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.    

Dr. Lloyd S. Kramer: Historical examples of why tenure became so important to academics

There was a famous case in 1900 at Stanford where a sociologist named Edward Ross was fired at the request of the main trustee Jane Stanford, the wife of the founder of the university, after Ross made public comments opposing Chinese immigration and favoring public ownership of utilities.  Both of these ideas were deemed to be socialists at the time because they were positions by held by labor unions.  The president of the university fired Ross. He lost his job.

The second famous case James Cattell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana were both fired at Columbia University

in 1917 for writing and speaking against US involvement and policies in World War I.

These are examples that aroused enormous outcry among faculty because people were speaking in the public square and they were losing their job within the university.

I want to give one other example and it has to do with UNC Chapel Hill and it’s especially relevant,  I think, because we know the history of our own university. This is an account of what happened in 1856 during the lead-up to the US presidential election.

An attack was made in the local press on an unidentified professor whose name was Benjamin Hedrick. He allegedly supported the anti-slavery candidate John C. Fremont, the Republican,  and the Raleigh Standard, the newspaper, said this would lead to a disaster, a separation of the states, and this was the quote;

 “Let our schools and seminaries of learning be scrutinized and if black Republicans [i.e., Fremont supporters] are found in them, let them be driven out.  That man is neither a fit nor a safe instructor of our young men who even inclines to Fremont and black Republicanism.” In this same newspaper shortly afterwards a letter to the editor appeared from someone calling himself an alumnus of UNC who said;  “Can the trustees of our own state university invite pupils to this institution under their charge with the assurance that this mainstream of education contains no deadly poison at its fountain head? We have been reliably informed that a professor at our state university [this man Hedrick] is an open and a valid supporter of Fremont and declares his willingness–nay his desire–to support the black Republican ticket. … Is he a fit or safe instructor for our young men?  …[O]ught he not be “required to leave,” at least be dismissed, from a situation where his poisonous influence is so powerful, and his teachings so antagonist to the “honor and safety” of the University in this State? …We must have certain security,… that at State Universities we will have no canker-worm preying at the very vitals of Southern institutions.

And what happened? The newspaper immediately said this (It’s like Fox News in 1856.):

 “We take it for granted that Professor Hedrick will be promptly removed.

And the next week the faculty disowned him; the parents threatened to withdraw their sons; and alumni joined the public in calling for his dismissal. He refused to resign and… he was terminated within a week, though his salary was paid to the end of the term.  The only faculty member to defend him was a French instructor named Henri Herrisse who was also terminated immediately at the same time. Hounded by a mob, Hedrick left his native state.

So, I have shared these historical examples because I want to suggest that tenure came about for two important reasons:

  • Number one, to protect the security and freedom of people to present whatever they believe to be the truth based on careful evidence in their classrooms and in their research
  • And secondly, to prevent trustees from arbitrarily firing any member of the faculty who exercises free speech rights outside the university.

Silence Won’t Save Carolina

To say that UNC Chapel Hill faculty salaries have not kept pace with peers over the past 10 years is quite the understatement.  The accompanying graph paints a picture of not just an an ever-widening pay gap relative to peer schools, but an inflation adjusted pay cut.  This is concerning and unacceptable. The recently announced pay increases will not fix the problem and this pay gap versus peers is not limited to full-time professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

How did this happen over 10 years without someone raising the alarm or doing something about it?  The lack of visibility to this data was one factor, but with the negative headlines, governance overreach, and meddling in day-to-day operations, the silence of those who care was also a factor.  

The Coalition for Carolina will do all we can to shed a light on issues like this, but we need your help, your voice, your activism.  Those who love Carolina can reach out to the trustees, members of the Board of Governors, state legislators, and education policy makers to let them know how you feel about the policies and practices that are hurting the university.   As long as there is no pushback, the problems will continue. Silence won’t save Carolina.

Data Source: Chronicle for Higher Education: https://data.chronicle.com
Data Source: Chronicle for Higher Education: https://data.chronicle.com

The state has the resources to address faculty salaries and underfunding of public education in general.  See the related news below:

NC Gov. Cooper proposes more raises for state employees and teachers:

“North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called for Medicaid expansion and more money for state employees and teachers this year in his budget proposal ahead of the legislature’s spring session.

The state passed a two-year budget in 2021, but the General Assembly may pass additional spending bills during its short session, which begins on May 18.

The Republican-controlled legislature is unlikely to model those bills on the Democratic governor’s recommendation, but they will have to negotiate with Cooper to avoid a veto of their priorities.

Cooper presented his proposal to reporters Wednesday afternoon with State Budget Director Charlie Perusse.”

NC Republicans are currently considering state employee and teacher raises, tax cuts this session – Reach out and let them know you are in favor of this funding: 

The first signs of the Republican-majority General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper agreeing on something this year sprang forth on Wednesday: Raises for state employees and teachers.

What isn’t clear yet: how much they might be.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session, that House Republicans want to look at “some increases” for state employees and teachers.

While the state budget is passed every two years, smaller budget bills in between can adjust spending. Republicans are looking at both money for employees and some sort of possible tax relief, Moore said.”

Higher Ed Works calls on state leaders to use a $6.2 billion surplus to “Make education a priority again”.

“RALEIGH (May 18, 2022) – As the NC General Assembly reconvenes today with a $6.2 billion state budget surplus, it’s time to make education a priority again in North Carolina.

Officials announced last week that the state will take in $4.24 billion more than projected in the budget year that ends June 30 – a 15% increase. And they revised revenue projections for the budget year that begins July 1 upward by $1.96 billion, or nearly 7%.1 

Meanwhile, North Carolina ranks 34th among the states in average teacher pay and 41st in K-12 per-pupil expenditures.2 Community college faculty are paid even worse. Turnover among faculty and staff at UNC System campuses has spiked dramatically in the past year.3 

And inflation continues with an 8.5% increase in prices in the past year, devouring the 2.5% raises state workers received last year.4

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…