An open letter to Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross

An open letter to Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross
Governor Cooper’s newly-formed commission on governance has gotten the attention of Dr. Timothy Kaufman-Osborn.  He submitted an open letter to NC Policy Watch’s The Pulse blog urging co-chairs Spellings and Ross to recommend a dramatic overhaul of UNC System governance.  We view the commission’s work as very important and reached out to Dr. Kaufman-Osborn for permission to share his open letter, in entirety, with you and that permission was granted. We thank Dr. Kaufman-Osborn for the opportunity to share this important perspective.

An Open Letter to Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross
Congratulations on your appointment as co-chairs of the newly-formed Commission on the Future of Public Universities in North Carolina. Governor Cooper’s executive order charges you with evaluating the governance structure of the University of North Carolina system and making recommendations for its improvement. I write now to urge you to consider this charge an invitation to consider a fundamental question that is often left unasked but should in fact inform every inquiry into how higher education is to be governed: Given the mission of our public universities, what form of rule will best facilitate that end’s accomplishment? 

The governor’s concern with UNC’s governance came as no surprise, I trust, since both of you served (only to resign under duress) as that system’s president. Each of you, moreover, knows all too well the recent fiascos that have bedeviled UNC, including but hardly limited to the botched tenure bid of Nikole Hannah- Jones and disposition of the Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam.” These embarrassments have sullied UNC’s reputation and sapped the morale of those whose statutorily-prescribed mission is “to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society,” whether through teaching, research, or public service.

Nor did it surprise you, I’m sure, that Governor Cooper blamed North Carolina’s Republican legislators for the “undue political influence and bureaucratic meddling” that now afflicts UNC’s governance. For over half a century, all members of UNC statewide board of governors have been appointed by the General Assembly. Since 2016, moreover, the trustees of each university within the UNC system have been selected in part by the state’s senate and house of representatives and in part by the board of governors whose members are appointed by those same elected officers. UNC’s subordination to partisan purposes is thereby structurally enabled, as is its domination by what Cooper opaquely characterized as a “singularity of political thought” but more candidly might be labeled a right-wing political agenda bent on bringing UNC to heel. Insofar as this campaign succeeds, UNC loses its capacity to sustain the free inquiry that is an indispensable condition of its mission’s fulfillment. Resecuring the university’s autonomy must therefore be a central objective of the commission’s work. 

To achieve that end, the governor has suggested that the commission might consider recommending that members of the minority party be permitted to appoint several governing board members or, alternatively, that a few “education leaders” might be seated on that body. Mere tinkering with the method of appointing the board’s members, however, will not meet the challenge at hand. What these incremental proposals neglect is the internal organization of UNC’s rule in autocratic form. Because that constitution of power is itself at odds with fulfillment of the university’s mission, it too must be placed on your agenda. 

UNC’s current governance system represents the worst of all possible worlds. Members of the board of governors, according to state statute, are to be selected on the basis of “their ability to further the educational mission of The University through their knowledge and understanding of the educational needs and desires of all the State’s citizens.” In fact, however, governors are now selected by the General Assembly to promote the parochial interests of the party in power and, once in office, are given virtually unlimited authority to do so. 

The scope of that authority is a function of the board of governors’ constitution as a “body politic and corporate” that is granted sole responsibility “for the general determination, control, supervision, management and governance of all affairs” of the UNC system as well as the full panoply of powers necessary to execute that rule. Lest there be any doubt about this power’s extent, the Policy Manual and Code adopted by the board of governors affirms its exclusive authority to adopt any “policies and regulations as it may deem wise,” subject only to the proviso that they not contravene state law. The board, moreover, is authorized to amend or suspend any provision of the manual itself, thereby enabling it to modify its own policies but also the procedures by which those policies are made. 

True, the board has elected to cede certain “duties and powers” to the trustees of each individual campus just as it has delegated certain tasks to the system president as well as the chancellors of specific universities. Yet the board of governors also asserts its unilateral right to rescind any powers delegated to others and so, in the last analysis, these subordinate officers remain just that.

About the class of employees designated as faculty, the manual authorizes each campus to create a Faculty Council or Senate but is quick to note that the only role of these bodies is to “advise the chancellor on any matters pertaining to the institution that are of interest and concern to the faculty” (emphasis added). About the class we call staff, the manual says virtually nothing, which is not surprising given that these at-will employees are effectively irrelevant when it comes to UNC’s governance. Rightly understood, in short, faculty and staff alike are subjects of an incorporated “body politic” ruled by outsiders selected by and beholden to other outsiders; and that constitution of rule is more akin to an imperial relationship than one befitting a nation built on a revolutionary rejection of English absolutism and endorsement of the principles of republicanism.

An alternative to UNC’s autocratic corporate constitution is readily available within the state’s statutory code, and I offer it for the commission’s consideration. Like other states, North Carolina law distinguishes between membership and non-membership corporations. UNC is an example of the latter insofar as its board of directors rules over those who are not members but, rather, employees bound by contract. Within a membership corporation, by way of contrast, those who are now employees become members who, as such, are granted certain essentially political rights to participate in its governance. Although these rights vary depending on the specific terms of a membership corporation’s articles and bylaws, they typically include the right to elect and remove governing board members; to adopt, amend, or rescind the rules that regulate this corporation’s internal affairs; and to debate and resolve matters of collective concern at regular membership meetings. 

Within this corporate form, members exercise the powers of self-rule that, today, are monopolized at UNC by a governing board defined by its unaccountability to those it commands. Within a membership corporation, moreover, unless its articles of incorporation or bylaws distinguish between different classes of members, state law requires that all “shall have the same designations, qualifications, rights, and obligations” and, furthermore, that “each member is entitled to one vote on each matter voted on by the members.” The hierarchical and authoritarian structure of power that now characterizes UNC is thereby replaced by an egalitarian and democratic constitution that complements rather than contradicts the core tenets of the Republic to which it belongs. 

Reconstitution of UNC as a membership corporation will advance the system’s autonomy and hence its capacity to sustain the academy’s status as a home to free inquiry. This corporate form is better equipped to do so precisely because it does not place ultimate authority in the hands of an external board whose appointees rarely understand the distinctive purposes and practices of higher education and, too often today, are so many hacks bent on enacting the anti-academic agendas of red state legislatures. Governing board members selected by and hence beholden to a corporation’s members are far more likely to remain fiduciaries in the true sense of that term, i.e., custodians who understand that fulfillment of the university’s mission requires the institutional independence that is a prerequisite of its work. 

To offer this recommendation is not to say that the academy should be organized in strict conformity to the practices that define democratic rule. The scholarly community is not composed of so many equal citizens whose differences on specifically intellectual matters are to be resolved by tallying votes. But it is to say that, like a democracy, the university is predicated on an ideal of a self-governing community; and it is to say that the end of free inquiry cannot be realized so long as the power to regulate that community’s affairs is monopolized by a head that remains sundered from the body it superintends.

In closing, let’s be realistic: Any recommendations advanced by the Commission on the Future of Public Universities are almost certainly doomed from the get-go. No matter how bipartisan its composition, so long as the Republican Party remains in control of North Carolina’s legislature, proposals to modify the appointment process for the board of governors will not fly: “There is no interest in changing the structure of the UNC system,” declared a spokesperson for the house speaker, “regardless of whatever report this politically-motivated commission produces.” 

Given this unfortunate truth, how might North Carolina’s Commission on the Future of Public Universities most productively spend the eight months before its final report is due? In accepting the governor’s appointment, one of you rightly affirmed that “people need to be able to feel that they are represented in this enterprise. That sadly is not the case at the moment.” That trust might be partly restored by adopting piecemeal reforms that encourage creation of a less partisan and more diverse board of governors. This accomplishment will remain stunted, however, until those now ruled as subjects in the guise of employees are genuinely “represented in this enterprise,” and that requires structural changes that, happily, are already available in current law. If nothing else, should you reopen the question of UNC’s corporate identity, you will initiate a much-needed conversation about the form of rule that is best suited to further the university’s unique mission. 

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.

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.

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.”

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:

Webinar Recording: How and Why Tenure Strengthens Carolina

If you missed our “How and Why Tenure Strengthens Carolina” webinar on April 27, 2022, you missed a great discussion.  Like business career paths, tenure is a 10-to-15-year highly competitive process designed to prepare talented and committed scholars for coveted leadership positions. 

Tenure plays a critical role in preserving academic freedom and protecting free speech.  Webinar moderator and UNC Faculty Chair Dr. Mimi Chapman shared examples of how tenure has been threatened around the country.  Several audacious actions are underway around the country to proactively eliminate tenure; replace tenured professors with those without tenure’s protection; or simply reduce the number of tenure- track professors.  If these efforts are successful, there would be a serious erosion of both academic freedom and free speech rights. Additionally, such a move could be yet another dangerous step in governance overreach. Dr. Lloyd Kramer shared an ominous historical fact during the webinar: “One of the most common characteristics of authoritarian societies is that when teachers or faculty go against some reigning ideological or political position, they are dismissed. They are removed.” Tenure prevents such acts of retaliation and retribution.  

Check out the webinar recording for more…