The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Hundreds of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty members are speaking out against right-leaning proposals from their governing boards and, now, the state General Assembly.
Since January, Chapel Hill faculty members have raised concerns over their flagship campus leaders’ proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership. David Boliek, chairman of the campus’s Board of Trustees, called the initiative “an effort to try to remedy” what he called a lack of “right-of-center views” on campus.
The broader UNC system’s Board of Governors, appointed by the Republican-majority General Assembly, has also been accused of politically motivated decisions.
And House Bill 715, currently in the General Assembly, would say faculty hired after July 1, 2024, in the UNC system or at North Carolina community colleges can’t receive tenure.
Further, faculty have accused House Bill 96, the NC REACH Act, of being an overreach.
This North Carolina Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage Act would require UNC system students who want bachelor’s degrees and community college students who want associate degrees to pass a course that requires them to read six documents, including the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions, in their entirety, plus five Federalist Papers essays. The legislation says the final exam would be “on the principles in the documents” and be worth at least a fifth of the final grade.
The House of Representatives passed this bill last month, and it’s now in the State Senate.
“It’s just absurd, it’s frankly absurd,” Jay Smith, a tenured Chapel Hill history professor, said of that bill. “It is a blatant violation of academic freedom and a blatant show of disrespect for the expertise of faculty at UNC schools.”
“Demanding that American history be taught this way, one way, and that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts be eliminated or dropped—these are two pieces to the same puzzle,” he said. “It’s a culture war that’s being waged, and universities are, unfortunately, caught up in the middle of it.”
Smith, who is also president of the North Carolina Conference of the American Association of University Professors, was the co-author of a letter that has now been signed by nearly 700 Chapel Hill faculty and of another letter on his AAUP chapter’s behalf.
The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper, on Monday published the letter signed by nearly 700 faculty members. Chapel Hill didn’t comment Thursday, beyond a spokesperson saying, in response to Inside Higher Ed’s question, that “We have approximately 4,000 faculty members.”
“We, the undersigned UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, are alarmed by the interference and overreach of the North Carolina legislature, the UNC System Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, whose actions violate the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that undergird higher education in N.C. and the U.S.,” that letter states. “If enacted, we believe that these measures will further damage the reputation of UNC and the state of North Carolina and will likely bring critical scrutiny from accrediting agencies that know undue interference in university affairs when they see it.”
That letter said HB 96, the one requiring the study of U.S. founding documents, “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”
Turning to the Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, that letter says the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership “constitutes a clear violation of the established principle that faculty, not politicians, are responsible for a college’s curriculum.”
“Our leaders continue to disregard campus autonomy, attack the expertise and independence of world-class faculty, and seek to force students’ educations into pre-approved ideological containers,” that letter says.
The AAUP letter contains similar language but criticizes yet another bill and says, of HB 715, “The recent introduction into the state Assembly of a bill that would eliminate tenure in North Carolina’s universities and community colleges adds to a list of proposed changes that effectively constitute a war on higher education in our state.”
“Without the protections of tenure, academic freedom—meaning the freedom to inquire, research, teach and speak out about important issues in which faculty expertise can make a positive difference—will cease to exist,” the AAUP letter says.
Keith Kidwell, a Republican representative in the North Carolina House, was the only bill sponsor to respond to requests for comment Thursday. He’s the prime sponsor of HB 96.
In response to the faculty allegation that his bill “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty,” Kidwell said, “I think ideologically it’s American, and I don’t see where anybody could have a concern about teaching what America is about in any of our schools.”
He said the General Assembly started and funds the UNC system and community colleges. He also said “this bill was out there for some time, and nobody” from the faculty has yet come to him to express concerns.
“Maybe that’s a good reason they need to have more knowledge” on how government works, he said.
“That’s what a representative government is all about,” he said.