The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday November 26th

Faculty Executive Committee discusses academic freedom issue

Questions raised by UNC's accreditation body — the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges — letter were at the top of the Faculty Executive Committee agenda Monday.

Faculty chairman Bruce Cairns said the University has an obligation to respond to every question outlined in the letter, which questioned UNC's integrity, curriculum and student-athlete admissions process, among other things. 

“I think that those are all reasonable questions,” he said. “They’re difficult, and they’re challenging, but this entire situation is. We have a responsibility to be accredited and a responsibility to stand for and support all the outlines in the letter.” 

Part of the letter asks the University to define and provide policies and practices related to academic freedom. The University must demonstrate how the current policies excuse the faculty from accountability for academic integrity and how it creates barriers to report academic irregularities. 

Cairns said the questions related to academic integrity were meant in a positive way.

“Academic freedom is one of the elements that makes a University unique,” Cairns said. “It’s an enormous privilege to have academic freedom, but what comes with that is responsibility and integrity. If you don’t adhere to those principles, then you put academic freedom at risk.”

As a response to the academic integrity policies, Cairns said there is no element that excuses faculty from accountability, but they have built in a number of reforms including departmental reviews.

English professor and committee member Susan Irons reiterated that there is not a problem with the University's definition of academic freedom. 

“(The letter) is not our definition of academic freedom,” she said. “That’s not where the barriers or problems are.”

The committee also discussed working with the athletics reform group in the future. At its last meeting, the group joined the committee to talk about concerns and issues of athletics and academics. 

“We need to be responsive as an elected body of the faculty to initiatives and issues that are bought up,” Cairns said. “We look forward to hearing their proposals and having a dialogue with them about how we should address the issues.”

Exercise and sport science professor Erianne Weight said she enjoyed working with the athletics reform group. 

“I felt so much healing in that meeting,” she said. “There was a very positive sentiment that healing was starting to begin.”

Cairns said the committee plans to invite the group back and continue to talk about problems.

“This is an exciting time for us because we are trying to work this out as a University."

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