CHAPEL HILL (February 21, 2023) – There’s a case study in overreach by a UNC System governing board taking place before our eyes in Chapel Hill.
Administrators and faculty alike were blindsided Jan. 26 when the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees adopted a resolution – which was not listed on the meeting agenda – urging administrators to speed development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership.
On its face, the wording of the resolution is innocuous, and the Board remained within its role in recommending a new program.
The resolution does not create the program. It asks the university administration to “accelerate its development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership, potentially nested within an existing college or school … with a goal of a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty members and degree opportunities for undergraduate students at the University.”1
Plenty of people view the potential addition of conservative faculty as a positive development that would broaden debate on campus.
“I appreciate the encouragement of our Board to build on the work we have done and I share the ideal that our students are served by learning to listen, engage, and seek different perspectives that contribute to robust public discourse,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told the campus community the day after the board’s action.
BUT ORCHESTRATED media coverage – an editorial with the headline “UNC Takes on the University Echo Chamber” appeared in The Wall Street Journal just hours after the board voted on the resolution – overstates what the resolution says.
It also reveals board members’ true intentions.
“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,” the Journal editorial said.
“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 Boliek and Vice Chair John Preyer tell us that the idea is to end ‘political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.’”2
In some enterprise reporting of its own, The Daily Tar Heel reported that Preyer communicated with the Journal’s editorial board by email at least two days before the vote by the trustees surprised both university faculty and administrators.3
Though the university has a virtual army of communications staff, the board also used $50,000 in university trust funds to hire a PR agency.4
And two days after the board’s resolution, Boliek appeared in a Fox & Friends interview under a headline that read: “UNC forms school of civic life and leadership to provide ‘equal opportunity’ for students: David Boliek.”
“This is all about balance,” Boliek said in the interview.
“We clearly have a world-class faculty that exists and teaches students and creates leaders of the future. We, however, have no shortage of left-of-center progressive views on our campus, like many campuses across the nation. The same really can’t be said about right-of-center views. So this is an effort to try to remedy that with the School of Civic Life and Leadership, which will provide equal opportunity for both views to be taught at the university.”5
If the trustees are intent on hiring conservative professors, they have yet to explain how that would comply with a new policy on the UNC Board of Governors’ agenda this week that would forbid university officials to ask student or job applicants to share their opinions on political or social issues.6
COMMENTATORS BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT have mischaracterized the School of Civic Life and Leadership as a done deal.
It most definitely is not.
Development of new curriculum at the university can easily take two years or more – and that sort of consideration by the faculty simply hasn’t happened here.
In remarks Friday to the UNC Faculty Council, Guskiewicz said he wants the faculty to do what it’s always done: “We will set the academic standards for this institution and serve as the marketplace of ideas in developing and delivering curriculum to serve our students as future citizens of a changing and challenging world,” he said.
Though the proposal for the School of Civic Life and Leadership began outside the typical process, “We are bringing the proposal into line with how initiatives are evaluated and have always been evaluated at our university,” Guskiewicz said.
After the chancellor’s remarks, faculty members adopted a resolution that says: “The Faculty Council recommends no further action on this new school until such a time as a proposal from the faculty towards this school is developed and then properly discussed.”7
Creation of new programs rests squarely with the faculty.
And that’s where it should remain.
6 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67220&code=bog, pp. 4-9.