By Paul Fulton
Special to The Pilot
March 6, 2023
In response to Connie Lovell’s column Feb. 25 (“New UNC School Will Give Students Critical Thinking Skills Needed in Life”):
The notion of adding conservative faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill is a popular one, given public perceptions. However, my own grandchildren who have graduated from Chapel Hill tell me they’ve experienced no sense of “indoctrination” by Carolina faculty, liberal or otherwise.
Recent studies have also documented that UNC professors don’t bring their personal political views to bear in the classroom — though the same studies also found conservative students do sometimes censor themselves.
Commentators from both left and right have depicted the university Board of Trustees’ vote Jan. 26 for a resolution encouraging creation of a School of Civic Life and Leadership as a final decision.
It definitely was not.
The resolution the trustees adopted simply recommended — which is within their authority — that administrators “accelerate” development of the school. But the way the trustees took up the resolution with no notice was an utter put-down to the university’s chancellor and faculty. Both were totally blindsided. It was not even listed on the agenda.
In a message to the campus community the day after the trustees’ vote, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said he shares the ideals of multiple perspectives and robust debate.
“As the nation’s first public university, we have a responsibility to be a place that brings together people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to debate the issues of our day. We are working to support a culture of respect, debate, and discovery. It won’t be easy and will often feel simply uncomfortable. Yet these are the skills our students, and we as citizens, need to be stewards of our democracy,” Guskiewicz wrote.
Comments in the media immediately after the board’s vote made it seem like a done deal.
But the chancellor made it clear that the faculty, as always, will build the curriculum.
“Any proposed degree program or school will be developed and led by our faculty, deans and provost. Our faculty are the marketplace of ideas and they will build the curriculum and determine who will teach it,” Guskiewicz said in his campus message.
“I will be working with our faculty to study the feasibility of such a school and the ways we can most effectively accomplish our goal of promoting democracy in our world today,” he said.
There’s a reason faculty shape the curriculum. I spent eight years on the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, and, believe me, they’re the experts. You don’t want trustees shaping or dictating curriculum.
There have also been references to “inflated tuition.” Those must be references to some other state. Article IX, Section 9 of North Carolina’s constitution mandates low tuition at state universities. Further, state law says an entering freshman is guaranteed to pay the same tuition for eight semesters. In-state students at four UNC System campuses, in fact, pay tuition of just $500 a semester.
And on Feb. 23, the UNC Board of Governors voted to hold in-state undergraduate tuition constant at North Carolina’s 16 public universities for the seventh consecutive year. No other public university in the country can say that.
How is that “inflated”?
I also have yet to hear an explanation for how the university will hire “right of center” professors, yet comply with a policy the Board of Governors adopted just last month that forbids university officials to ask job or student applicants about their positions on political issues.
How can they do both?
So yes, UNC-Chapel Hill welcomes robust debate. No, there is no evidence that it’s a center of liberal indoctrination. No, a final decision has not been made on the School of Civic Life and Leadership. And yes, faculty will continue to have a strong role shaping any such school.
Paul Fulton, of Winston-Salem, is a former president of Sara Lee Corp.; former dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC; former trustee at UNC-Chapel Hill; former member of the UNC Board of Governors; and chair of Higher Ed Works. This column first appeared in The (Southern Pines) Pilot.