We hope that all of you are enjoying this holiday season and are able to relax and connect with family and friends. As 2021 winds down, we’re reflecting on a year of challenges that our beloved Carolina has faced.
Like other universities, public and private, Carolina faced challenges trying to strike the right balance when dealing with the current Covid-19 pandemic. But unlike many other universities, Carolina was forced to manage the pandemic at a time when governing bodies and political leaders are getting more and more involved in daily operations.
The Daily Tarheel provided a 2021 recap entitled Breaking down UNC Board of Trustees and Board of Governors decisions this year. NC Policy Watch titled its annual recap; Year in review: In higher ed, higher stakes as the UNC system becomes more politicized. Putting these two titles together, decisions by the UNC Board of Trustees and Board of Governors as the UNC system becomes more politicized had a huge impact on Carolina in 2021.
While an agreement with N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans and the bungled handling of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure case received lots of publicity; several other problematic instances took place during the year. We highlighted several of them in our post entitled Chaos in the UNC System as Appointees Reject Shared Governance. A few of the more concerning issues are:
- The UNC Board of Governors, unusually, rejected all five of the Chancellor’s recommendations for the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. It sends a very clear signal that shared governance is not valued when not one of the Chancellor’s recommendations is picked to serve as a member of Carolina’s board of trustees.
- UNC Chapel Hill trustees inserted themselves into the hiring process for people two to three levels below the chancellor or vice chancellor levels. The rejection of shared governance continues with the micromanaging of a dean’s ability to hire for their team or to bring in those who fit with a dean’s vision for a particular school.
- UNC Chapel Hill trustees moved to insert themselves into the admissions process in order to have the final say on an individual admissions case that’s being appealed. This attempt by the board of trustees to potentially exert influence over who gets accepted to attend Carolina is overreach beyond anything we could have imagined. It goes beyond rejecting shared governance. It goes beyond micromanaging. Deciding who gets admitted taken together with political legislative leaders deciding who gets to serve on the Board of Governors, the Board of Governors then deciding who gets to be a UNC-CH trustee, the trustees then deciding who gets hired to be chancellor, and then the trustees extending their authority to who gets hired at the levels below the chancellor, is politicization on steroids and crosses into the realm of authoritarianism.
To add to these concerns, voices are being silenced. UNC Chapel Hill leaders were excluded from Board of Trustees meetings after speaking up about some of the controversies. When they were reinvited to the meetings their speaking time was cut by 2/3rds. And, after all of the above, the board of trustees closed out the year by, allegedly, pressuring the chancellor to choose a specific person to fill the provost position.
This is a difficult time for Carolina and it is taking its toll. We note the exodus of top leaders across the University. We also note that over the past 10 years UNC-CH faculty salaries have not kept pace with peers. Lagging behind peer schools means the University risks losing more leading professors and researchers to these peers and to others.
While 2021 was plagued by a series of attention grabbing, bad headlines, there was some good news. We celebrate the unveiling of a new gene editing center that’s spurring discovery in the life sciences, a $24 million NIH grant for genomic and precision medicine, and a 3D vaccine patch pioneered by UNC researchers that has the potential to revolutionize vaccine distribution. Dr. Ralph Baric, a scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, was named the 2021 Tar Heel of the year by the News and Observer for his contribution to developing the Moderna vaccine and treatments for COVID-19 like Remdesevir. We also saw enrollment climb and reach record highs for the fourth year in a row and are proud that UNC Chapel Hill remains among the top five public universities in the nation.
As we look forward to 2022, we will fight for a return to the shared governance model that has served the university so well for generations. Most importantly, we will continue to shed light on issues that can harm Carolina if not addressed. We are grateful for your continued support. Please invite your friends and family to join our cause in 2022.
3 thoughts on “The Year in Review (and Wishes for a Better 2022!)”
You have provided a troubling summary for UNC during the course of 2021. My concern is that political interference is only going to increase. There will be no limit to infringing on academic freedom. Yet I see no strategy for UNC alums or faculty to work together.
This is “heavier “ and more worrisome than I had even expected. Compressing, itemizing such regrettable news into an end-of–year report on this particular year enhances the miasma of it all.
From the “good news” paragraph, I took heart, but nothing there engages the “bad news” in the undeniable loss of independence for our university. That observation is hardly a criticism of the post; it describes, as it must, what we are facing. Laying it out, lined up as you have lined it up, is essential.
I am the rookie of rookies here. My observations thus reflect that. Is there a strategic plan to turn around what I read here? I take heart that this coalition is under way, and I found this sentence insightful: Most importantly, we will continue to shed light on issues that can harm Carolina if not addressed.
“If not addressed”—-failing to address would be abject failure. The harm you detail is certainly upon us, and for a good many years now—2021 an acute, saddening collection of such harm. We need the brightest light, and soonest.
How to shine the necessary light most effectively remains much on my mind. I am certain that a miniscule portion of alumni know a fraction of what you have accumulated for “the story of 2021,” much less what to do about it. Very few will engage it, past repeating lamentations and a hope for securing turnaround leadership of our General Assembly.
It is interesting to read so much criticism from the “Coalition.” Who is writing these entries? There is a lot to interpret in each topic. It would be helpful to have documented sources.