Response to UNC's Education Reform Resistance

National Association of Scholars

Some University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) faculty, their signatories bulked out by retired professors, have written a public letter to resist education reform in North Carolina. They claim that “faculty, not politicians, are responsible for a college’s curriculum.” They are wrong—and they echo the Soviets apparatchiks who denounced American human rights initiatives as “tantamount to interference in our internal affairs.” North Carolina policymakers, who know that North Carolina students need their intellectual freedom defended from repressive bureaucrats and faculty, should not be swayed by these intellectual jailers’ specious arguments.

Every North Carolina initiative the UNC faculty oppose is a standard component of academic governance, and they all would increase intellectual freedom at the University of North Carolina.

  • House Bill 96 would create an American History and Government general education requirement at North Carolina public universities. North Carolina would join nine other states with this requirement, including Florida, California, and Texas. HB 96, echoing existing and unchallenged statute law in South Carolina, would require this course to include coverage in the course and on the final examination of select documents of liberty, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. The bill does not tell professors how to teach the documents. State policymakers (as Stanley Kurtz has noted) can and should set general education requirements as they see fit—and this requirement is a rational and minimal requirement for an American History and Government general education requirement, which will deepen students' knowledge of and appreciation for America’s ideals and institutions of liberty and republican self-governance. House Bill 96 conforms with the constitutional precedent that professors generally can teach courses as they see fit. Yet neither constitutional precedent nor the ideals of academic freedom state that professors can force policymakers to accept any course they like as sufficient for a general education requirement.
  • The UNC Board of Trustees’ have proposed to create an autonomous School of Civic Life and Leadership, modeled upon Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, and free of the administrative policies of UNC-Chapel Hill’s radical administrators and faculty. UNC-Chapel Hill, as the vast majority of the American academy, is a repressive intellectual monoculture that works to reserve academic employment for vocal supporters of the radical party line. UNC policymakers must create such autonomous Schools so as to restore intellectual diversity and academic freedom. They possess not only the right but also the duty to do so.
  • The Board of Governors wish to end the imposition “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) requirements at UNC. These DEI requirements are compelled speech and ideological litmus tests for university employment. As John Sailer has explained in detail, UNC-Chapel Hill’s diversity statements grossly abridge free expression and institutional neutrality. The Board of Governors, and North Carolina policymakers, can only restore intellectual freedom to UNC by ending “diversity statements.” Indeed, the only long-term guarantee for intellectual freedom at UNC is for North Carolina policymakers to forbid and defund all DEI mission statements, programs, policies, and bureaucracies.
  • House Bill 715, following the precedent of Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Polytechnic University, would replace tenure with at-will or contractual employment. Such change is necessary. As NAS President Peter Wood noted in June 2022, “What was once designed to ensure that faculty members could be free of pressure from the anti-intellectual mob has become instead the weapon of an intellectual mob to attack the freedom of anyone who dares disagree with the regnant political positions with the academy.” North Carolina policymakers must end tenure as it now exists because tenure in our corrupted system of higher education has become a weapon against intellectual freedom, not a defense of it.

More broadly, North Carolina’s policymakers cannot protect intellectual and academic freedom by leaving its defense to university administrations and professors. They mostly have abandoned these ideals in principle and almost entirely in practice. Their “expertise,” “autonomy,” and “shared governance” have become fig leaves for subordinating intellectual freedom to the pursuit of radical political goals. Policymakers should remember that the citizens of North Carolina, their elected representatives, and their appointed trustees, always have shared with university administrators and faculty the right and the responsibility to defend academic and intellectual freedom. If the administrators and faculty who control UNC will not act to defend their members’ individual academic freedom, then the public and its representatives must exercise directly the powers and duties they always have possessed.

It is North Carolina’s policymakers’ duty to do so. UNC, after all, does not possess God-given, inalienable rights; only human beings do. Universities are mere chartered corporations, delegated powers to run their own affairs—but only conditionally, so long as they serve North Carolina’s interests and ideals by fostering the practice of intellectual freedom in the pursuit of truth. The radical administrators and faculty who run UNC have broken their covenant. North Carolina’s elected representatives possess not only the right to renovate UNC but also the duty to do so.

Of course the radical education elite will attempt to use their catspaw accrediting agencies to bully North Carolina’s policymakers into backing down for reform, for fear of losing UNC’s accreditation status. The accrediting agencies are loud bullies who are unlikely to stand up to sustained resistance—but of course North Carolina policymakers should follow up on their reform of UNC with accreditation reform. North Carolina also should depoliticize its accreditors, and prevent them from imposing DEI requirements on UNC. No politicized accrediting organization should be allowed a role in North Carolina’s accreditation or licensure procedures.

Andrei Sakharov, not the KGB, spoke for Russia. North Carolina’s policymakers can only fulfill their own covenant with the citizens they represent by exercising their right to oversee the University of North Carolina and freeing their citizens within the community from the jailers of the mind who only use the name of freedom to facilitate its destruction.

Photo by Jill Lang on Adobe Stock

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