We wanted to know what you think about what’s going on at the University of North Carolina. So, we asked you.
Almost 500 of you – 486, to be exact – responded to our online survey last month. Here is what you told us:
You see an inherent value in pursuing higher education, and you are extremely positive toward UNC.
You have deep-seated belief that the state legislature is having a negative impact on the UNC system.
You believe that professors, faculty, and administration – not politicians – should have the greater role in deciding public university curriculum.
You are paying attention to recent debates involving UNC, and you recognize the importance of our coalition.
A significant number of you are willing to take action in support of our university and our coalition.
We were struck by your high degree of interest and concern. The poll was lengthy – 33 questions, many with multiple parts. Despite the length, nearly every person who started the survey completed all the questions.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll share more insights from the survey with you.
The bill to force an accreditation change is now moving through the NC House. Please contact your NC House Representatives and let them know whether you want to force this dangerous and costly process of continuous disruption in the accrediting process on North Carolina colleges. Here is the link to who the house representatives are: https://www.ncleg.gov/Members/MemberList/H Please copy and paste this link into your browser.
It will only take you one hour to view the recording, but if you want to get a sense of what was discussed, Joe Killian does an excellent job summarizing the discussion in a piece published in NC Newsline. Here is an excerpt of what Killian writes:
“A bill that would compel UNC System universities and community colleges to change accreditors flew under the radar in the recent flurry of higher education legislation at the General Assembly. But as Senate Bill 680 clears legislative hurdles on the way to becoming law, the public should pay attention to the “in the weeds” issue of accreditation, a panel of experts said Wednesday.
Accreditation has become a hot-button issue among conservative lawmakers and their political appointees. But the potential harms of making seismic changes to the long-established process are important to understand, the experts agreed.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think anybody’s paid much attention to it,” said Sallie Shuping-Russell, a former member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, of the bill during the Wednesday panel organized by the non-profit Coalition for Carolina.
“Who the heck understands accreditation?” she said.But the issue is “really vitally important,” said Shuping-Russell, who also served two years as a public representative on the board of
In the 18 months since the Coalition for Carolina was formed, more than 22,000 people have joined our email and social media networks.
We are alumni, friends, family, faculty, students, staff and supporters of the University. Many of us live in North Carolina, and others live in Utah, Maine, Florida, New York, other states, and overseas.
When I had the honor of serving on the Board of Trustees (2003-2011), trustees put party, politics and personalities aside. We put the University first. Times certainly have changed.
I feel compelled to correct statements Marty made that aren’t true. Marty said I am a Democrat. No, I have been a registered unaffiliated voter for a number of years.
He said our coalition is a partisan vehicle. No, we are Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
He said the University, its administration and former trustees mismanaged finances and failed students and the State of North Carolina. No, that is demonstrably false.
He is correct that when I was a trustee and board chair (2007-2009), Carolina faced severe budget challenges. That’s because the legislature imposed draconian budget cuts on all universities after the 2008 recession. We overcame that challenge.Carolina became one of the nation’s top five university recipients of federal research dollars, $2 billion in revenues. We attracted faculty members who do groundbreaking research that fights AIDS, Covid, genetic diseases like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and other diseases.
We worked across party lines to secure permanent funding for the Lineberger Cancer Center, which has saved countless lives of North Carolinians and their families. We funded the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), which brings together researchers, government, and industry to develop and deploy advanced technologies that enable research discoveries and practical innovations.
Applications for admission to UNC have soared in the last two decades. Over 57,000 students applied for 4,800 slots in the Class of 2026. These students and their parents don’t think Carolina is failing.
The bipartisanship – truly, the nonpartisanship – behind that success is jeopardized by partisan attacks like Marty’s.
His is part of a national pattern of far-right political attacks on public universities, led by Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Greg Abbott of Texas. Marty’s essay ran in the North State Journal, a conservative publication with close ties to the public relations firm that he and the trustees hired, apparently to attack our Coalition.
They won’t stop us from shining a light on what several of the current trustees are doing. Instead of supporting and advancing the University, they are sowing disruption and disrespect.
The legislature, specifically the NC Senate, appears to be trying to make college and community college accreditation a political issue, which it never should be. Accreditation is a highly focused, disciplined process for all schools that receive certain federal contracts as well as those whose students receive certain scholarships, particularly Pell grants – federal needs-based scholarships that fund full-time and part-time college and vocational school students. The proposed Senate bill ( use this link if you get an error as they sometimes block referrals from our website https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2023/S680) may sound innocuous, but it isn’t. Its key tenets are:
It requires UNC system schools and community colleges to change accreditors every accreditation cycle (about every 10 years).
It requires that the new accreditor to be chosen from “a preferred list” that is compiled by the Board of Governors.
It allows one party to sue a person who raises an accreditation issue that leads to a college being found to be “out of compliance” for accreditation if that person is determined to have made a false statement (a reasonable sounding process that in past instances has chilled whistleblowers who fear that their truth will be labeled lies).
It is always risky to change accreditors, but when politicians are trying to drive an accreditor change and dictate the list from which a new creditor can be chosen, it becomes dangerous.
In addition to the fundamental actions imposed by the bill, cited above, let’s delineate a few more concerns raised with inadequate accreditation:
Potential loss of $1.5 billion in federal financial aid funds: this is the amount Carolina alone receives in federal financial aid funds; the total system received much more. This does not include research funding of other institutional grants which may rely on a recipient being accredited.
The process becomes politicized when politicians are the driving force behind changing accreditors. Lack of political influence is a core piece of all significant accrediting agencies so this alone would pose a problem to most reputable and highly quality accreditors.
Threats to AcademicSTANDARDS: Accreditation helps ensure a certain academic quality across different colleges and universities; and therefore, protects students, faculty and the value of degrees for those who have already graduated. If politicians force colleges to change accreditors without a valid reason or sufficient evidence, it threatens academic quality and undermines the integrity of the institution.
Impact on Reputation: Changing accreditors can create a perception that an institution has failed to meet the standards of its previous accreditor, which can have a negative impact on its reputation. This will not only effect enrolled students, but past graduates.
Loss of Institutional Knowledge: Accreditation requires a deep understanding of a college or university’s operations, policies, and procedures. When an institution changes accreditors, it loses that institutional knowledge and expertise that it has built up over many years. New agencies would take much longer and place a much more significant burden on administrators when they have to acquaint new accreditors with their policies and practices. This adds administrative costs to the schools.
Students who transfer to another institution or who seek additional educational degrees risk not being accepted if their degree comes from a school that has a lower standard of accreditation.
According to the Urban Institute, “The accreditation system in American higher education began in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way for colleges and universities with high academic standards to distinguish themselves from institutions that claimed to be colleges but had curricula similar to many high schools (Harcleroad 1980).” Accreditation is intended to be an objective process that evaluates academic quality based on agreed-upon standards. One concern of all accreditors is that the institutions not have undue influence by political decision-makers or influencers as politicization undermines objectivity and credibility in the scholarly process and erodes academic freedom.
What happens when an accrediting agency has a concern regarding the actions or activities of a member institution? The accrediting agency contacts the institution and asks for clarification, initially in the form of a relatively standard letter. This is what happened when UNC’s accrediting agency, SACSCOC, sent a letter to Chancellor Guskiewicz earlier this year asking for more information about the recent action by Carolina’s trustees regarding the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership. Chancellor Guskiewicz responded, providing detail about how the university intended to assess and, if approved by the faculty, create the new program. That satisfied, and therefore concluded, the SACSCOC query here.
When the institution responds the agency decides whether the answer was sufficient to satisfy the question. If it is sufficient, there is no further action — as was the recent case with Carolina. If it is not sufficient, there will be further conversations between the accrediting agency and the school. Sometimes additional information is needed and at times penalties are imposed. It is everyone’s goal – the accreditor and the school – for the accreditation to stand.
Chancellor Guskiewicz’s response to the recent SACSCOC letter satisfied the agency that proper processes were being followed at this time. However, that did not satisfy our legislature. Almost as soon as Senator Berger learned that SACSCOC intended “to send a letter” asking for clarification about the proposed new program – standard procedure when an accreditor has a question – he introduced bill 680, (Revise Higher Ed Accreditation Processes). This was his reaction to a presentation by the head of SACSCOC to the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina.
Recall Chief Justice Felix Frankfurter’s four essential freedoms of a college or university in deciding Sweezy vs New Hampshire: Universities have the right (1) to determine who may teach; (2) what can be taught; (3) how it is taught; and (4) who will be admitted. Pushing changes in accreditation harms these essential institutional freedoms. Further, Carolina is currently accredited by the highest level and quality of external accreditation. Changing accreditors from an accreditor like SACSCOC would likely result in a lower quality accreditation of our programs, which would damage past, present, and future generations.
Because of the serious consequences noted above, we’ve decided to host a webinar with a panel to discuss the potential ramifications of Senate Bill 680. We’ll send out invitations to the webinar once the logistics are complete. In the meantime, we want to point out that this draft bill sponsored by Senator Berger also raises alarms and concerns because it seems eerily similar to the extremist action that Ron DeSantis took in Florida against their college accreditor, but with an even more severe twist given its allowance of litigation.
It is critical that we not stand still here. Contact representatives and alert your neighbors to the threats this bill proposes. The vast majority of colleges and universities in the southeast are accredited by SACSCOC. If the North Carolina university system and community colleges seek a lessor accreditor we all stand to lose.
“Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state’s economy to a canceled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town’s amphitheater of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state’s biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast.
Well it’s March and it appears that the madness of social issues political overreach is happening again. This year’s target is diversity, equity and inclusion. Despite the politicos complaints about “conservative” viewpoints not being represented on campus, they appear to be very focused on targeting programs specifically designed to be inclusive of ALL points of view – INCLUDING CONSERVATIVE!
NC Policy Watch and The Chronicle of Higher Education broke news that NC elected officials are targeting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and programs. Here is what NC Policy Watch reports:
“This week the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations requested documents related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) training programs through the UNC System and all of its 17 campuses.
The request, according to a Tuesday letter from Derrick Welch, director of Senate Majority Staff Government Operations, is part of the commission’s “inquiry into university employee training programs administered through the UNC System or its member universities.”
The letter, produced below, includes an exhaustive 10-point request for documents, descriptions and costs related to any DEIA related training.”
“With the request, North Carolina joins Florida, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, where state officials have issued similar directives to public colleges in 2023. The letters vary in scope, but they generally ask colleges to detail their spending on efforts to recruit and retain diverse students, faculty, and staff.
State officials in North Carolina and elsewhere have not made clear how they plan to use the information about diversity, equity, and inclusion, often shortened to DEI. But across the country, Republican politicians have proposed banning colleges’ efforts related to diversity. Critics argue that such offices and programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars and violate academic freedom.”
Have our legislators learned nothing from the fiasco all of us remember as the “bathroom bill”? What is the purpose of this document inquiry? Why would our legislators risk another severe blow to the North Carolina economy and attack those most vulnerable? Attacking the most vulnerable in our communities, and the programs and policies that support them, may play well with a political base, but our state has the clearest proof how it hurts North Carolina’s economy and our beloved Carolina in more ways than we can foresee.
Picking on the vulnerable is also something the worst of bullies do. Pursuing these types of divisive policies is simply madness. Even if it is March, this type of madness in governing moves us way out of bounds, and is way below our standards.
Before we tell you what happened, let’s review what a college accreditor is and, specifically, who SACSCOC is and what their relationship is to Carolina.
A college accreditor is an independent organization that evaluates the quality of education provided by colleges and universities in the United States. These organizations are responsible for assessing whether an institution meets predetermined standards for student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, institutional resources, and other relevant factors.
The job of a college accreditor is crucial because it ensures that higher education institutions are maintaining high academic standards and providing quality education to students. Accreditation is necessary for institutions to receive federal funding and for students to be eligible for financial aid programs. Without accreditation, students may not be able to transfer credits to other institutions or pursue certain careers that require a degree from an accredited program.
Overall, college accreditors play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of higher education in the United States and promoting educational quality and excellence.
So what is SACSCOC? Founded in 1895, SACSCOC is an acronym for The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. According to their website; “SACSCOC is the body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states. It serves as the common denominator of shared values and practices primarily among the diverse institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Latin America and certain other international sites approved by the SACSCOC Board of Trustees that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degrees. The Commission also accepts applications for membership from domestic institutions in the other 39 states, as well as international institutions of higher education around the world.”
And SACSCOC’s relationship with Carolina? SACSCOC granted UNC Chapel Hill accreditation on January 1, 1895 and has been Carolina’s accreditor for over 128 years! It is, literally, SACSCOC’s job to ask questions about how and why any new school or curriculum at Carolina is added so they can ensure that it meets accreditation standards. When the new “School of Civic Life and Leadership was proposed in an unorthodox way, the president of SACSCOC had some questions. Unfortunately, in response to her questions, a group of NC politicians drafted and sent her the following letter:
This is not the first time that Wheelan and SACSCOC have come under fire from politicians and governing bodies unhappy with her attempts at oversight. In 2022 SACSCOC requested information about a potential conflict of interest at Florida State. Florida legislators responded by passing a law requiring Florida public colleges to switch accreditors. Inside Higher Ed covered this unusual and surprising development. They reported;
“Florida’s requirement to switch accreditors seemed to grow out of concerns raised by SACSCOC, which accredits numerous state institutions. Before the legislation passed, the accreditor had requested information about a potential conflict of interest at Florida State University, which considered Richard Corcoran for its presidency despite his role on the system’s Board of Governors. SACSCOC also raised questions about the University of Florida, which initially prevented professors from testifying against the state in a legal case challenging voting rights restrictions before changing course amid criticism. Critics have accused Florida lawmakers of pushing the accreditation legislation in response to SACSCOC oversight.
What do you think the intention of the letter was? What effect will it have?
DeSantis’ assault on Florida universities shows the need to protect the UNC System | Opinion
Ned Barnett describes the perilous situation facing NC public higher education and highlights the opportunity for the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public University to be a “rescue mission”. Follow this link to read more.
(Spoiler Alert: It Doesn’t Include Creating New Academic Programs)
Last week I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal expressing consternation that the UNC-Chapel Hill’s accrediting agency plans to ask for more information about University plans—launched by its Board of Trustees–to create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership. According to the WSJ, questions from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges constitute a political power play that also boosts the cause of faculty members “angry that the trustees created the school without their assent.” Both fair points, perhaps, but there followed a conclusion that gave me pause.
The WSJ wrote:
”But the North Carolina state constitution delegates responsibility for universities to the Legislature, which “shall provide for the selection of trustees . . . in whom shall be vested all the privileges, rights, franchises and endowments heretofore granted or conferred upon the trustees of these institutions.In other words, the UNC trustees are doing their duty under the law to protect the best interests of higher education in the state.”
The editorial’s authors can be forgiven for assuming, like most people probably do, that UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees (BOT) holds wide-ranging governance powers, entitling it to take steps like directing University administrators to create a new school. But the BOT’s role in the University is actually more advisory than executive, making its recent directive a cause for concern regardless of one’s opinion on the merits of the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership.
It’s true that the North Carolina Constitution includes the provision cited by the WSJ. But not long after the current NC Constitution was adopted in 1971, the General Assembly reorganized and expanded the University of North Carolina to comprise what is now a 16-institution system. The powers of the trustees of what had been known as the “Consolidated University” were now vested in the newly created UNC Board of Governors. Thereafter the BOG had pretty much all governance powers over the UNC system and its constituent institutions. (I sometimes wish that weren’t the case, but it is.)
At the same time, the General Assembly mandated separate boards of trustees at each of the UNC institutions, and gave those boards limited, mostly advisory powers. Each is authorized to:
“. . . promote the sound development of the institution within the functions prescribed for it, helping it to serve the State in a way that will complement the activities of the other institutions and aiding it to perform at a high level of excellence in every area of endeavor. Each board shall serve as advisor to the Board of Governors on matters pertaining to the institution and shall also serve as advisor to the chancellor concerning the management and development of the institution. The powers and duties of each board of trustees, not inconsistent with other provisions of this Article, shall be defined and delegated by the Board of Governors.“
NC General Statutes Sec. 116-33.
So, the “privileges” and “rights” ascribed by the WSJ to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees have long since been held by the Board of Governors. A few other statutes confer some additional responsibilities on the boards of trustees, such as the power to establish a campus law enforcement agency. But for the most part they possess only those powers that the BOG has delegated to them.
Over the fifty years since the modern University of North Carolina’s creation, the BOG has conferred a wide array of responsibilities on the boards of trustees, such as the adoption of tenure policies and procedures, hearing and deciding a variety of faculty, staff or student appeals from administrative decisions; appointing chancellor search committees, overseeing endowments, and approving matters such as who will receive honorary degrees, the annual budget, head coach and athletic director contracts, appointment and compensation for certain non-faculty employees, certain types of capital projects, campus master plans, the acquisition or disposition of real property, and new campus building architects, sites and designs.
Not a trivial set of responsibilities, but they do not include the authority to instruct an institution to create a new academic program.
And given the central importance of a university’s academic programs, it’s not surprising that the BOG has set out expectations about how new programs shall be proposed and approved. Fundamentally, those expectations are rooted in an understanding that each campus should determine what academic programs will work best for its students and community, subject to alignment with UNC System values and priorities. Each constituent institution must establish and follow a clearly defined process for the review and approval of proposals on its campus to plan or establish new degree programs, and UNC-Chapel Hill has done so. As to the BOT’s role, UNC-Chapel Hill’s policy provides only that, upon reviewing and approving such a proposal, the Chancellor is required to “update the Board of Trustees as appropriate” before forwarding it to the UNC System for review.
Some may argue that the general mandate to the BOT to “promote the sound development of the institution” is all the authority the Board needs to propose a new School at Carolina. A lawyerly response would be that specific statutory and regulatory provisions take precedence over more general provisions, and as explained above, the specific regulations concerning creation of new academic programs clearly don’t give the BOT the power to mandate such a step. Another way of saying it is that if the General Assembly or the BOG thought the BOTs should be involved in formulating and proposing plans for new schools within the UNC campuses, they could have provided for it in setting out a detailed framework for such decisions—and they did not.
Why does any of this matter?
First, it matters because in requesting “that the administration of UNC-CH accelerate its development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership,” the BOT has strayed from its statutorily authorized role, as further defined by the Board of Governors, and that’s rarely a good thing.
Also, honest recognition that the BOT has exceeded its authority in this situation may in turn make the on-campus protests more understandable—and, one hopes, stem the editorial eye-rolling that has met complaints that the BOT has ignored shared governance and disrespected the faculty’s historic and legitimate role in curriculum development.
Finally, it matters because the “sound development” of the University, and especially of its academic programs, can’t happen without study, preparation, and deliberation, principally by those who will be charged with ensuring that such programs succeed. Chancellor Guskiewicz has pledged to run the proposal for a School of Civic Life and Leadership through the University’s normal channels, with input from faculty and the kind of detailed budgetary planning required for such an initiative. But one wonders whether that review will be so overshadowed by political crossfire and misgivings over the way the BOT has jump-started this matter that the new School, if it goes forward, will be too tainted to succeed.
It didn’t need to happen like this. At their best, the UNC System boards of trustees understand and respect their proper role in university governance. They engage in meaningful, two-sided conversations with the campuses they are pledged to support and to represent to the wider university and to the State. They do their best to learn and appreciate their institutions, so that any criticism they make is grounded in fact and insight. They listen as much as they instruct. That approach seems to have been discarded by the UNC-Chapel Hill BOT in favor of quick and decisive action. By failing to stay within its lane the BOT may have ensured that its effort to bring a conservative perspective to campus life is doomed to failure.
David M. Parker, BA 1980; JD, 1984
On Friday, February 17, 2023 the UNC-CH Faculty Council met to address the “bucket of chaos” created by UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees as described above. During the meeting the council passed two resolutions. One of the resolutions made clear that the previously approved “IDEAS in Action Curriculum” is different from the proposed new school and should not be used to confuse the public or justify the recent governance overreach. The second resolution directly addressed the recent overreach actions and made clear the faculty’s role in creating new schools. Follow this link to watch a video of the meeting and/or read the resolutions.
“Here’s the real problem: A nebulously defined conservative school, sponsored by a rotating lay board, with untenured teaching or adjunct professors residing at the bottom of the professorial pyramid and providing instruction in no discernible majors or disciplines, with uncertain job prospects for any graduates, and with anemic mainstream faculty support, could possibly be successful and could outlast the board members who promote it. But that’s not the way to bet. There must be better solutions.”
On Friday, February 17, 2023 the UNC-CH Faculty Council met to address the “bucket of chaos” created by yet another incidence of trustee (BOT) governance overreach. In its most recent overreach actions, the BOT failed to consult, or even inform, the faculty, chancellor, students or staff–normally charged with making such decisions– about a proposed new degree granting “School of Civic Life and Leadership”. Instead of working with the faculty and staff, the BOT paid a PR agency $50,000 to mount a national campaign to sell the proposed school on right wing media with the promise that the school will inject more right wing viewpoints onto campus. Below is a video of the entire Faculty Council meeting.
During the meeting the council passed two resolutions. One of the resolutions made clear that the previously approved “IDEAS in Action Curriculum” is different from the proposed new school and should not be used to confuse the public or justify the recent governance overreach. Here is the full text of that resolution:
“Resolution 2023-1. On Supporting the Implementation of the IDEAS in Action Curriculum
The Faculty Council resolves:
The College of Arts and Sciences should be fully supported in implementing the IDEAs in Action curriculum. We maintain that implementing the IDEAs in Action curriculum and establishing the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership are conceptually separate undertakings that should not be entangled. The Faculty Council supports the adequate provision of resources to the College for the purpose of implementing all aspects of the IDEAs in Action curriculum.”
Submitted by Professor Harry L. Watson (History)
The second resolution directly addressed the recent overreach actions and made clear the faculty’s role in creating new schools.
“Resolution 2023-2. On Disapproving the Creation of a New School at UNC-Chapel Hill
The Faculty Council finds:
1. On January 26, 2023, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees adopted a resolution requesting the administration of UNC-CH to accelerate its development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership with a goal of a minimum of 20 faculty members and degree opportunities for undergraduate students. During the Board’s meeting, the resolution was described as an outgrowth of a budget request for $3 million to implement the existing requirements of the IDEAs in Action curriculum.
2. On February 5, 2023, the Faculty Executive Committee received a copy of an undated budget memo requesting $5 million in recurring funds to create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership within the College of Arts and Sciences. The initial funding would be used to support “development of the school, hiring of leadership, faculty, programming, staff, and expansion of the curricular work of the existing Program for Public Discourse.” The budget requirements of the proposed new School were projected to grow to $12.6 million by the 2026-27 fiscal year.
3. Section 2-6 of The Faculty Code of University Government empowers the Faculty Council “to determine the educational policies of the University and the rules and regulations under which administrators and faculty will conduct the educational activities of the University” and “to prescribe the requirements for admissions, programs of study, and the award of academic degrees by the University in the context of the basic educational policies of the University and the special competencies of the faculties of particular colleges and schools.”
4. The faculty has not been consulted about the creation of a new degree-granting school at UNC- Chapel Hill. Until the Board of Trustees’ public adoption of its January 26 resolution, faculty leaders were unaware that any such school had been proposed.
Based on these findings, the Faculty Council resolves:
The creation of a new degree-granting school on the UNC-CH campus is a matter for which faculty are responsible. The proposal for a new School of Civic Life and Leadership did not originate with the faculty, was not communicated to the faculty in advance, and has not been studied by the faculty. Faculty members’ questions about the vision for the new program–such as the sequencing of coursework, the scholarship that supports the discipline, any overlap with existing courses or programs, and the utility of the program to our graduates—have gone unanswered.
Moreover, the Faculty Council anticipates that the proposed school will consume badly needed resources for the University’s existing programs and facilities.
For these reasons, the Faculty Council recommends no further action on this new school until such a time as a proposal from the faculty towards this school is developed and then properly discussed.”
Further, it has been revealed that trustees are using university funds to pay a PR firm to make their egregious actions more palatable to the public. The N&O says the name of the PR agency hired by the trustees is Eckel & Vaughn, a Raleigh firm. The contract is for $50,000. The article goes on to quote trustee Preyer as saying the board hired the PR agency to counter commentary from The Coalition for Carolina — a privately funded organization. Preyer did not explain why the battery of PR talent already retained by the university was not sufficient, or why the initial PR efforts were concentrated in right leaning media. Both Coalition for Carolina co-chairs Roger Perry and Dr. Mimi Chapman provided commentary in the N&O coverage.
The blindsided faculty continues to be baffled and disturbed by the recent governance overreach actions. The commentary below first appeared in NC Policy Watch on February 13, 2023. The Coalition for Carolina has been granted permission to republish it in entirety.
Commentary: UNC Chapel Hill trustees misfire with rushed and ill-conceived plan to launch conservative school
Two weeks ago, the UNC Board of Trustees arrived in Chapel Hill hellbent on launching yet another salvo in the campus Culture Wars. They surprised everyone with a resolution calling for the creation of a new “School of Civic Life and Leadership.” Comprised “of a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty,” this proposed school would help develop student “skills in public discourse” in the service of “promoting democracy and serving to benefit society.”
Though camouflaged in reasonable language, the true intent of the resolution was revealed soon after its passage. Aided by a public relations firm, the BOT launched a media campaign to score cheap political points with conservative pundits. The Wall Street Journal just so happened to have a supportive op-ed ready to publish within hours of the meeting. A day later, Board of Trustee Chair David Boliek appeared on Fox News assuring viewers, “this is all about balance.” “We have no shortage of left-of-center, progressive views on our campus.” “The same really can’t be said about right-of-center views, so this is an effort to try to remedy that.”
From there, the Board of Trustees rode out of Chapel Hill on a wave of praise from conservative commentators who have long convinced themselves that they are victims of intellectual persecution on college campuses. Fox News called their actions “a rare win for free speech.” The Wall Street Journal praised them for “trying to revive the academic ideal of a campus as a haven for inquiry and debate.” The Pope Foundation-funded Martin Center hailed the resolution for “leading the way on free expression, viewpoint diversity, and academic freedom.” The conservative-leaning “National Association of Scholars” called the move “a stark contrast to the authoritarian radical monoculture that has claimed most of higher education.”
But there was just one glitch: the BOT apparently never told anyone who actually works at or attends the university.
Bypassing or ignoring traditions of university governance
Faculty had questions. It is a university’s faculty, after all, who teach the classes, design the curriculum, and conduct the research that makes them nationally-renowned scholars in their respective fields. Faculty began to ask for clarification, wondering why the trustees didn’t share their grand plans with the people who teach at the university.
The Chancellor and Provost, both insisting they were also surprised by the announcement, played along in support of the Board, asserting that such a school was good for democracy and that it actually originated from earlier faculty conversations. Striking a different tone from previous reports in conservative media, they insisted that faculty would lead the effort to create the curriculum for the new school.
But that’s not how the Board of Trustees initially presented the program to their conservative constituents, the only ones they seem to think matter. As Trustee John Preyer told The Wall Street Journal, the new school would eliminate “political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.” Preyer has yet to offer any specific examples to back that well-trod myth about college courses, leading to further confusion about the goals of the new school.
A few days after the announcement, tempers flared at a meeting between faculty leaders and the Chancellor and Provost. Some of the faculty spoke with a tone that led another trustee to conclude, “the Faculty Executive Committee’s discussion clearly demonstrates why we need this school.”
There are several issues at play here. One is the longstanding tradition of shared governance at American research universities. Another is the blatant overreach by a Board of Trustees that is unqualified to dictate the curriculum at a major public university. It should go without saying that the members of the Board of Trustees are not college educators. They are stewards of a faculty that includes people with decades of research and teaching experience. But the trustees seem not to care about expertise, only their perceptions of political affiliation. And their stated intention of sidestepping “left-of-center” faculty and to create curriculum designed to favor Republicans reveals just how ignorant they are of the practical workings of the university they are entrusted to oversee.
Duplicating and undermining existing departments
Conservatives have long dreamed of a greater presence on UNC’s campus, and it is certainly within the BOT’s power to use private money to build a Conservative clubhouse that might offer s safe space to debate hot-button political issues. Many in the UNC community would certainly be upset over such a nakedly political imposition, but such a center would probably just end up becoming a relatively benign venue for right-leaning lectures and social gatherings. But the trustees want something else. They want to use public money and the resources of the university to alter the curriculum in service of their political whims.
Faculty in this proposed new school would teach in fields that already exist at UNC—History, Political Science, School of Government, Philosophy, etc., effectively duplicating portions of several departments. Budget estimates for this school reach as high as $12.65 million per year by the 2026-27 academic year.
Meanwhile, Hamilton Hall, the building that houses UNC’s Departments of History and Political Science, ranked #11 and #12 in the country, is falling apart. Both elevators are routinely inoperable and there is lead in the water fountains. Some faculty have even been asked to consider giving up their office phones to save money on the bill. And numerous faculty positions remain unfilled. It is especially galling for the Board of Trustees to shirk its existing stewardship responsibilities while demanding tens of millions of dollars to recreate the excellent departments that the university already has.
Furthermore, there have been calls from conservative quarters to freeze out existing faculty from the formation of this new school, meaning that historians won’t be vetted by historians and philosophers won’t be vetted by philosophers. Who is going to uphold academic standards if the university’s own world-class faculty aren’t involved? The BOT insists that it will no longer act as a rubber stamp, but they’re not qualified to make such judgements about curriculum. They don’t tell football coach Mack Brown which base defense to run for the same reason they don’t tell English professors which books to teach. There is a great irony in paying people to be experts in something and then disregarding that very expertise.
Altering and twisting the backstory
Now, the BOT is trying to rewrite the narrative they initially crafted about their own school. In a recent op-ed, Boliek and Preyer insisted that the idea came directly from the curriculum created by faculty, admonishing “those obsessing over process and prerogatives.” The need for the school, they further argued, is demonstrated by a survey conducted early in 2022 that gauged student responses to “free expression and constructive dialogue” on campus. “Those who maintain,” they castigated, “that the university already provides an environment of collegial debate and tolerance of varying viewpoints ignore recent research showing that more than half of Carolina’s conservative students and one in five centrist students censor themselves.”
But the Trustees’ interpretation of the survey is just as flawed as their curricular ideas. The vast majority of students didn’t care enough to bother filling it out, leading to a response rate of only 11% at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7.5% across the UNC System. If such a crisis really existed, surely the response rates would have been much higher. As it is, the survey results boil down to just a few hundred students, many of whom were freshman at the time.
Even allowing for a skewed and unrepresentative sample, the survey offered no evidence that UNC’s existing faculty or course offerings contributed negatively to this so-called problem. Students marked race, policing, and guns as the most difficult topics to discuss. These are challenging issues for nearly every American to examine, and there is no reason to believe that a new wave of professors would better teach these topics simply because they identify as conservative. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite: 89% of conservative respondents to survey agreed that “Professor[s] encouraged participation from liberals and conservatives alike.” The students also overwhelming reported that professors do not push political views in class. And the proposed faculty for the new school would be fixed term, not tenured, meaning that they wouldn’t have the same protections of academic freedom.
Ironically, Boliek and Preyer have simultaneously revealed their shortcomings as critical thinkers, institutional stewards, and campus leaders. They seem to misunderstand the very survey they themselves cite as evidence of need. On the basis of that misunderstanding, they propose a budgetary boondoggle, earmarking tens of millions of dollars to essentially duplicate departments that are already underfunded. And they propose all of this not as a last resort, but as a first strike, given that the BOT has never undertaken any other action to help improve campus climate in ways that might foster productive dialogue.
Sowing confusion and anger
Since passing their resolution, the BOT has done nothing but sow confusion and anger. A few have continued to launch potshots at faculty through the media while refusing to answer any questions directly from faculty. And now, UNC is left with another media circus and even possible questions about accreditation. Perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of this is the trustees’ abject failure to demonstrate the very type of civil discourse they say is needed on campus. Why the need for secrecy? Why the media blitz? Why are the trustees attacking professors in conservative media? Why not answer questions from the very people who will be tasked with building this school?
It still remains unclear exactly what the trustees are calling for or who they expect to complete their bidding. At worst, it’s a naked power grab that will further impose a political ideology over the campus and curtail academic freedom. At best, it’s a policy whose design will create an inefficient redundancy by duplicating existing departments, thus weakening them all and making UNC worse at what it already does best.
I know the trustees profess to love the university. But it’s hard for anyone to take this seriously so long as the trustees themselves fail to articulate a consistent and clear vision for their new school, while using the great university that already exists as a political prop in the culture wars.