Dr. William Sturkey: Speech? Debate? Self-Censor?

The Coalition reached out to UNC Chapel Hill history professor Dr. William Sturkey to get his perspective about speech on campus.  We discussed recently passed resolutions,  the meaning of academic freedom, “viewpoint” diversity and more.

Below are a few video excerpts from our conversation about a recent student survey and calls for more “conservative” speech on campus. 

What are your thoughts about a recent survey that some trustees say is proof that “conservative’ students “self-censor”?

Dr. William Sturkey shares thoughts on recent UNC-CH student survey

The one thing that was very striking about the survey … was how few students actually took it. So, a very, very small minority of students actually responded to the survey. If this was a major crisis on our campuses, I imagine that more than 11 [or] 12% of students across the system would have actually responded to the survey. The other thing was that the survey really corrected a lot of misconceptions. Students overwhelmingly said that professors don’t take hard political stance in classes…We often accused of on cable news and the Internet people constantly talking about indoctrination on our college campuses. I think that what people have really latched on to, now that this indoctrination issue has been disproven, is that students self-censor.

And, what I really struggle with, with that, is that of course, they self-censor. We all self-censor in virtually every single interaction with other human beings…we all self-censor to some regard. And that’s not just out of respect for other people’s views, but that’s out of worrying about what the consequences of saying whatever pops into your head [is] going to have on your social standing. And so, I just think it’s really bizarre that we take a very common social practice and we say that this is a crisis in higher education when it’s something that we do in every walk of life, in every institution, every organization in our society. You should not say every single thing that pops up into your mind.

And if you have a very unpopular opinion, then maybe you don’t want to share that because you want to get invited to the party on Friday night or whatever. But the other thing is, I don’t know why we’re always putting the onus on the university itself. Why don’t the students come prepared to defend their views? I’ve been that student who had an unpopular opinion in class and argued with conviction, even though I had 13, 14, 15 people telling me I was wrong. And yeah, you’re not the most popular person that day, but at the same time, I didn’t necessarily blame them because I couldn’t go share my views. You know, I think that it’s a bizarre thing that we don’t allow students to openly debate in middle school, in high school, or in their churches or in their family room, you know, their family dining room tables. And then all of a sudden, we expect colleges to open this realm of open debate. It makes no sense at all. I would love for some of these ideas to be applied to private high schools and churches, and even family settings, and then ask people, how often do you self-censor in those settings? Because I bet it’s just as much, if not a lot more than institutions of higher education, like the University of North Carolina.

What do you think needs to happen as a result of this survey? Do faculty need more training? What about students? 

With this recent survey, one of the things I would love to see happen is not necessarily faculty training [because] the students say that faculty explores all sides of different debates.  That’s what the survey results bore out.  But, I think one of the things that we could do is train students to be more engaged.

… I will also observe that our classes are getting bigger. There are other policies that we think might be separate from this whole issue of expression, and free speech, and all of this, that are actually directly connected. Because when you’re in a class of 125 students, you don’t get to talk at all. Forget about self-censoring….It might be a couple of people get to …. speak per class. But even when you’re in a class of 35 students, you’re less likely to speak than when you are in a class of 15 students. If we want to encourage students to develop debate skills or the ability to express themselves verbally, we need smaller classes. We also need to then take the onus off of the institution….and actually train students to think critically and independently…. We need more humanities courses. We need more courses that teach students to think critically even when that critical thinking runs up against some of the ideas that they’ve been indoctrinated with since before they got to campus. I think those are some of the things that we need to do.   And we need to also listen to the people in our own community.

[I say this with respect to]…some of the policies that … [have recently passed]…. I’ve been reading the news coverage, and there was an example where a member of the board of trustees referenced some sort of cocktail party or something that he heard about third or fourth hand. I mean, we are full of talented faculty who interact with students every single day. Why are we hearing about what’s happening on our campus from somebody’s parent who heard it from their kid about a cocktail party or …something….? … [L]etting feelings, anecdotes and rumors dictate policy instead of actually using the talent and the passionate faculty and leaders that we have on the campus.

What are your thoughts about accusations that “conservative voices” are not represented among the faculty or are being silenced?

We’ve heard for a long time now …how there should be more “conservatives” on campus…. [W]hy is it always framed in that way? Why isn’t it that the conservative party doesn’t try to attract more academics and researchers and scientists? …it wasn’t always that way. Perhaps something has changed in conservative movements or conservative circles in recent years. But, to respond more directly to that point, the fact of the matter is, we don’t check voter registration status when we’re hiring people, when we’re interviewing people. We just simply don’t. That stuff doesn’t even come up.

The stuff that we study on campus, we study the whole world, right? We study ideas about even other worlds, literature, physics. Right? You don’t stop and ask somebody whether they registered as a Republican or Democrat. So, if we were ever to try and boost the number of “conservative” faculty on campus, One, I would say that the “conservative” party, the Republican Party, needs to expand its tent so that it can actually appeal to researchers and scientists and nonwhite people that have PhDs. That would be the very first thing you could do that would enhance the number of Republican folks teaching on the campus. The second thing, is really that you would have to then target people based on their political views, which we currently do not do. You would have to actually actively look up people’s voter registration…

So, … I guess my answer really is to try and toss that question back to the “conservatives” and ask them; why…so few people with advanced degrees follow the Republican Party?

What requests does the Coalition for Carolina have for the UNC-CH Board of Trustees?

Our request to the Board of Trustees (BOT) is that they focus their actions on what is good for UNC-Chapel Hill.  Period.  When making decisions ask, “is this good for Carolina” instead of asking if it is what some legislator or Board of Governors (BOG) member wants.  

The BOT at each system institution is to be an advocate for that institution.  At Carolina this doesn’t seem to always be the case. Some of our trustees seem to want to be conduits of information going from the General Assembly (GA) or BOG to Carolina.  It should be reversed.  Take the interests of Carolina to the GA and BOG.   Be stronger and more forceful advocates for the things that Carolina needs to enhance and fulfill its opportunity and potential for the people of North Carolina.  Stop micromanaging into affairs that are delegated to university administrators and faculty.  Trust the people who have been chosen to lead UNC-CH and help make them succeed.   

This request is emphasized in this video from our co-founder Roger Perry.

“We would like them to be stronger and more forceful advocates for the things that Carolina needs to enhance and fulfill its opportunity and potential –whether that’s faculty compensation [or] the multifaceted issues of academic freedom and autonomy for the administration.  But also, to learn and become educated about the university and to get into a comfortable place in terms of leadership and…[whatever] they can provide that is of the greatest benefit.  

In addition to [being advocates, our governing bodies need to be]…counsel to the chancellor and provost, supportive and laudatory of the faculty, and engage the state in promoting the really enormous benefit that Carolina brings to the state.  Generally, [they should become] a more positive influence and put aside and…behind them  their partisan ideology and recognize that what Carolina is and what it does is… teach,…research, discovers,…and transmits knowledge, information, and benefit to the people.   And, it really isn’t, as often portrayed by some folks, the boogeyman of dark, deep, liberal ideology that some people fear.  It simply doesn’t happen.  There’s not enough time for that. Our faculty and students are engaged in so much more important, interesting and more vital [work].  …Close scrutiny tells you that that’s what goes on here and that’s what should go on here.  There should [be] a platform that makes that even easier to do.”

 

What can people do to support the Coalition for Carolina’s efforts?

“I think that there are a number of things that people can do to help in this effort. 

First and foremost is to join the coalition. Second is to use your power at the ballot box to support candidates who believe in the benefit of higher education…who understand the tremendous value of Carolina and the whole system. In addition to that,  spread the word locally among your friends, associates and colleagues to where they come to understand [what’s happening to Carolina] and become engaged…. 

If you get really passionate about it, run for office…and make a change yourself.   Also be willing to directly confront members of the boards and the legislature when you feel like they’re doing things that are harmful.”

What else you can do to make an impact:

Write, call and/or visit your representatives to tell them you need them to support Carolina!

Click here for links to contact them.

The Danger of Politicization and a Post Truth America

The Coalition for Carolina noted that there have been several incidents around the country where politics are being injected into public university governance.  We asked Dr. Holden Thorp for his opinion on what’s behind such incidents and here is his response:

“Well, we have a whole lot of incidents around the country of boards becoming more intrusive into higher education.  Mostly it relates to how conservative politics would prefer to see higher education carry out their work.   This really comes down to the fact that there has been–over the last 50 years or so–an effort by the political right to change facts when they need to change them to suit their political goals.”

We followed up and asked Dr. Thorp if such a high level of politicization concerns him and, if so, what potential impact does he see it having on the country.  His response:

“I’m very worried about this level of political interference–certainly at the red state public universities, but also for higher education as a whole. And, it [political interference] tends to spread into other areas….

For example; there’s a lot of focus right now on the interference into the honest teaching and studying of American history. The conservatives don’t want to be reminded that America–the America that we have today–started off with huge genocide of Native Americans.  And then, it was animated by slavery–both in the colonial times and through reconstruction, and all through the civil war…all the way to today.  

Now these things are easy to document.  We know that there were millions of Native Americans here when the white folks arrived. We know that slavery was here long before the American Revolution and that it was a factor, in multiple ways, in the Revolution itself. But yet folks don’t want to be reminded of this, or, they don’t want more people to understand it and so they’re trying to suppress it.  Well, it’s a straight line from there to suppressing evolution, and stem cell research, and all kinds of things in medicine, and changing the way we measure things about the world.

And so, universities are here for one purpose and one purpose only. That’s to seek the truth about history. The truth about identity.  The truth about social science. And also, the truth about the natural world and the universe and how everything functions and fits together.  And if we don’t have that honest description, we’re in big trouble because we got pandemics and climate change and all kinds of racism, sexism and homophobia. All kinds of things that can really damage humanity if we don’t have the truth to fall back on when we need to solve problems.”

Daughtry: Gone from the BOG After Criticizing the BOG

On June 13, 2022 we shared comments from several Board of Governors members who were critical of the BOG’s decision to move the UNC System headquarters. One of those members was Leo Daughtry.  Here is part of what he said:

  • “IT SEEMS TO ME that politics has seeped under our buffer”. He added that the UNC System keeps a “political operative” on a retainer. 
  • “It is my opinion that the move from here to Raleigh was done purely on the basis of politics,” 

Now NC Policy Watch reports that “[a]fter six years on the UNC Board of Governors, Leo Daughtry is moving to the North Carolina State Board of Transportation.”  Mr. Daughtry said that NC House Leadership offered him a position on the new board and he “believed it was time to leave the Board of Governors”. In a phone interview with NC Policy Watch, Daughtry “declined to address whether political conflict was at the heart of his change in appointment. But, he [said that he] stands by his concerns about the relocation to Raleigh.

Here at the Coalition for Carolina Foundation we thank Mr. Daughtry for his courage to address this dangerous instance of politicization in the UNC system and wish him well in his new position.  

While the budget for the move has been approved, change can still happen. We can and must work to persuade our legislators to not follow-through with this bad idea. What can you do? Write them, call them, email them, submit opinion pieces, or share your thoughts on social media.  We must continue to speak out.

Other News:
The UNC System Office Move

In addition to the news about Mr. Daughtry moving to a different board, we’ve learned where legislators and the BOG want to move the UNC System headquarters to. And, unfortunately, we were correct about politicization possibilities. Higher Ed Works reports that the new location will be right across the street from state legislators and cost taxpayers several hundred million dollars. 
 
The 2022-23 State Budget

Higher Ed Works has published comments about the recently adopted state budget. 
They conclude that Carolina faculty and staff will not receive the much-needed pay raises we advocated for.  Instead, they will likely receive yet another inflation adjusted pay cut. 
 
UNC and Roe v Wade?

A recent news article highlighted our very own Dr. Mimi Chapman’s response to the Supreme Court abortion ruling, but questioned Carolina’s “silence” or lack of a response. 

“One week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, public and private colleges and universities across the country have weighed in the elimination of a constitutional right to abortion.

From the University of North Carolina System and its flagship campus, UNC-Chapel Hill: total silence.”


The article references Dr. Rimer’s statement of The Gillings School as a reaction to UNC’s “silence”. We are looking into this further, but so far have not been able to find a UNC response comparable to this response from Duke.
 

Two Concerning Issues for the BOG and BOT to Address

Below are two concerning governance issues that The Coalition for Carolina would like the Board of Governors and UNC Chapel Hill Trustees to address:

  1. Moving the UNC System offices to Raleigh and the possible consolidation of NC public education governance.

GOP Legislators passed a law to move the UNC System office with an eye towards achieving the consolidation that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger refers to as; “synergies between the UNC System, the North Carolina Community College System, the state Department of Public Instruction and the state Department of Commerce…..[He’d] like to see them all in one building – or at least one campus….Maybe just one building, it may be a couple of buildings, …But I think they need to be in close proximity.”

With the new location being Raleigh, and the Community College System office being right next to the General Assembly, “close proximity” could mean close to the politicians, but this move does not have 100% buy-in. The move is so expensive and controversial that three current and one former Board of Governors members publicly expressed their concerns:

  • Art Pope:
    • “When law is made behind closed doors…, oftentimes it’s not the best legislation.” The transaction “lacks accountability and transparency,” 
    • “We have space here. It’s not costing us $15 million to maintain space here,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to hear about a tuition increase when we’re spending $15 million unnecessarily.”
    • Leo Daughtry:
      • IT SEEMS TO ME that politics has seeped under our buffer”. He added that the UNC System keeps a “political operative” on a retainer. 
      • “It is my opinion that the move from here to Raleigh was done purely on the basis of politics,” 
    • John Fraley: “The reasons to do this seem to be lacking,…This move is going to cost us a lot of money that we do not have to spend – and could cost us $100 million, ultimately.”
    • Lou Bissette: “Members of this board owe their fiduciary duty to the UNC System, and not to the body that appoints them,” 

We would like the Board of Governors to reconsider this move for the reasons stated above.

We’ve learned that this policy change has created huge challenges on campus and request that the UNC Chapel Hill trustees reverse it to fix the issues the new policy has created.

Could This Happen in North Carolina?

The Coalition was founded last summer to support and defend the University and its independence from partisan interference. We rededicated ourselves to the University’s promise of Lux Libertas—light and liberty—and the principles of open inquiry, free speech, academic freedom, equity and inclusion because we saw these principles at risk.

Over the past months we’ve stayed on mission and pointed out specific examples of how our concerns were playing out in hopes of slowing or stopping the damage.   We’re making an impact and recently, thankfully, things seem to have quieted down. 

While “quiet” is good, it may mean “not making headlines.”  Whatever is happening,  we are hopeful and will remain vigilant–not just to what’s happening in NC, but also to what’s going on in other states. To that end, a news report’s description of Governor Ron DeSantis’ Planned Sweeping Assault on Autonomy of Public Colleges in Florida caught our attentionas it paints an alarming picture:

A sweeping action to consolidate and centralize governance.

“Records obtained through a series of public-records requests show that DeSantis’ office recently developed a sweeping plan to overhaul higher-education oversight in Florida. The governor’s proposal would have centralized more power in boards run by the governor’s political appointees, made colleges and universities more dependent on money controlled by politicians in Tallahassee, and imposed more restrictions on what schools can teach….”The DeSantis plan would have even stripped university presidents of the ability to hire professors.”

Attacks on tenure, free speech, accreditation, the curriculum.

“They have passed laws ordering community colleges and state universities to dig up details about the personal political beliefs of their employees, making it harder for professors to maintain tenure, interfering with university accreditation, and threatening funding for schools that don’t fall in line with the governor’s efforts to control the teaching of slavery, segregation and institutional racism…”

.

An expressed belief by leaders that the Florida public universities are too liberal.

“Over the past year, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature have been on a crusade against public universities, tarring them as “intellectually repressive” and “socialism factories.”

As we consider what’s going on in Florida as well as other states such as South Dakota, the Coalition’s mission to preserve and protect UNC Chapel Hill from political interference becomes more vital than ever.    

Why is this Happening?

What a week!  We are proud to welcome the class of 2022 to their new status as UNC-CH alumni. Last week was filled with celebrations.  Frank Bruni and Chancellor Guskiewicz gave excellent remarks at the commencement ceremony and, coming off the heels of our fantastic men’s and women’s basketball season, things felt pretty good. 

Yet, as our great University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill successfully launched the class of 2022, ugly headlines related to university governance once again appeared. A damning report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was followed by a downgrading of the journalism school accreditation from The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC).  This rollercoaster of good times followed by bad news is frustrating and as we work our way through a series of emotions, many ask; why?  With respect to our governing bodies being so often at the center of the controversies, we asked former Chancellor Thorp for his opinion on what has changed.  It turns out that our governing bodies are not following what is known as good governance practices of “noses in and fingers out”.  Check out Chancellor Thorp’s opinion in the video below.

I would say, based on what I’ve observed, that the legislative bodies are much more involved in areas of university operation that they’ve never been involved in before. Particularly the hiring of administrators and the deciding on tenure and also on the curriculum.  This has never really been the case it’s always been true that the administration was responsible for hiring other administrators and the faculty were responsible for deciding on tenure and on the curriculum.  So, what you have now is kind of an incursion of the governing boards into areas that are not within the responsibility of the governing boards.  

There always has been incursion of various kinds from the UNC system and the governing boards.  During my time that was mostly in athletics.  And, you can see there that all of that interference really didn’t help matters very much and it’s not helping matters very much now to have the governing boards working on parts of university operations that are not in their remit.

Links to Recent News:

UNC-CH Journalism School Re-Accreditation Threatened

In the wake of the AAUP report that criticized “pervasive and overly partisan political control” at Carolina, The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, ACEJMC, sent another shot over UNC’s bow by downgrading the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s accreditation to “provisional.” https://www.wral.com/questions-about-diversity-inclusiveness-threaten-accreditation-of-unc-journalism-school/20261803/

After its review of UNC in 2021, the ACEJMC dinged the Hussman School for its lack of faculty diversity and inconsistencies enacting a 2016 diversity and inclusion plan.

It was an unexpected rebuke for what is widely recognized as the best school of journalism in the United States. Hussman students have won seven out of eight of the last annual Hearst Awards Competitions, the Pulitzer Prizes of student journalism, and the current Daily Tar Heel editor was just hired by the Washington Post even before her graduation.

Last year, in a widely-hailed coup, Pulitzer Prize winning author and McArthur Genius Grant recipient Nikole Hannah-Jones was hired as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism by Dean Susan King. But, instead of granting her the tenure offered to previous Knight Chairs that had been approved by the Hussman School’s faculty and the University’s Committee on Appointment, Promotions and Tenure, the University only offered her a five-year contract. After an outcry from faculty, students, and national media, the UNC Board of Trustees, working through its sub-committee on University Affairs, relented and finally voted to offer tenure in June. Hannah-Jones declined the position and took a Knight Chair at Howard University.

The accrediting team noted that in the aftermath of the Silent Sam controversy and the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure debacle, “The UNC Hussman School is dealing with an existential crisis both internally and externally. The controversy surrounding the decision by Nikole Hanah-Jones to turn down a tenured, endowed chair at the school exposed long-standing problems. Several faculty members and staff, particularly those of color, said morale is low and they are considering leaving the school.” What we are experiencing here is yet another example of governance overreach that we alluded to in previous posts and Opeds. “Just as termite destruction can go undetected until the building starts to collapse, persistent politicization and governance overreach is taking a toll on Carolina.” The cumulative effect of politicization and overreach is now showing tangible damage to one of Carolina’s most respected schools.

A Conversation with Former UNC System President Tom Ross – Part 1

Over the next several weeks, Coalition for Carolina will share videos from a recent conversation with former UNC System President Tom Ross.  We start with the following two videos where Ross shares thoughts on how shared governance should work and what the original vision was for the board of trustees.

How Shared Governance Should Work

Coalition for Carolina: We talk a lot about “shared governance” how has that changed or evolved over the past 10 years?

Former UNC System President Tom Ross:I think shared governance is a really fascinating concept in higher education, because the way it’s designed to work is for the faculty to have a role in the governance of institutions as well as the administration and governing boards. And I think it’s been healthy for universities to have that kind of shared governance. And over time, it has proven to be a smart way to govern institutions.

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen that begin to shift really everywhere around the country. And there’s been sort of [more] of a role of governing boards and perhaps a little bit lesser role for faculty in the way it’s working now.

I’m not sure if you go back historically and think about the role of faculty that is at the core of an institution.  That [faculty] is what makes higher education what it is and what makes a university great is the quality of their faculty. And, so when you have a system that begins to have faculty playing a smaller or lesser role, then I think that can do damage over time to the university.”

The Original Role of The Board of Trustees Explained

Coalition for Carolina:  We have a complicated governance hierarchy with legislators, the Board of Governors and boards of trustees.  What do you think the role of the trustees is in this structure?

Former UNC System President Tom Ross: “I think when you’re thinking about the role of the board of trustees and the governance structure, particularly in the UNC system, you have to remember that you have a board of governors [that] is really responsible for the major oversight and policy questions. 

And, if you go back to when the system was created, we created a new board of governors to represent the whole state and look at all of the system. But we wanted to retain, or there was a movement to retain, boards of trustees because I think people felt like you needed a board on the campus because you wanted a group of people to promote the campus and to enthusiastically endorse that campus and go out and help the chancellor in any way they could. And that’s really what the tradition of the [board of] trustees has been– to advise and assist the chancellor, advise on the budget, advise on a number of different issues, including athletics and that sort of thing. But really to be a booster for the institution.And [while] they’ve had responsibility to approve tenure and some issues that are campus based, I think that [it] was appropriate to have that board [of trustees] really focused on advising the chancellor. But I think what you have to be careful of with a campus board of trustees is that it becomes more of an oversight operations board, which is really what the Board of Governors should be doing.”

President Peter Hans responds to questions from The Coalition for Carolina

The Coalition for Carolina posed several questions to UNC System President Peter Hans and appreciate his written responses. 

Coalition for Carolina: What makes Carolina great? Why are we among the top five public universities in the country?

President Peter Hans: By any measure, UNC Chapel Hill is an extraordinary institution. It’s the nation’s oldest public university and one of the world’s great centers of research and innovation. It has been a beacon of opportunity to generations of North Carolinians. It changed my life, certainly, and I know it does the same for thousands of students each year. 

You could write a book on what makes Carolina a great university — people have! — but to me it comes down to this: UNC Chapel Hill has grown into a world-class university while staying true to its core mission of welcoming and serving the people of North Carolina. There aren’t many public flagships in the country that have remained so deeply rooted in service to their home states while also performing at the very highest levels, and Carolina’s ability to balance those goals is what really sets it apart.

Coalition for Carolina: In what ways is UNC Chapel Hill’s role unique among System schools? How does the System Office and the Board of Governors more generally understand the role of the flagship?

President Peter Hans: Every institution in the UNC System has a unique history and a unique role to play. Carolina is a magnet for some of the most talented students in our state and across the country. It’s a research powerhouse, helping to make North Carolina a leader in areas crucial to our long-term growth. And through UNC Health Care and all of its affiliates, Carolina plays a huge part in meeting the health needs of our state. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think all of us understand the importance of having an institution like Carolina at the heart of our state and our university system. 

At the same time, I think everyone in Chapel Hill recognizes the value of being part of a broader system of higher education, and having partners across the state in fulfilling the core responsibilities of teaching, research, and public service. Support for public higher education remains so strong in North Carolina because the people of this state see its continuing relevance to their lives and aspirations, whether that’s Nobel-winning research in Chapel Hill, excellent public health programs in Greenville, or a fantastically good nursing school at NCA&T. We’re all stronger when we work together toward shared goals for our state.

Coalition for Carolina: Chancellor Guskiewicz enjoys strong support from many Carolina constituencies. What do you think the strengths of his leadership approach are? What would you like to see him do differently? Do you support his continued leadership?

President Peter Hans: He enjoys my strong support, as well. Through some of the greatest disruption in the history of this University, Chancellor Guskiewicz has kept Carolina focused on its core mission. The ability to stay focused and deliver on those key priorities is a major reason that UNC Chapel Hill is emerging from the covid pandemic in such strong shape to invest and grow. 

Like every big and high-profile institution in the country, I think Carolina is struggling to manage some tension between people who see the place as a stage for conflict and people who just want to do good and worthwhile work. There are times when I think the University could do more to elevate thoughtful voices rather than conflict entrepreneurs, but that’s a challenge for everyone in public service right now. In this regard, the UNC Program for Public Discourse is an example of the Chancellor’s leadership in a positive direction.

Coalition for Carolina: What would you like to see Carolina doing differently and why?

President Peter Hans: My job is to support our state’s public universities. I have conversations all the time with our chancellors about how we can work together to improve performance, address problems, or change our approach as the needs of North Carolina change. I don’t think those working relationships are well-served by the person in my role offering public critiques.

I’d also point to the System’s strategic plan, and each institution’s annual report on their progress, as an excellent and very transparent look at how we’re asking each campus to grow and focus. At UNC Chapel Hill, that has meant putting more resources into low-income completion, rural enrollment, and graduates in high-demand fields like health sciences and education. (You can 
read the details here.) What I find so valuable about the System’s approach is that it sets shared goals, then allows each campus to decide how they can best contribute. Everyone gets to play to their strengths while improving core performance, and the whole System gets better.

Coalition for Carolina: I think we can all agree that certain metrics like enrollment, student quality, and research are all very strong at Carolina today. But do you agree that faculty and staff morale, their latitude and compensation are also key metrics and vitally important to the success of every university?

President Peter Hans: A strong and intellectually vibrant faculty is the foundation of any great university. By any measure, Carolina’s faculty is among the most productive and accomplished in the world. We’ve been vocal at the UNC System about the need to raise compensation so that we can retain talented faculty and staff, and our lawmakers came through a 5% raise in the last budget. I know the leadership in Chapel Hill is very focused on raising private dollars to remain competitive, and the shared work between the System and the campus on a more comprehensive and transparent budget model should make it easier to allocate resources toward those critical priorities.

But before we move on, I just want to note that those metrics you mentioned — growing enrollment, highly competitive students, and being on track to earn more than a billion dollars in sponsored research this year — are incredibly hard to pull off, even for a highly regarded institution like Carolina. I don’t take that for granted, and I don’t think anyone in our state does, either. You can’t achieve that kind of excellence without an extraordinary faculty.

Coalition for Carolina: The peer set for every school is different. Historically, faculty salaries have taken that into account and UNC has been very competitive. We’ve seen from the Chronicle of Higher Education data that UNC-CH faculty salaries have fallen behind alarmingly. This may also be true for other schools in the System. What actions can you and the BOG/BOT take to address this?

President Peter Hans: We advocated strongly to raise compensation for both faculty and staff in the latest state budget, and we succeeded. We know there’s more to be done, especially for graduate students and adjunct instructors, and particularly as inflation affects the cost of living. We’ll continue to push for competitive compensation.

We’ve also worked with each of our institutions to create a more comprehensive and transparent budget model that allows campus leaders to make strategic investments with greater confidence. I think one of the most important things Chancellor Guskiewicz and his team have done over the last two years is confidently tackling the university’s long-running budget deficit, making some hard choices so that Carolina is in a position to invest in key areas, such as compensation. That underlying budget challenge had been building for a long time, and it took courage and discipline to fix it.
 

Coalition for Carolina: Many people have pointed out the lack of diversity on the Board of Governors. How important do you think it is that we have a diversified Board of Governors that represents all North Carolinians. Is your own team reflective of the state’s diversity?

President Peter Hans: North Carolina is a big and diverse state — ninth largest in the country and growing fast. I think we all take seriously the obligation to represent and serve that very dynamic population, and we all recognize there are ways we can do it better. Diversity in race and gender is important, as is diversity in terms of economic background, expertise, and ideas. We have a broad and diverse twenty-five person leadership team at the System Office, and I’m committed to working with colleagues that can earn the trust and confidence of the people we serve. If you’d like further detail on the team please contact my chief of staff, Norma Houston, who is incidentally a fifteen-year member of Chapel Hill’s faculty.

Coalition for Carolina: Talk about the policy that enables you to add your own candidates to searches for Chancellors, and specifically the part that requires at least one be sent to you as a finalist. What was the purpose of this policy change? If your final pick was not a choice of the campuses’ search committees, what do you think the repercussions would be?

President Peter Hans:
To be effective, chancellors must have the trust of their campus communities so their involvement in the search process is essential. Chancellors also need the confidence of state policymakers and the broader public. Higher education depends on a lot of different constituencies to succeed.Hiring and helping chancellors is one of the most important things the UNC System President does, and no one is more invested in their success than I am. I spend an enormous amount of my time talking with our chancellors, supporting them to work through difficult problems or figuring out how we can provide better assistance in key areas.

Given that those campus leaders report to the System President, it makes sense that the person in my role has strong input into the selection process. This change provides a transparent option (not a requirement) in the search process. Again, no single person has a higher stake in a successful search than the System President when you consider the reporting relationship and when you take into account my responsibility to each institution.

Coalition for Carolina: In the past, the Chancellor has recommended candidates for the UNC Board of Trustees. This year none of those recommendations were taken. Were you aware or involved in that decision-making? Do you think that was a good course of action?

President Peter Hans: Under our governance structure, the System President is not involved in trustee selection. I think the trustees at Carolina and all of our institutions understand that their role is to advise campus leadership, offer insight and informed judgment to the Board of Governors with their delegated responsibilities, and help tell the story of their institutions to the wider world. 

I also think it’s worth remembering that these are not easy roles. They involve a lot of public scrutiny, as they should, and working with a lot of different constituencies that often have competing ideas about the direction of the University. I commend anyone — past and present — who’s willing to step up and render that volunteer service to our public universities.

Coalition for Carolina: Do you think it’s good practice for Trustees to serve on the search committee of Deans and to get involved with the search and approval process of Tier I and Tier II hires, promotion, and compensation?

President Peter Hans: I think the right balance in shared governance between oversight and autonomy can take some time to get right, and it relies as much on norms of trust and reciprocity as it does on formal rules. Having trustees who are well-informed and fully invested in the leadership of the campus is valuable, and chancellors have a lot of say in how they choose to involve their boards and keep them updated. Each institution takes a different approach, and I don’t micromanage that.

Coalition for Carolina: How do you think the Nikole Hannah-Jones situation could have been handled differently?

President Peter Hans: Any time you have a failed hire — and especially a very high-profile failed hire — there are things that could have gone differently. In this case, I think the University could have been much more clear about the tenure process, the criteria, and where the authority to grant tenure resides. A lot more direct communication and dialogue would have been better than seeing various parties trying to fight out their viewpoints in the media.

Coalition for Carolina: What is your perception of the Coalition for Carolina?

President Peter Hans: The passionate involvement of alumni and supporters is a good thing in the life of any university, and I welcome it. The conflicts at Carolina get plenty of airtime already, so I hope the Coalition can help people understand what a magnificent and prodigiously productive place UNC Chapel Hill continues to be. I’m proud to be a Carolina alum, and I will always work with anyone who wants to make it better.