UNC Board of Trustees Forges Path to Reform for Others to Follow

Peter Wood and David Randall

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is celebrating the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s (UNC) Board of Trustees unanimous decision to establish the School of Civic Life and Leadership at the university. The Board intends for the School to possess “a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty members and degree opportunities for undergraduate students at the University.” The Board’s intention is to broaden intellectual diversity. It is to be an institutional home where students and faculty may think, speak, and debate freely—a stark contrast to the authoritarian radical monoculture that has claimed most of higher education.

The Board’s initiative is necessary. The illiberal monoculture afflicts UNC, as it does every university in the nation, by administrative means that suppress free expression and pluralist thought. Such means include “diversity statements,” which impose commitments to the narrow and radical ideology of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” A recent survey found that a large minority of UNC students worried about their ability to express their opinions freely, including a majority of surveyed conservative students. Establishing an autonomous and politically pluralist School is a necessary component of the broader campaign to restore professors’ and students’ ability to research, publish, and speak freely without fear of retaliation to UNC.

We welcome this move not only because it will improve education in North Carolina but also because it shows what Boards of Trustees can do to improve higher education. Too many boards, even in states where there is broad popular appetite for education reform, are content to rubber-stamp the proposals of the university bureaucracies. Arizona’s state Board of Regents, for example, has approved an agenda to radicalize university general education requirements, apparently unaware of what they were doing. North Carolina’s Board is now acting as a model for its peers around the nation.

But of course this is only an initial proposal, and there are a great many more steps to take before the School comes to pass. We urge the Board to continue to press for UNC to bring this new School to fruition, and to make sure it embodies their intent. We make the following suggestions, for ways the Board can ensure the success of the School:

  • The Board’s resolution states that the School might be “potentially nested within an existing college or school.” We urge the School not to place the School within an existing college or school, since that will invite attempts to abrogate its autonomy. The School should be fully independent, with full authority to set its own policies and hire its own faculty and staff.
  • The Board should draft guidelines for a Mission Statement for the School, which explicitly affirms the Center’s commitment to civil and free inquiry, and which states that these values take priority over any other values the School or the University might also adopt.
  • The Board should convey to UNC its preference that the School commit itself explicitly to the principle of individual merit in all admissions, hiring, promotion, and policy decisions; that the School will never hire “diversity, equity, or inclusion” personnel or conduct any “diversity, equity, or inclusion” policies; and that the School will possess permanent immunity from university “diversity, equity, or inclusion” personnel and policies.
  • The Board should convey to UNC its preference that the School prohibit experiential learning courses; courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to engage in activism; and courses that require students as a condition of passing any class to affirm or assent to discriminatory concepts.
  • The Board should convey to UNC its preference that UNC explicitly guarantee the School’s ability to determine course content for courses that will satisfy the university’s social studies General Education Requirements, and satisfy the subject matter requirements of prospective social studies teachers.
  • The Board should facilitate means to ensure the School’s independence and accountability by having it funded it directly by the state legislature.
  • The Board should facilitate means to secure the School’s independence and accountability by ensuring it possesses secure housing on the university campus and enough funding to be self-sufficient; if the School depends on UNC for money and space, the higher education establishment can use that vulnerability to force it into conformity.

But these suggestions are matters for another day. For the moment, we wish to focus on the good that the UNC-Chapel Hill Board has already done—and especially we wish to express our enthusiasm for the work done by UNC–Chapel Hill Board Chair David Boliek and Vice Chair John Preyer. They, and all the Board, have taken a very important step to improve higher education in North Carolina. They have done so in the face of harsh and unjustified criticism from the radical higher establishment and its supporters in the state and national media—criticism which they must have known would be directed at them. The Board has acted with courage and with clear-sighted understanding of the political dynamics of contemporary higher education. They do not act alone. NAS stands shoulder to shoulder with this intrepid Board.

Three cheers! – and we urge all North Carolinians to huzza them as well.

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

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