American University Teachers Association made a critical report last week at the University of North Carolina system, which focused on political interference in campus affairs, restrictions on academic freedom and institutional racism, but the most telling was what was not said.
Introduction to 36-page report includes this sentence: “UNC President Peter Hans, Chairman of the Board of Directors Randall Ramsey, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskevich and UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chairman David Bolick declined to be interviewed.”
The fact that these four said nothing speaks volumes.
A respected higher education organization has tasked a group of professors from universities outside of North Carolina to find out what is causing controversy that has drawn negative national attention to the UNC. In response, UNC senior administrators remained silent. Hans limited himself to a letter from Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president of the UNC system for academic affairs. Guskevich could not be reached for comment.
Administrators who run UNC-Chapel Hill and the 17-campus system may actually want to show more respect for the role of faculty – after all, Guskevich is a former UNC-CH faculty member – but Republican lawmakers who determine university funding and their appointees are more interested in supervising teachers than in talking to them.
Meanwhile, UNC may receive official approval from the AAUP, an action that is expected to take place in June. The sanction is only an opinion, but the opinion of the AAUP is important, especially if professors are considering getting a job.
Michael Barent, a professor of history at Appalachian State University and president of AAUP North Carolina, said the national group’s sanctions “could create serious recruitment problems for the system with all the implications for its reputation, the quality of its degrees and so on.”
The bad morale of teachers also harms content. And this effect may already be manifested.
Many employers are losing workers due to disruptions in COVID and the Great Resignation. But UNC’s losses show an alarming surge. Last month, UNC officials reported that the turnover of faculty and staff in the UNC system is about 40 percent higher than the average for the last four years.
Although administrators may overlook the views of faculty and their national organization, they pay close attention to what true masters of the UNC system think. These are the leaders of the Republican majority of the General Assembly and the politically connected people whom the legislature appoints to the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees on each campus.
These masters cooled academic freedom disabling three university centers dedicated to poverty, the environment and voter participation. They created a fiasco around the removal of the Confederate statue from the entrance to the Chapel Hill campus. They distorted the selection of chancellors with cloning. And they nurtured an atmosphere of mistrust and racial tension that erupted around Nicole Hannah-Jones ’failed recruitment to the UNC School of Journalism and Media.
Many of these incidents could have been avoided if respected UNC faculty members were enough to give them a strong hand in managing the institutions of which they are an important part. Instead, conservative politicians and their appointees view teachers as liberal indoctrinators of youth.
Victoria Ekstrand, a professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Media, at a news conference announcing the release of the report, showed a way to rectify the situation. She said: “Let’s cover these facts in this report and have a good and thorough discussion about them. Only a commitment to an open market of ideas can get rid of the fear that causes chills. ”
UNC leaders need to listen to their professors. They have something to learn.
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The AAUP report requires attention from UNC leaders
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