New York, NY; May 6, 2022 — The National Association of Scholars (NAS) strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) provocatively titled new report, Governance, Academic Freedom, and Institutional Racism in the University of North Carolina System. The report issues sweeping accusations against the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, charging them with rampant mismanagement, the violation of academic freedom, and even the perpetuation of “institutional racism.”
These accusations are completely unfounded. The AAUP report relies on scattershot evidence that often undermines the point that the report intends to make. Governance reveals that the complaints against the two Boards are either spurious or trivial.
Governance argues that academic freedom is under threat in the UNC system. Remarkably, it points to the Board of Governors’ enforcement of the Campus Free Speech Act as a key piece of evidence for this supposed threat. The Board’s work to enforce the Campus Free Speech Act, which gained bipartisan support in the North Carolina legislature and was praised by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for its carefully tailored measures to “protect student and faculty expression in North Carolina,” should be seen as a boon to academic freedom. Moreover, the report itself notes that faculty leaders on many UNC campuses acknowledge that academic freedom is “not imperiled at their institutions.” Only the AAUP seems to be under the impression that defending free speech threatens academic freedom.
The report also levels the accusation of “systemic racism” against the UNC system. Governance cites the Nicole Hannah-Jones affair as evidence of this rampant racism, while insinuating that the UNC Board of Trustees’ prudential decision to offer a non-tenured position to Ms. Jones was racist. This accusation ignores the serious concerns about Ms. Jones’s work as a journalist—most notable for the disgraceful falsehoods of The 1619 Project, which should have disqualified Ms. Jones for any position as a journalist or a professor. Otherwise, the report simply assumes that any disparity between identity groups in admissions or employment is evidence of racism—without bothering to prove that UNC desired to discriminate, to show how it did so, or to consider if a disparity could result from any other cause than “systemic racism.” Governance slanders without bothering to substantiate its allegations.
Governance relies throughout on the unverified opinions of students and faculty members—it takes as trustworthy sources the Twitter accounts of disgruntled graduate students. One faculty member describes the whole system as a “dystopian atmosphere,” while another suggests “ideological scrutiny from right-wing groups” has infiltrated the institution—but the report fails to provide evidence of dystopian conditions or to explain why openness to scrutiny is a bug rather than a feature for a free university in a free republic.
Ironically, Governance completely overlooks the true challenge to academic freedom in the UNC system—the transformation by radicalized administrators and professors of the UNC universities into seminaries for the advancement of far-left policy prescriptions, and the subordination of the pursuit of truth to accomplish such goals. They have done so particularly via so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, which have grown precipitously throughout the entire UNC system. The AAUP, if it truly values academic freedom, would condemn these initiatives. Instead, it condones by its see-no-evil Governance report the unchecked expansion of the DEI bureaucracy and the corollary strangulation of academic freedom.
The UNC Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees have worked stalwartly to defend academic freedom against authoritarian attacks by UNC’s diversicrats. The AAUP’s Governance, which attacks the defenders of academic freedom for the sins of UNC’s radical establishment, wins the 2022 Prize for Public Policy Chutzpah. AAUP’s vocal complaints should be taken as a sign the Boards are doing their job.
NAS urges the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to hold their course. AAUP’s Governance proves that the UNC radical establishment has no serious arguments to oppose the Boards’ reforms in defense of academic freedom. The Boards should persevere to complete their task.
NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at www.nas.org.