One on One: Don’t ask, don’t tell

Published 3:37 pm Sunday, March 5, 2023

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By D.G. Martin

Who owns the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?

The faculty?

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The chancellor?

UNC Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees?

The University System’s Board of Governors?

Or some other entity?

The question is at the heart of a controversy about a new school the UNC Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees has directed the university to organize and put into operation – and do it quickly.

The university at Chapel Hill already has a number of schools, each headed by a dean. For instance, it has a distinguished School of Arts and Sciences, which itself includes numerous departments such as English.

Some schools, including the School of Government and the School of Data Science and Society, have been recently established but only after years of planning and coordination.

A proposed new school at UNC-Chapel Hill has gained national attention and stirred up controversy on the campus and across the state.

Things began on Jan. 27 when its board of trustees adopted the following resolution:

“Now therefore, the UNC-CH Board of Trustees requests that the administration of UNC-CH accelerate its development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership, potentially nested within an existing college or school, pursuant to the University of North Carolina Policy Manual, Code, and any other applicable University policy, including the development of a school with a goal of a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty members and degree opportunities for undergraduate students at the University.”

The action, though criticized by academic leaders on campus and at other universities, was quickly praised by The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 28.

“Progressive politics has dominated elite universities since before the term woke was coined. But one university is trying to revive the academic ideal of a campus as a haven for free inquiry and debate. On Thursday the University of North Carolina board of trustees voted 12-0 to create a new school committed to free expression in higher education.

“UNC will establish the School of Civic Life and Leadership and plans to hire professors from across the ideological spectrum to teach in such academic departments as history, literature, philosophy, political science and religion. These disciplines have become enforcers of ideological uniformity at most schools. Board Chair David Bolick and Vice Chair John Preyer tell us that the idea is to end ‘political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.’

“Rather than replacing current professors or creating faculty turf battles, UNC plans to create a discrete program with its own dean and at least 20 new professors to build a syllabus free from ideological enforcers. Students will be able to choose the new classes to fulfill university core requirements. Those who aren’t interested can stay in the existing courses.”

Faculty leaders were stunned that they had not been consulted. The chair of the faculty, Mimi Chapman, asserting a primary role of the faculty in curriculum, said, “They’re trying to insert themselves into the running of the campus and the development of the curriculum.”

The contemplated 20 new professors would, presumably, include enough conservatives to ensure those views will be represented in the new school.

But there is a problem. The UNC System’s board meeting last Friday (Feb. 24) took action that would make it difficult or impossible for UNC-Chapel Hill to recruit a diverse faculty for the new school.

As described by Fox News on Feb. 24, the UNC System board “moved against encroaching woke culture and voted to ban diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statements and politically preferential hiring.”

According to Fox News, the board stated the university (including UNC-Chapel Hill) “shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.”

If UNC-Chapel Hill is to recruit the new school’s faculty “across the ideological spectrum,” it will have to inquire about prospective faculty members’ connections, something the system’s board of governors has now prohibited.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.