The UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT) and the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) have again made headlines for governing actions that run counter to the decades long success of shared governance which has made Carolina a great university.
Shared governance is the practice of involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process at a public university. It creates a democratic process where faculty, staff, students, and administrators have a voice and can express their views on issues that affect the university. Shared governance at public universities is crucial for the success and sustainability of these institutions and is a fundamental aspect of higher education. It is important that shared governance be preserved to:
- Ensure that the university community is involved in shaping the direction of the institution.
- Promote transparency and accountability.
- Maintain a culture of open communication that fosters trust among the university community.
- Guide better, informed decision-making with different perspectives taken into consideration.
- Help maintain the academic freedom and autonomy of the university so that the university remains focused on its mission of advancing knowledge and promoting the public good.
When shared governance is destroyed by governance overreach it can restrict academic freedom and autonomy, leading to a lack of creativity and innovation in teaching and research. This can result in a decrease in the quality of education and research, and can negatively impact the reputation of the university.
The most recent action to violate the principles of shared governance is a BOT proposal to create an entire new school. The proposed “School of Civic Life and Leadership” was proposed and voted on without any input or knowledge from the faculty, chancellor, students or staff normally charged with making such decisions. Not only that, but the process for making the proposal included a public relations roll-out featuring an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, glowing coverage in other conservative publications, and BOT Chair Boliek immediately appearing on Fox News to suggest that the move may be politically inspired by saying;
“We … have no shortage of left-of-center, progressive views on our campus, like many campuses across the nation. But the same really can’t be said about right-of-center views. So, this is an effort to really remedy that with the School of Civic Life and Leadership, which will provide equal opportunity for both views to be taught at the university.”
Such a move has been received at Carolina with confusion and concern. To his credit; Chancellor Guskiewicz has responded with a restrained, but firm reminder of the proper process for creating a new school;
“I appreciate the encouragement of our Board to build on the work we have done and I share the ideal that our students are served by learning to listen, engage, and seek different perspectives that contribute to robust public discourse.
Any proposed degree program or school will be developed and led by our faculty, deans, and provost. Our faculty are the marketplace of ideas and they will build the curriculum and determine who will teach it, just as they determined the capacities laid out in our new IDEAs in Action Curriculum. I will be working with our faculty to study the feasibility of such a school and the ways we can most effectively accomplish our goal of promoting democracy in our world today.”
Other responses have not been so restrained and have clearly pointed out the egregious nature of governance overreach by the BOT. Below are a few of those responses:
In an Op-ed for the News & Observer, professor Buck Goldstein writes:
“To say the UNC community was surprised is an understatement. Neither the faculty, administration or even the UNC System office had heard of this plan to create a new school out of whole cloth. The trustees’ actions tear up longstanding, well codified principles of university governance and replace civil discourse with secrecy and confrontation. Their tactics make the proposal, in its current form, radioactive at best and possibly dead on arrival.”
“When UNC law professor Eric Muller first read the editorial headline, he said his eyes fell out of his head. On Jan. 26, the Faculty Executive Committee member was in a Zoom meeting when he saw a screenshot of a Wall Street Journal editorial titled ‘UNC Takes on the University Echo Chamber.’ I thought: how on Earth? How on Earth could the Wall Street Journal know this,” Muller said.”
“Mimi Chapman, chairperson of faculty, said she was “flabbergasted” in response to the exclusion of faculty input in the decision, which she said she considers to be an attack on shared University governance.”
Former chancellor Holden Thorp weighed in with a comprehensive piece on how the BOT and other governing actions even threaten science;
“Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) voted to establish an entire new school (School of Civic Life and Leadership) with 20 faculty (to include a substantial number of Republicans) and its own dean without informing the faculty or administration. Before telling anyone on campus about the decision, the board chair bragged to conservative outlets that the school would be a “remedy” to academic indoctrination.”
“In his media victory lap, the UNC board chair didn’t dispute the framing of events as the imminent establishment of a conservative school. Further, he told Fox News that the new school would hire Republican professors as a solution to the imbalance of ideologies on campus. If there’s a remedy, there has to be a problem—which is apparently that liberal professors indoctrinate their students. He also said that UNC had a “world-class faculty.” Would such faculty be lousy professors who do a poor job of teaching? Will the new Republican professors be more competent and not indoctrinate students? Evidently, he thinks so—how else could the new hires ‘remedy’ the problem?”
“This matters a lot for science. If politicians can paint academics as master indoctrinators around Black history and political rhetoric, then they can do the same thing with issues such as climate change, evolution, and public health topics spanning COVID-19 to gender-affirming care, abortion, and gun control.”
The second governance action that raises questions and creates confusion is a BOG proposal on “compelled speech”. The proposed solution, for an unknown problem, prohibits asking employees or applicants to “affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action.” (See their full proposal here in agenda item A-8 on page 19 of this PDF.) No one seems to understand what problem this proposal is trying to solve. In fact, The News and Observer (N&O) covered the meeting and quotes President Hans and general counsel Andrew Tripp as having no good reason for the change. The specific quote from the N&O reads:
“Neither Hans nor system general counsel Andrew Tripp pointed to a specific example of when a system employee had forced anyone to voice specific beliefs, affiliations or principles. There was not “one particular event” that led to the policy proposal, Hans told reporters after Thursday’s full board meeting.”
Here at the Coalition for Carolina, we would like to clearly understand why politicians and the university governing members they’ve appointed in NC are doing this. What problems are they trying to solve? What, what exactly, has moved the BOT and BOG to conclude that our university system and Carolina – having thrived on the national scene for centuries –needs these new policies right now? In a properly operating shared governance model these questions would have been addressed prior to the proposals being made public. So far we have not able to identify any pressing issues, challenges, or problems that called for these solutions.
With respect to the “compelled speech” proposal, the BOG indicates that they are willing to take public comments before voting on it, but the BOG page for public comments is not accepting public comments at the time of this writing.