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A picture of part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus, with a sign saying "Bondurant Hall School of Medicine."

There were at least two diversity, equity and inclusion task forces at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mark Twain famously almost said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

“Greatly” wasn’t in Twain’s actual quote, and he only referenced one premature expiration report. The quote is mostly true—with a bit of exaggeration itself.

The reports that the University of North Carolina School of Medicine rejected its diversity, equity and inclusion task force’s recommendations also were, according to new statements from the university, exaggerated. Perhaps greatly.

In an email to Inside Higher Ed,a school spokesperson said, “Most of the School of Medicine task force recommendations were not adopted.” But he didn’t respond to multiple requests to specify which recommendations have been carried out.

On May 18, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which had written to UNC the month before expressing concern, published this headline on its website: “VICTORY: UNC Chapel Hill rejects task force recommendation, shows why it’s a ‘green light’ school.”

“In a victory for academic freedom, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced its decision to not implement recommendations made by the School of Medicine’s Task Force to Integrate Social Justice into the Curriculum that would condition tenure and promotion on faculty commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion,” the lead sentence of that post says.

The report linked to a letter from Kirsten C. Stevenson, a university attorney, saying “the recommendations have not been operationalized and the Task Force has concluded its work. There is no plan to implement the Task Force’s recommendations now or in the future. Even if the recommendations were revisited in the future, further review and revision would be required.”

But the start of that letter refers to the “Task Force to Integrate Social Justice into the Department of Health Sciences Curricula”—a different panel than the broader School of Medicine task force. The Department of Health Sciences used to be called the Department of Allied Health Sciences.

Nevertheless, FIRE’s post linked to the broader School of Medicine task force report—which the university now says wasn’t completely ignored.

That 45-page report includes 42 recommendations, such as “Revise Promotion and Tenure Guidelines to include a social justice or DEI domain required for promotion” and “Appoint inclusive work-group for long-term transformation of curriculum.”

“It was my understanding she was referring to both task forces,” Harrison Rosenthal, who wrote the post, told Inside Higher Ed Friday. Rosenthal, a lawyer and litigation fellow with FIRE, said that was his understanding from a phone conversation with Stevenson, who didn’t return Inside Higher Ed’s requests for comment.

“Based on communications between FIRE and UNC counsel, we believed that our First Amendment concerns were being addressed,” Rosenthal said.

The news outlet Diverse: Issues In Higher Education published an article May 25 trying to inject some nuance, while also noting that the “UNC School of Medicine did not respond to multiple requests for comment.”

“It does not address whether the DEI recommendations from the other task force—many of which are the same—have been implemented,” Diverse wrote of Stevenson’s May 11 letter. “And it looks like they may have been: in a February 2022 response to the School of Medicine task force’s recommendations, the university said that 37 of 42 recommendations were being addressed by the school’s existing efforts.”

Diverse noted that a group called Color Us United, which had been fighting the School of Medicine task force recommendations, was claiming a history victory.

Still, Fox News published an article a week later, titled “University of North Carolina med school renounces its own DEI framework.” It’s also written as if there were only one task force and cites both FIRE and Color Us United.

The same day, The Daily Mail published a story saying, in its first line, “The University of North Carolina’s medical school has disbanded its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) taskforce and will not implement any of its recommendations”—even though the story, near the end, includes a quote from a UNC spokesperson saying only that “Most of those recommendations were not adopted.”

E. Nate Thomas III, the School of Medicine’s vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and chair of the leadership team for the School of Medicine task force, didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday or last week.

FIRE’s letter back in April raising concerns to UNC focused on that group’s opposition to “changes to the annual review and promotion and tenure standards … that require faculty to demonstrate commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and to ‘integrate social justice’ into their teaching, research and service.”

Regarding the UNC letter referring to only one task force’s recommendations not being carried out, Rosenthal said, “We intend to work closely with UNC, its administration and its Office of University Counsel to make sure that this can and will apply to both the Department of Allied Health Sciences task force and the School of Medicine task force because, to the extent that either of those task forces condition as requirements for promotion or tenure subscribing to certain ideological values, that goes against the First Amendment and can’t pass constitutional muster.”

And Kenny Xu, president of Color Us United, who said his group wants to “change the false narrative that America is a racist country,” said his organization will hold the whole School of Medicine to the letter saying the recommendations aren’t being implemented.

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