Martin Center and NAS Respond to UNC School of Medicine

National Association of Scholars

On January 25, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and the National Association of Scholars responded to a presentation by Dr. Wesley Burks, dean of the UNC School of Medicine. The following letter was sent to members of the UNC Board of Governors, UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, and UNC President Peter Hans.

Dear [Board Member],

On January 19, Dr. Wesley Burks, dean of the UNC School of Medicine, gave a presentation to the UNC Board of Governors Free Speech Committee, responding to recent criticism of the medical school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

In his short talk, Dr. Burks referenced an article by The College Fix published earlier this month, which links to the Martin Center’s November 2021 article, “UNC School of Medicine’s Quiet ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ Revolution” by the National Association of Scholars Research Associate John Sailer. Our article examines the report released by the School of Medicine’s Task Force for Integrating Social Justice into the Curriculum. Dr. Burks also makes reference to a point-by-point response to the many concerns that were raised about the Task Force report. We have acquired a copy of this document. Ultimately, Dr. Burks’ responses did little to address our criticisms, nor did they clarify what policies have been adopted by the UNC School of Medicine.

To reiterate, our article highlighted several troubling policies listed in the report:

  • Contribution to DEI as a condition for promotion and tenure. The Task Force recommended including DEI as a condition for promotion and tenure, and the university has already fully implemented this recommendation. The guidelines that followed, which until recently were publicly available on the School of Medicine’s website, now include two separate DEI requirements. The guidelines list five “Required Common Criteria for Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion.” One of these is “Positive contribution to DEI efforts,” and another is “Teaching, Research, and DEI statements.” Those applying for tenure must also submit a letter from their department chair that includes comments on the applicant’s “DEI efforts.”

  • Student advocacy as a curriculum requirement. Recommendation 2.11 in the Task Force Report calls for appointing a group that would “Revise advocacy competencies for medical students to reflect above objectives,” and these “objectives” can be found in the report. One objective states that “All students will be trained in core advocacy skills by 2023,” which include, for example, the capacity to “build coalitions and relationships to bring about change.” Another objective mandates that “All students will be able to deploy advocacy skills in the following health realms by 2023,” including “achieving radical reform of the US criminal justice system,” “ending policies of exclusion and achieving compassionate immigration reform,” and “ending hunger and homelessness in the US.”

  • Mandatory adherence to “core concepts.” Recommendation 2.1 calls for workshops “on how to incorporate outlined core concepts of anti-racism.” Again, the report describes these “core concepts” in detail. They include “explain the difference between sex and gender and how specific organs and cells do not belong to specific genders” and “all lectures addressing known health disparities will attend to those disparities and WHY they exist.”

This is not an exhaustive list of the policies proposed, nor are these the only policies that raise significant questions. We encourage you to read the report (here).

That said, the proposals we highlight constitute serious educational malpractice. Requiring DEI contributions for tenure and promotion amounts to a political litmus test. Faculty members who object to the mainstream definition of DEI now face increased pressure to self-censor. The advocacy requirements, as described by the Task Force, compel students to embrace partisan political priorities. Even if they did not, such a requirement would be misguided; medical students should not be pushed into engaging in political advocacy. Moreover, requiring adherence to “core concepts,” as the Task Force recommends, constitutes a straightforward threat to academic freedom.

Dr. Burks noted that some of the recommendations were modified and others were not adopted. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s own website suggests otherwise. On the Task Force web page, a dropdown menu lists all 42 of the report’s recommendations. A “Status Key” located above this dropdown menu lists four different options that could be ascribed to a recommendation: “Completed,” “Timeline Shifted,” “Project Restructured,” and “On Time.” Astute observers would be forgiven for thinking that if the recommendations were modified, their status would read “Timeline Shifted” or “Project Restructure.” As of the time we write this letter, every recommendation is listed as “On Time.”

One of the Task Force’s recommendations was unambiguously adopted—namely, adding DEI as a required component of promotion and tenure. Dr. Burks notes that these contributions are “considered broadly” for tenure determinations. We encourage you to read the recommended DEI activities in the promotion and tenure guidelines. These include such activities as “Performing DEI or social justice-focused lectures to students, residents, or peers” and “Preparing DEI or social justice curriculum materials.”

We hope that Dr. Burks is correct and that many of these policies were not adopted—and we are glad that Dr. Burks chose not to defend many of the recommendations in the Task Force report. Until, however, he clarifies which policy recommendations were modified—and which recommendations were not adopted—our concerns remain.

In short, the School of Medicine’s response to our concerns has been evasive, and it raises more questions than it answers. We encourage more investigation, and we urge the School of Medicine to repudiate these detrimental policies publicly, unambiguously, and comprehensively.


John D. Sailer
Research Associate
The National Association of Scholars

Jenna A. Robinson
The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

Crossposted from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal with permission.

Image: By Yeungb - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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