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Faculty considers education reform

CLARIFICATION: The spring symposium on higher education is being organized by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean, who solicited the input of the Faculty Executive Committee.

University leaders are discussing ways to spark conversation about reforms in higher education — and they hope to do so with the benefit of outside voices.

At Monday’s Faculty Executive Committee meeting, professors pointed out the ways in which public universities have changed and pondered what it means to be a public institution in the 21st century.

“We have a lot of questions to answer about what is the nature of a public university going forward,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean at the meeting.

Dean, who is organizing a symposium on public higher education next spring, solicited the input of the committee on what types of speakers should be invited. Members said they wanted to invite people from outside the University to hear a wide range of opinions.

UNC biology professor Gregory Copenhaver suggested inviting people who are willing to be critical of the University and will not just tell people what they want to hear.

Members suggested bringing in U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, CEOs from big companies such as Google and members of the political sphere.

Dean also emphasized the need for an involved, engaged discussion.

“What I really don’t want is just a bunch of talks,” Dean said. “We know. We’ve all been to business meetings. All the fun’s in the hallways.”

Among the topics they hope to address at the symposium are transformation in public higher education and whether it is due to funding and changes in leadership.The committee also talked about UNC’s current drop-add debate.

Professor of microbiology and immunology Steve Bachenheimer refuted the claim that faculty voted for the new policy. He said the faculty is just an advisory group to UNC-system president Tom Ross.

“The system has never taken any vote or any recommendation of faculty assembly to decide policy issues,” he said.

The committee plans on discussing how the decision was made, what effect it will have on students and how to approach UNC’s General Administration and Board of Governors about it.

Dean said he wants to do what will make sense for all parties involved.

“I’ve dealt with a fair amount of difficult things in my career and this is impressive,” Dean said in regard to the drop-add issue. “I’m not going to do nothing.”

Another major topic of discussion focused on UNC’s relationship with the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Dean said the center’s president, Jane Shaw, recently criticized UNC.

He said Shaw said assigned reading on campus is too easy, that UNC allows students too much choice in what courses they take and that there’s too much liberal bias on campus.

Dean said he has been communicating with Shaw over email and has invited her and other members of the Pope Center to the University.

“I think their understanding of higher education is anecdotal,” Dean said.

He said he would love for the center’s staff to visit UNC and continue the conversation.

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