Calibrating UNC Governance

Higher Ed Works has published a great post about Governor Cooper’s newly established commission on governance. We asked, and received, their permission to re-publish the entire post below.
RALEIGH (December 1, 2022) – Two former Presidents of the UNC System who will lead a commission to assess the System’s governing structure say the panel will examine models across the country and try to better define the roles of board members.

“It’s a good time to stop, look and listen to how things are organized,” said Margaret Spellings, a Republican who was the System’s president from 2016-19. “As I like to say, we need to be organized for success. It’s a good time to take stock.”

In North Carolina and across the country, she said, governments are attempting to calibrate the proper balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Tom Ross, a Democrat who served as UNC System President from 2011-16, will co-chair the commission with Spellings. In a joint interview with Higher Ed Works, Ross said the group will examine how state universities are governed across the country – and there are lots of models( 1).

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced creation of the commission Nov. 1 and the members of the commission last week (3). 

Ross called the members “a really high-level group of people.” He said he is encouraged “that it’s a bipartisan commission that the governor appointed … this ought to be a bipartisan issue.”

Spellings said one of the commission’s aims will be a governance structure that lasts through shifts in political power “to protect this mighty engine of North Carolina.”


THE LEGISLATURE

Currently, all 24 members of the UNC Board of Governors are appointed by the NC General Assembly. And the Board of Trustees at each of the UNC System’s 17 campuses are appointed by the General Assembly and the Board of Governors. The Republican-led legislature removed the governor’s power to appoint campus trustees after Cooper was elected governor in 2016.

Since Cooper announced creation of the commission in an executive order, many have questioned whether legislators will pay heed to the commission’s recommendations.

“We’ll make the case – we’re going to learn a lot through this process,” said Spellings.

“If we can make recommendations to make the System as strong as it can be, we’ll do that,” said Ross.

Both political parties have always been interested in improving the state’s economy, Ross said. 

Given projections of a shrinking supply of traditional high-school graduates and demands of an increasingly technological economy, “It’s going to be a tighter and tighter market and it’s going to demand higher and higher levels of education,” he said.

Ross and Spellings noted the appointments of House Majority Leader John Bell and Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, to the commission. Former Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, is now a member of the Board of Governors and is also among the members.

Bell told WRAL News last week that any shift in appointment powers to the governor is likely to be rejected by legislators.

But “if this is about putting politics aside and improving higher education in North Carolina, I’m always willing to listen and have an honest discussion about how we can move our state forward,” he said (4).

Spellings noted that Cooper made it clear that any changes in appointment powers recommended by the commission should take effect after he steps down in early 2025. 

The goal is “not a power grab by an individual,” she said.


ISSUES

Some – including members of the Board of Governors – have raised questions about whether the Board has the proper demographic and geographic representation. Others have questioned the appointment of several lobbyists, given that their livelihood depends on state legislators.

In recent years, one or more BOG members have themselves sought university chancellorships. Two trustees at one university tried to intervene in and influence a student government election. Others have tried to influence university hiring and contract decisions.

Ross said one thing the commission will try to define is, “What is the appropriate role of governing bodies? What are their responsibilities versus those of administrators?

“We need to be clear about who has what responsibilities,” he said.

Others say the governing boards have become overly political. Though politics has always been a part of board appointments, Ross said, “Are there ways we can minimize the political influence in the University?”

Spellings said board members also need to understand and respect shared governance between the faculty and administrators, which can affect whether universities remain accredited. 

The University is competing with other states for students, faculty and staff.

“We need the players to play their right and proper role and understand what that is,” Spellings said. “It’s easy to stay in your lane if you know what your lane is.”

Ross said many appointees to university boards have experience in business, but not necessarily in higher-education governance. “Part of it is education,” he said. “That’s true of any board you join, whether it’s higher education or a corporate board.”

Board members also need to show self-discipline, Ross said. “If a board member gets out of line, I think it’s incumbent on the other board members to step up and say, ‘That’s out of line,’” he said. “And I think they can do that.”

1. In particular, Ross referenced extensive research by the NC Center for Public Policy Research: https://nccppr.org/wp-content/uploads/research_reports/THE_STATE_WIDE_UNC_BOARD_OF_GOVERNORS.pdf
2. https://governor.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2022/11/01/governor-cooper-signs-executive-order-establishing-commission-future-public-universities-north
3. https://governor.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2022/11/23/governor-cooper-announces-members-commission-governance-public-universities-north-carolina.
4. https://www.wral.com/cooper-rounds-out-unc-governance-task-force/20594320/.
Other Must-Read News:

As we consider the task that the newly appointed governance commission has before it, it is worth revisiting a September 2021 Daily Tarheel article where they describe how UNC System governance has changed. Their news article is entitled; “Breaking down the power structure and history of the UNC Board of Trustees”.  It is very well done and gives insight into the challenge that the commission faces.  It also provides examples of some of the governance related problems that Carolina is experiencing.  Our very own Dr. Mimi Chapman is quoted in this excellent post and reading it will remind you of why the Coalition for Carolina came to be.  

Click the link below for a link to the Daily Tarheel Piece:

 
Daily Tarheel


Dr. Mimi Chapman is also quoted in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece entitled; “The Apolitical University”. This article asks; “Should institutions remain neutral on controversial issues? Is that even possible?”  The author, Adrienne Lu, starts out with a description of how Carolina’s Dr. Barbara K. Rimer posted a statement in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and received an immediate response from some who felt that her statement crossed a line. The author goes on to explore how speech is being handled on campuses and describes how many campuses have embraced the Kalven Report. Dr Chapman expresses her desire that adoption of the Kalven Report at Carolina will not be just  “a mechanism … for muzzling administrators but rather a mechanism for allowing faculty to bring their expertise, knowledge, and practice on the issues of the day to the public square.”  

Read the full Chronicle of Higher Education article by clicking the link below:
 
Chronicle of Higher Education

The 2022 Election is Over – Now What?

We are hopeful that the lack of a supermajority in the NC House will lead to more bipartisan cooperation with respect to public higher education governance and representation on boards of trustees.  In celebrating the supermajority win in the NC Senate, Senator Berger touted one of his priorities as delivering “quality education”.  We agree that delivering quality education is paramount and will do all we can to support that.  We will also work to ensure that “quality education” includes fair, representative governance devoid of politicization.

As for the election results, Republicans increased their margin in the NC House, gained a majority of seats on the NC Supreme Court, and gained a supermajority in the NC Senate. This may suggest that they will continue business as usual.  In fact, a WRAL article quotes Senator Phil Berger as saying;  “Our promise to the people of North Carolina is that the Senate Republican supermajority will continue to deliver on those priorities.”  We hope that this promise excludes gerrymandering of voting districts and includes appointing UNC Board of Governors members and trustees who reflect the political, geographic, gender, racial and ethnic composition of our state. We will work to drive positive change in this area. The best legislatures in our nation’s history, state and federal, embraced the pursuit of the best policies for our citizens—without demanding party-line allegiance to decide policy.

We are also encouraged that the bipartisan leadership of former UNC System presidents Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross will address governance issues in a new Commission.  A WRAL editorial sums it up best:

“Cooper’s effort is much-needed, timely and important. Whether it is the needless and costly move of the UNC system headquarters from Chapel Hill to Raleigh or appointments of trustees or campus chancellors, politics and ideology have become the priority – not quality education. The complaints of over-the-top political meddling come from some unusual sources – people otherwise noted for their partisanship including former GOP state legislator Leo Daughtry and longtime Republican mega-donor, ex-legislator and state budget director Art Pope.

Ross made his mark as a steady professional, running the system in a business-like manner that appropriately prioritized the missions of education and research. He was much in the mold of one of his predecessors, C.D. Spangler.

Spellings, certainly no liberal, also made education, not politics, her priority. The obvious friction with legislative leaders led to her early resignation.

Cooper, a Democrat, has skillfully timed the work of the commission and its recommendations in a way that he won’t gain any political benefit. His term ends in two years — when the recommendations are due — and state law prohibits him from seeking re-election to a third consecutive term.

Two years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education took an in-depth look at how members of the UNC Board were selected and the impact on operation of the individual campuses. The Chronicle’s investigation detailed how the appointment process left the UNC system ‘vulnerable to an ideologically-driven and politically motivated form of college governance,’ according to the Chronicle’s findings.”

The work of The Coalition for Carolina is more important than ever.  We will continue to fight for the University’s promise of Lux Libertas—light and liberty—and the principles of open inquiry, free speech, equity and inclusion. We thank you for supporting our very important mission: To protect one of the State of North Carolina’s most valuable assets: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

UNC Performance Based Funding

The UNC System Board of Governors is looking to implement a new performance-based funding model that has potentially negatively effects on research-intensive schools and lower-income students.  They are also considering raising the out-of-state cap for some system schools, which have faced enrolment declines, but not for Carolina. These changes need more public attention and comment.  They are going to be considered for implementation at the November 16 – 17 meeting.

According to a WUNC article, the new funding formula prioritizes graduating in-state students in four years and with lower levels of debt. This is a great goal, but should it be a metric for allocating funds, especially when there are sound reasons for certain students to take longer to graduate?  These priorities align with the UNC System’s strategic goals, according UNC System President Peter Hans.   Board of Governors member Lee Roberts said, “UNC System universities would lose a total of $62 million in state funding based on this year’s enrollment. Under the new model, they would lose $36 million. But Lee also admits that  “13 schools do better under the performance funding model than under the old enrollment model, two schools do slightly worse.” He did not specify which institutions would do worse.  

Schools being rewarded for graduating students in four years — regardless of the student’s chosen fields of study, changes in major, need to work to pay for college, unexpected personal concerns, etc. and being rewarded when students graduate with less debt sounds good, but can be problematic. Both of these changes can make it harder for first generation or lower income students to attend and graduate from more expensive schools like Carolina and State. It also makes it challenging when students shift fields of study due to exposure to a larger world view one experiences with higher education. We recently learned of a real-world example of how a students seeking to change his major was negatively impacted:

John Doe entered Carolina as a freshman enthusiastic about majoring in economics. Between sophomore and junior years, he became very excited about computer science and wanted to change his major.  (This type of exploration, discovery and enlightenment is a good thing and one of the reasons parents send their children to college.) Because he had to take two prerequisites courses, which were not offered the same semester, he couldn’t dive into his new major until senior year.  He would need two more courses to earn enough credits to major in computer science, thus requiring him an additional semester beyond four years. Because he had enough credits to earn an economics major and had completed General College requirements, UNC told him he had to graduate in May with an economics major and meet the four-year graduation goal.  It is wrong to deny this, or any, student the ability to major in their desired field because the university is afraid of losing funding when it is the student who chooses to take more than four years to graduate. 

As for the model providing the schools an incentive to limit the debt students have upon graduating, Carolina is already focused on this and Carolina student debt is lower than the state average. Setting aside the fact that some of the increased debt load is a result of reduced state per-student funding over the years, less debt is a good thing and should be pursued. But, when students run into unexpected life changes, desire to change their major and spend more time in school, or even choose to attend a “stretch” school that requires them to borrow a little more, the school should not be punished with funding cuts.

As for the Board of Governors indicating that some schools will fare worse with the new funding model, while others will do better; why move forward without public transparency on exactly how each school is going to be affected? 

One of the ways schools can, potentially, get around the punitive impact of the proposed funding model is to raise more funds from non-public sources.  Carolina has proven to be very successful at this, however, the UNC Board of Trustees wants to reduce the amount of funding given to the development office. Why the handcuffs?

Why is the new funding model being considered? Historically funding has been based on enrollment and there has been a decline in enrollment across the country and the UNC system. (Carolina has not experienced such a decline.)  The decline in college enrollment was projected after the great recession of 2007-2008.  The birth rate declined during this period as people put off having children.  When the recession was over, the birth rate did not recover.  As a result, analysts began to warn colleges to prepare for enrollment declines projected to start around 2025.  According to their projections, after 2025, some college consolidations and closures could be expected to occur across the country as a result of fewer college-aged students in the population.  Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic was not anticipated in those projections and has only accelerated enrollment declines. So, we are experiencing the projected decline three years earlier and at a rate higher than expected. We are not disagreeing with the idea of altering the funding model. We just think the metrics chosen are ill-advised and also that they need more public awareness.

Randy Woodson, Chancellor of NCSU responded to the proposed funding changes saying; This is probably the most critical decision this board will make in a decade, because it has the impact of how the campuses operate for years into the future….I’ve got a CFO that’s been the CFO of three institutions in the [UNC] System, and he’s struggling with this.”

Follow this link to read WUNC’s entire analysis

Other News:

“The Public School Forum of North Carolina has released the 2022 North Carolina Education Primer, which serves as a fact-based guide to public education in North Carolina. The Primer provides a comprehensive overview of how education policy is made, along with the current state of public education and the policies guiding it. The Forum produces this guide in order to inform current policymakers, candidates for public office, and voters.

Education policy involves a wide range of interconnected issues such as school finance and facilities, accountability and assessment, technology, teachers and so much more. In order to make well-informed and evidence-based decisions, policymakers and voters face the challenge of understanding complex educational issues.”

In a piece entitled The Myth of Political Neutrality, Volt asks the question; “As higher ed becomes increasingly politicized, can college and university presidents afford to remain silent?”

You Can Change How Carolina Is Governed

In case you missed all of the campaign signs and political commercials, here is yet another reminder that an election is just around the corner. 

Voting in the 2022 mid-terms starts on Thursday October 20, 2022 with One-Stop Early Voting. If you are concerned about politicization and governance overreach hurting our beloved Carolina, then we urge you to research the candidates to gain a clear understanding of their positions on public education and university governance before you vote.  Doing so holds such high importance because those who are elected to the General Assembly determine how Carolina and the UNC System are governed.

In January of 2022 The Daily Tarheel published an editorial entitled “Breaking down the Board of GovernorsHere is a brief excerpt from that piece:

“The Board of Governors has 24 voting members that serve terms of four years. Members are elected by the Senate and House of Representatives of the North Carolina General Assembly.

The Board of Governors appoints the majority of trustees on boards at Chapel Hill and 15 other state universities. The BOT has the final say on faculty tenure and advises chancellors on the management of their campuses. 

The North Carolina legislature also appoints select trustees.”

So, we urge you to take some time to get an understanding how the persons you wish to vote for view public education and Carolina governance and then make your study the foundation of your plan to vote.  If your mailbox and social media timelines are  full of partisan pitches, you may want to start your research with the overview that nonpartisan, nonprofit Ballotpedia has published for some of the 2022 North Carolina races:

OfficeElections?More information
U.S. SenateClick here
U.S. HouseClick here
State SenateClick here
State HouseClick here
State Supreme CourtClick here
Intermediate appellate courtsClick here
School boardsClick here
Municipal governmentClick here
Local ballot measuresClick here

See you at the polls!

Other News:

“Higher Ed is on the Ballot”.  That is the title of a new special report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  They specifically mention Carolina in their introduction which begins…

“The midterm elections are fast approaching, and higher education is on the ballot. According to the memoirist turned ultra-conservative political hopeful J.D. Vance, “The professors are the enemy” — an attitude whose legislative corollaries include a widespread focus on the teaching of “critical race theory” in college classrooms and high-profile political disputes over controversies like the University of North Carolina’s attempt to hire Nikole Hannah-Jones. Meanwhile, President Biden’s debt-cancellation plan faces Republican pushback and is likely to meet legal challenges. Two landmark anti-affirmative-action cases await their day at the Supreme Court.”

Click here to check out this midterm election special report.

How to Suppress Academic Freedom

On September 26, 2022 The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article under the heading of “academic freedom” that details the actions the University of Idaho has taken to silence educators when it comes to the issue of abortion. The article was written by Senior Reporter Nell Gluckman and is entitled; “’It’s Making Us Accomplices’: A University Tells Faculty to ‘Remain Neutral’ on Abortion Discussions in Class.”

The university references Idaho’s law and asks educators to “remain neutral” when it comes to conversations about abortion. The university also addresses the subject of contraception acknowledging that “the Idaho law was ‘not a model of clarity’ … with regards to contraception.”  As a result, the university’s general council’s  advice– with respect to contraception–was “to be conservative, …, the university should not provide birth control.”

Several affected faculty members expressed fear that their “viewpoint expression” could result in them committing a felony and see the new guidance as deeply troubling, a “breaching of the divide between religion and state,” and an infringement on academic freedom. Follow this link to read the entire article.

Preserving academic freedom and freedom of speech in our public universities is absolutely essential for a well-functioning democracy and actions like those taken by the University of Idaho raise alarm bells.   In an earlier conversation with Carolina professor Dr. William Sturkey, we asked him to  describe how  freedom of speech differs from academic freedom. As you can read and hear from his description, actions like those taken by the University of Idaho may infringe on both.
 How does freedom of speech differ from academic freedom and why would someone self-censor?
Freedom of speech, most importantly, in our country applies to the freedom of the press [and], freedom of assembly. These laws were enacted to make sure that tyrannical governments couldn’t tamp down [on] the press and political movements….It’s about the state suppressing freedom of speech. It’s about the state banning books. It’s about the state banning concepts or trying to ban ideas by using state power through the legislature. That’s what freedom of speech is really about.Now it can be expanded and there’s, you know, liberal ways that you can sort of play with that…. like I have free speech now because I’m speaking…. There’s a huge spectrum of what that might mean. But it really means when the state steps in to interfere with people’s exchange of ideas.Academic freedom, to me, is the ability to study and discuss what you want…. It’s [the] ability to draw conclusions on… their own merit, you know, using your own independent research, [and] not having, …, an administration or even a state government tell you what to research and ultimately what to find. That’s what freedom of speech and that’s what academic freedom mean…. It’s also crucial to understand, I think, that freedom of speech also allows for people to respond to your speech.…. [T]he term “safe spaces” is often thrown out, but also one of the things with this term “self-censorship” is that it almost seems like you don’t want people to have the freedom to respond to folks who are making points, the people…self-censor because they’re afraid of what other people have to say. And, you know, I think that we should all share our views provided that we’re convicted in those views, but everyone else has a right to respond to you as well.
Other News:
Another Chronicle of Higher Education article written by Jonathan Marks and entitled “Red Scare” explores the origins and stated mission versus actions of youth conservative group Turning Point USA.  In the piece Marks explores activism on college campuses, addresses the question of liberal versus conservative representation, and concludes that the activism of groups like Turning Point USA “bears an uncomfortable resemblance to McCarthyism.”  Rightwing activists often accuse colleges of trying to “indoctrinate” students to become more liberal.  What seems clear from this piece is that the colleges are not the ones doing the indoctrinating. As with similar finger pointing,  the accusation of indoctrination  appears to be more projection than reality. Follow this link to check out this very interesting piece.

How Florida Did It

Before we get into the topic of this week’s newsletter, we would like to send our thoughts and prayers to those in Florida, and elsewhere, who are dealing with the devastation left by Hurricane Ian.

In last week’s newsletter we celebrated Carolina remaining in the #5 spot of US News and World Report rankings for public universities. We also noted that this year Carolina is tied with the University of Florida. Several of you contacted us and asked for information on how Florida was able to move so far up the ranking so quickly.  (Between 2015 and 2022 the University of Florida has climbed 20 spots and  leapfrogged its way into the top 10.) We looked into this further and found a post that details what happened.  

To summarize the post, the University of Florida trustees were tired of people dissing their alma matter and decided to do something about it.  They laser focused on the US News and World Report metrics and worked to get Florida in the top 10 public university in the country.  Achieving this goal was the critical criteria used to recruit a new university president in 2003.  They also engaged then Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature to get the funding to make the goal a reality.  Below is an excerpt from the detailed post.  You can follow this link to read the full analysis.
“In his efforts to cement his university’s place in the rankings, Machen reached far beyond Gainesville. He worked with then-Governor Rick Scott to get the state to pass a funding scheme called Preeminence, which rewarded public colleges that did best on some of the metrics deemed important by U.S. News. For the University of Florida, Preeminence created the kind of virtuous circle that such money often begets. It helped the university ascend the rankings, which in turn brought in more applicants, more approval from lawmakers, and more money, which administrators could use to keep climbing.

In return, Machen supported Scott’s launch of performance-based funding for Florida universities — a system that also advantaged the flagship. But the partial alignment of state purse strings with U.S. News metrics has come at a cost. Critics say these developments have driven an even bigger wedge between the state’s four-year colleges, making richer institutions richer, and depriving less-resourced institutions of much-needed funds.
….
UF’s funds went to hiring not only more faculty members, but stars in their fields, people who would sharpen the research attributable to the University of Florida, bolster the university’s national reputation, and bring in big, prestigious federal research grants. …”
Florida trustees successfully used their legislative connections to fund the university’s move up the US News and World Report rankings.  With the legislature’s involvement, other state universities received support and also rose. Did their successes come with a price?  The state funding was tied to the recipient universities being required to implement a new metrics program tied to the rankings.  The program was called Preeminence. This program place strict limitations on how the state funds could be used.  Given the headlines about governance overreach in Florida today, could this have been also another big opening for legislators to become more involved in Florida university day-to-day operations?
Other News:
Our very own Dr. Holden Thorp published a piece entitled The Charade of Political Neutralityin the Chronicle of Higher Education.  He encourages college leaders to speak out on the issues of the day and warns that  “colleges are in the middle of the culture wars whether they like it or not”. H goes on to say “…It’s ironic that the same folks advocating for ‘viewpoint diversity’ are simultaneously muzzling their presidents.”  A great read.
Colleges Must Stop Trying to Appease the Right is a thought-provoking piece by Silke-Maria Weineck that was also published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  In it, the author warns that appeasement…” indulges as legitimate the sort of orchestrated, bad-faith fury conservatives are currently weaponizing against public schools and public libraries, which are,…, an intrinsic and ideally constitutive part of pluralist liberal democracy,”  Check it out.
UNC Board of Governors skips national search, names David Crabtree permanent CEO of PBS NC “David Crabtree, former long-time reporter and anchor at WRAL, was made CEO of PBS NC Thursday after a unanimous vote by the UNC Board of Governors. Crabtree has served as interim leader of the organization for the past five months. The board broke precedent in hiring Crabtree, who will make $275,000 per year in his new role, by not conducting a national candidate search.”

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.”