty members wondering if they can stay here, if this is the right place for them. For every person that asks such questions publicly, there are more quietly asking the same questions as they try to concentrate on their work.

The emotional and cognitive load this upheaval takes is substantial for those of us on campus. To worry about your own or your colleagues’ jobs, to wonder how you should handle a student who asks for an incomplete because they are distressed by the police actions on campus, to worry for suspended students and others who have been actively harassed, to manage our individual emotions and beliefs about the conflict in the Middle East.

Surely, all of that is enough, without the BOT weighing in, flexing their “power of the purse” as they create more chaos.

Roger Perry:

The University faced a volatile situation during the protests. I believe we weathered it successfully.

Compared to Columbia, UCLA and other universities across the country, both sides were decidedly calmer and more temperate. Both stepped over the line marginally, but certainly not egregiously.

Universities have long been the platform for protest and civil disobedience. That is good, not bad.

With only minor missteps, our interim Chancellor handled it all quite well. No one was hurt, no property was seriously damaged and there was minimal disruption of normal affairs.

I will stop short of saying we should celebrate and declare victory. But, considering the volatility of the situation, we should be pleased with the outcome.

As for the Board of Trustees, I agree totally with Mimi. They behaved worse than anyone on either side of the protests.

Without any public discussion and without any due diligence, they abruptly and capriciously voted to do away with all campus efforts to combat discrimination and promote diversity.

Now, they apparently want to dictate the operations of UNC’s enormously successfully Athletics Department.

What’s next? Will they be sending in plays to Mack Brown and Hubert Davis?

A great university like ours deserves better.

Don’t short-circuit chancellor search

The following content was created by Public Ed Works.  We requested permission to republish it.

RALEIGH (May 8, 2024) – There’s a process to choose chancellors at UNC System campuses.

Follow it.

If there was any doubt university leadership has become hyper-politicized in recent years, state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger removed it last week.

As if we need more evidence, both declared that ‘interim’ should be removed from UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts’ title.

Moore said Roberts showed “incredible leadership” and “a lot of backbone” in directing removal of pro-Palestinian protesters from the main quad on UNC’s campus and ordering the American flag to be restored after protesters took it down.

Asked whether he supported Roberts becoming permanent chancellor, Moore responded, “100 percent.”

Moore said he told UNC System President Peter Hans and UNC System Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey they “ought to take that interim title off and name Lee Roberts the chancellor today,” according to The News & Observer.

Similarly, Berger told reporters there was “no question” Roberts should become the permanent chancellor.1

Roberts, a former state budget director under Gov. Pat McCrory and former member of the system Board of Governors, was named interim chancellor in December after Kevin Guskiewicz announced he would leave Carolina to become president of Michigan State University.

There’s no question Roberts was decisive in dealing with the protesters last week, who offered him a political gift when they removed the U.S. flag Tuesday afternoon.

“That flag will stand here as long as I’m chancellor,” Roberts told reporters after the American flag was restored.

But this isn’t about Roberts so much as the politicians. By virtually anointing Roberts, they made his job harder should he become chancellor. (He still hasn’t said publicly whether he’ll apply for the permanent job.)

They confirmed beyond any doubt that the choice of chancellors is a political (and emotional) one – and in the process further poisoned his standing with a skeptical university faculty.

“It was not a good look for the interim chancellor to be standing on the steps of the South Building with armed guards next to him, right?” said Anthony Charles, a member of the Faculty Executive Committee. “It kind of made the situation a lot worse.”2

And support from the faculty is critical to any chancellor’s success.

THERE’S A PROCESS to follow, and the politicians should allow that process to play out, rather than jumping the gun to declare a winner.

We’ve already heard mutterings for months that “They have their man.”

The General Assembly doesn’t have a direct role in chancellor searches, but it does appoint all members of the systemwide Board of Governors and some members of campus Boards of Trustees.

After more than one version and significant teeth-gnashing, the Board of Governors adopted a new chancellor search policy last year – and Roberts was a member of the Board at the time.

By changing the composition of search “advisory” committees at each campus, the policy shifted considerable influence in the process away from the campuses to the UNC System Office.

The committee can include no more than 13 members. It must include the System President, the Chair and another member of the Board of Governors, and a sitting or retired UNC System chancellor. It also must include members of the campus Board of Trustees, faculty, student body, staff and alumni.3

The search advisory committee recommends candidates to the campus Board of Trustees, which must recommend at least three candidates to UNC System President Hans, who in turn recommends a final nominee to the Board of Governors.

The current search committee at UNC Chapel Hill includes just two members of the faculty: Dr. Cristy Page, Executive Dean at the UNC School of Medicine and chair of the search committee; and Dr. Beth Moracco, Chair of the Faculty.4

AT THE OUTSET, university officials promised a legitimate national search for the next chancellor at UNC Chapel Hill.

“A thoughtful and professional search goes a long way in setting a new chancellor on the path to success,” Hans told the search advisory committee at its first meeting in March.

“And if we meet our responsibilities well, building trust through a fair and rigorous process, we can help ensure that an incoming leader has the confidence and the support of the campus and wider community.”5

Building trust through a fair and rigorous process – that’s the ideal.

If the politicians can just keep their fingers out, it would be a very good thing to let that process play out.

It might just help build a better North Carolina.


Division Over UNC Protest Reflects Damage from Legislative Interference

The UNC campus and the larger Carolina community are deeply divided over the pro-Palestinian protests on campus and the administration’s response.

This is a time when our university needs experienced leadership, constructive dialogue and a free exchange of ideas and information. It is a time when North Carolina needs UNC to provide education, promote understanding and bring people together – not drive them farther apart.

But sadly, UNC cannot do that today in the way it has throughout our history. That is the direct result of years of legislative interference in campus operations.

The Coalition for Carolina was formed two years ago to push back against that interference. Events of recent days tell us that we’re right. And that we must keep working.

We are well aware that members of our coalition have divergent opinions about what has happened. Many sympathize with the protesters’ concern over civilian deaths in Gaza. Many others are deeply offended by reports of antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric. Many, maybe most, share both sentiments.

Many are disappointed by Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts’ decision to call in armed police who, according to media on the scene, used force and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.

Many applaud Roberts for that action and for lowering the Palestinian flag and raising the American flag.

The top leaders of the state legislature – Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore – said afterward that Roberts should be appointed permanent chancellor.

After the flag incident, Roberts said UNC belongs to “every citizen of North Carolina.”

To us, that is precisely the point. The current UNC Board of Trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors don’t represent all the people of North Carolina. They are appointed by a legislature which stripped the governor of the other party of any appointments.

We believe that – especially in a state as closely divided along partisan and ideological lines as North Carolina – a broad range of viewpoints should be represented on universities’ governing boards.

As former UNC System President Tom Ross said recently, “a lack of diversity among university leadership and governance boards is both a disservice to students across the UNC System and leads to the controversy and volatility that we are seeing threaten our public universities.”

The Problems of Politics  

Three realities that relate to political interference shape the current campus situation:

Administrative Churn

We have a relatively new provost, a huge percentage of deans who have been in role less than three years, with two more experienced deans on their way out the door, and now an interim chancellor who has had little time to build up relationships across campus that can help in times of crisis.

Indeed, we are hearing that next to no consultation with faculty occurred before police were called to campus and that trustees were in South Building urging Roberts to call in the police.

Chilled Faculty Speech

Even before the Silent Sam debacle, faculty have been punished for speaking out on issues. Remember, people can be punished without losing their professorships. Leadership positions can be taken away or withheld and, indeed they have been. We’ve reported on several such instances, as have other outlets. In a situation as difficult as this current crisis, faculty, staff, and students need to know they can speak, teach, and discuss without fear of reprisal.

Neutered institutional speech

With the adoption of the Kalven report a little over a year ago, leaders including chancellors, provosts, and deans are prevented from speaking out on “the issues of the day.” This report, created by seven professors at the University of Chicago in 1967 and not seen again until a year ago when it was resurrected by right-wing think tanks, effectively makes leaders into managers, keeping them from providing moral leadership to a campus and setting a tone for how an institution will approach difficult national or international events.

Of course, all issues of discourse were to be solved by the much-hyped and politically motivated School of Civic Life and Leadership. We’ve seen hide nor hair of them in the current crisis. 

Reporting From the Scene

Student journalists at The Daily Tar Heel were at the protesters’ encampment and during the police action. Two DTH editors talked about what they saw and heard in this segment of WUNC Radio’s “Due South” program:

We believe it’s important for all of us to seek objective, first-hand information, rather than depending on hearsay and second- or third-hand reports that might reflect biases one way or the other.

UNC’s Voices Are Needed Today

To be sure, educational conversations that engage people’s strongly held beliefs and identities will ever be easy. But our campus has so much expertise both in the substantive issues related to the war in Gaza and in adjacent issues such as diplomacy, international law, Middle Eastern history and politics…the list is endless.

We need a larger effort to engage our campus around the educational aspects of this terrible crisis in the Middle East.

Today we see too much darkness and division, not Lux Libertas – light and liberty.

We hope the experience of recent days will awaken more people to the need for governance reform – and an end to interference.

The future of UNC depends on it.

We will keep working toward that goal.

Dr. Mimi Chapman:  Why Diversity Matters

My dad was a WWII veteran. I think about him so much now that he is gone because of the lessons he taught me and sometimes the lessons we learned together. Prior to the war, he had attended a junior college not far from his rural Missouri community. I’m not even quite sure how those colleges worked at that time, but when he came back from two years in the Pacific theater, he was eligible for the GI bill and used it to go to law school at the University of Missouri.

He was probably 97 years old and was telling me about the requests he was receiving to contribute to scholarships at his law school alma mater. He was both curious and frustrated about why so many scholarships were needed. He lapsed into old stories about working from dawn to dusk from the time he was five years old in his farming family. At first, I tried to talk with him about how expensive college was these days, housing costs, pressures were different, etc. But my arguments were a hard sell for him. Finally, I quit arguing. Given his age, our time was growing short and arguing seemed a poor use of it. I shifted. “What was it like when you went to law school after the war?”

“I was a fish out of water,” he remembered. “All the other boys knew what they were doing.” (Note: few if any women were in his class. It would be years and court cases later before an African American was admitted.) “Their fathers and brothers were lawyers. They talked the right way, dressed the right way. I had country clothes, overalls, hand-me-downs. I wasn’t that good a writer then. I wasn’t doing well in my classes, didn’t have very much money. Just couldn’t compete. I was about to leave after my first semester.”

I pressed on, “What happened? Why didn’t you?”

“There was a professor who could see what an odd duck I was, my scruffy clothes, stuff like that. He asked me where I was living, how I was making ends meet. He talked to me about my work and helped me with how to study for law school tests, how to write a good brief, that sort of thing.” Next the professor found my dad a place to live where he was given room and board in exchange for what was admittedly back breaking work hauling coffins in a funeral home. The description was so vivid that I now have a picture of my dad, showing up in his overalls at this family funeral parlor and taking up residence in the basement.

My dad was a white male and as such was allowed to use the GI benefit to advance his education. Many people of color who served in the war were shut out of GI benefits. Yet, his story in some ways encapsulates what DEI is about. He was “a fish out of water.” His preparation wasn’t quite the same as his peers. His socialization was different. He doubted his abilities, thought he didn’t belong in law school. The professor, who reached out to him, did what DEI programs do now albeit in more proactive ways, by asking questions: How can we help you understand this place? What can we do about the barriers – physical and psychological – that may keep you from feeling like you belong here? Can we connect you to others who have had similar life experiences, so you don’t feel alone?

I am not charged with leading in the DEI space on our campus and there are other places that can give a more robust history of DEI’s roots. But from what I have experienced DEI programming consists of advocating the use of clear, transparent rubrics in hiring, admissions procedures, and grading so that applicants and students are evaluated on the same transparent dimensions. There are programs aimed at helping professors be more wholistic mentors to students who are from marginalized groups including those of different racial identities as well as people who are neurodivergent or have a different sexual identity or gender expression. Likewise, there is a focus on first generation students, like my dad. DEI trainings, which I have never been required to attend in my 20 years as a faculty member, help people like me be more like my dad’s professor. They prompt me to think about the whole student, not just what they are or are not doing in my classroom. Some DEI work makes visible structures and histories that that shape student experience. As a professor, confronting such facts may make me uncomfortable at times, but real learning is not ever comfortable for any of us. For those of us who devote our lives to college campuses, discomfort comes with the territory. We must model tolerating it for our students.

To be sure, there are controversies within this space, particularly now in light of the war in Gaza. But that is cause for deep conversation, the civil discourse we hear so much about from our governing bodies. Not something to do away with through a vote on a consent agenda.

At its heart, what the BOG will dismantle in May, without so much as a conversation, is a set of strategies and commitments to helping a wider range of people to succeed on our “of the public, for the public” campuses. They say the money saved is to be directed toward mental health efforts. The best way to address mental health problems is to prevent them from occurring. When we attend to whole people – students, faculty, and staff – we create a campus climate where everyone can thrive.

My dad and I eventually ended the conversation. “So you worked really hard and you had some pretty significant help.” He thought on it, nodded slowly, and smiled his wry smile, the one he got when he’d rethought something he thought he knew.

After he died, I found a picture of him at an honorary dinner and a program telling me he’d been the president of his law school class. He never mentioned that. But I was so proud of him, that farm boy who thought he didn’t belong, and so grateful for those that championed him. Don’t all our students deserve as much?