The N.C. Legislature Strikes Again – at Distinguished Professorships

You could call it revenge politics.

Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly is sticking its heavy hand into academics at Carolina – and taking revenge on the legislature’s critics.

This time, the legislature’s target is distinguished professorships at the University, specifically in law and journalism as targets. The humanities and social sciences will be hurt as well.

Lawmakers decreed that the state will no longer provide matching funds for new distinguished professorships at public universities, except those in science, technology, engineering or math degree programs. They’ve been providing matching funds since 1985 with the goal of incentivizing donors.

This is raw political retribution, and it is aimed directly at Carolina. UNC and N.C. State hold close to 90% of distinguished professorships.

UNC is internationally recognized for its journalism school, law school, and social science and humanities departments.  Indeed, Carolina’s commitment to the liberal arts has been the University’s “special sauce” contributing to innovation and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Yet, lawyers, journalists, and others in the arts and humanities, including many from UNC, have a history of holding the powerful to account.

In North Carolina today, powerful legislators don’t like being questioned or criticized.

Since they have a super-majority and can override Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes, they feel empowered to do as they will – and punish anyone who pushes back.

This is one more case of the ongoing political interference that threatens the excellence and the reputation of a great university.

Once again, it came in an obscure provision tucked into the 1,400-page, $30 billion state budget that was written in secret and rammed through the legislature in 36 hours on a party-line vote with no notice, no debate and no public discussion.

That’s how the legislature also dictated action on the controversial, right-of-center School of Civic Life and Leadership. See our earlier post.

Carolina will have a harder time retaining and recruiting outstanding faculty members. Other universities across the country will poach promising, up and coming professors away from UNC by offering distinguished professorships when we can’t.

The best students may see this as a signal they should enroll elsewhere.

This is chilling.

Legislative leaders may congratulate themselves for punishing pesky professors, lawyers and journalists who dare to challenge the powers-that-be.

Actually, they are punishing the young people who come to Carolina for a broad education that makes them not only good employees, but good citizens and good people.

Today’s students will be retiring 50 years from today, in the 2070s. They will live and work in a world we cannot imagine.

An understanding of history, literature, languages, social sciences, the arts and the humanities will be critical.

The legislature is treating those studies – and our students – with contempt.

The students deserve better. The University deserves better. The people of North Carolina deserve better.

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