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Faculty Council discusses an array of subjects at its last meeting

At the last Faculty Council meeting of 2014, aftershocks from the Wainstein report finally started to blend in with the rest of campus life.

At the Friday's meeting, Chancellor Carol Folt addressed the University’s impending response to its accrediting body, which is due Jan. 7, and Friday morning’s hearing on the release of disciplinary records for the nine employees under disciplinary review.

Yet, the Wainstein report did not take all of the Chancellor's time to speak to faculty.

Folt discussed racial tensions on campus and in the country in recent weeks, while also complimenting students’ and faculty members’ defense of centers and institutes at the Board of Governors’ meeting Thursday.

“It isn’t just the centers and institutes, of course. It is Ferguson, it’s New York, it’s Cleveland, it’s the AFAM department, it’s Wainstein,” she said. “It is so many things going on on our campus that carry anxiety and concern, and when you start drawing them together, it’s a pretty tough moment, especially for some students or populations on our campus.

“We understand that too, and when that begins to really bubble up right before finals, that is a terrible broth for our students to be drinking. It’s really difficult for them.”

Folt said she knew some faculty members thought her response to negative racial comments on the social media app Yik Yak was too vague, but she hoped her email helped students feel like she was listening to their discomfort, especially during exams.

She said she even asked some students read her email before she sent it to the entire campus.

The anonymous nature of Yik Yak — an application Faculty Chairman Bruce Cairns and others said they were not familiar with — made the “racially explicit” posts particularly worrisome to Folt.

“They were very upsetting. You only have to read one of those, really, if you’re a student or a faculty member — anyone feeling vulnerable — to start wondering about ‘Where am I? Who’s writing this? Am I sitting next to them in class?’” she said. “So they have a lot of damage.”

Athletics update

Joy Renner, chairwoman of the Faculty Athletics Committee, reported on her committee’s work on keeping student-athletes from missing class for medical appointments.

“You want to get something done, so this is an easy one to do,” she said.

These absences are separate from excused absences for game travel. Renner said the sports medicine office’s policy is to avoid letting appointments interfere with classes.

“The exception would be if the student-athlete was injured during a practice and acutely needs to be seen or acutely needs to be evaluated,” she said. “Processes that can wait, they see the student’s schedule and they try to work around that.”

Renner said when student athletes say they have to miss class for a training appointment, faculty members should ask if they’ve told the trainer they have class. Some athletes are reluctant to say they need special arrangements and reschedule, she said, but trainers are happy to do so.

“So just keep in mind when you’re starting to get angry, when you’re starting to think someone isn’t paying attention or doesn’t value class ... have a conversation with them first,” she said.

Accreditation response looming

Folt said she is pleased with progress on the University’s response to a letter from its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which in November began reassessing the University in light of the Wainstein report.

“We’ve been through two years of working with SACS on basically the same issues,” she said. “SACS’s mandate is not to go back through history and punish you for things that they didn’t like. Their mandate is to make sure that today we are in compliance and working properly.”

The letter sent to UNC questioned the University's current practices to ensure that all of the issues outlined in the Wainstein report were no longer afflicting the college. Belle Wheelan, the president of UNC's accrediting agency, told The Daily Tar Heel in November this was the biggest case of academic fraud she has seen in her tenure. 

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Faculty governance questions

French professor Hassan Melehy said the Department of Romance Studies and other smaller departments are underrepresented on Faculty Council. He said he has been told familiarity is a factor in nominations to the Council.

“If that’s true, how can the faculty governance system avoid fostering an insider culture?” he said. “If candidates from big departments tend to win elections, what can be done to ensure entire departments such as my own aren’t almost entirely left out of representation?”

Melehy described the problems he sees if Faculty Council has an insider culture and a non-representative system.

“One is that dissent is nearly curtailed. Had more people been willing to point out what was severely wrong over the years, the damage we sustained would likely be less, even considerably less,” he said.

Since coming to UNC in 2004, he said he had seen one example of these problems in the case of Jan Boxill, the former faculty chairwoman and philosophy professor maligned in the Wainstein report.

“Over 10 years at UNC it became clear to me that Jan Boxill was an exemplar of insider culture and, more recently, that she used her position as cover to play a major role in what went severely wrong,” he said.

“At my very first faculty council meeting, I was struck by the insider culture. There was a statement signed unanimously by all members of the Faculty Executive Committee at the time supporting (Boxill’s) integrity and honest. She’d spend thirteen minutes, backed by that statement, telling us lies about her role in a certain set of events.”

To change the problematic culture, Melehy said he recommended reforming Faculty Council’s electoral processes and instituting term limits for members.

Secretary of the Faculty Joseph Ferrell said he did not invent the current process and did not want to defend it. He said he wishes it were more open.

He and Cairns said they appreciated the suggestions.

“I want everyone here to believe that this process works for everyone, no matter what your issue is, and we’re not just going to say no, we don’t want to talk about this,” Cairns said. 

“Bring it up and let’s make sure that it’s working for everybody and that we’re transparent about it.”