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The Daily Tar Heel

Letter: UNC administration excludes faculty, students to push conservative programming

To the editor,

The UNC administration has learned nothing from last year’s debacle over Silent Sam. Then it was roundly criticized for excluding faculty and students from deliberations over the statue’s location. 

This year, it’s doing much the same in constructing a conservative program demanded by the University’s Board of Governors (BOG). The administration is creating the program behind closed doors and, except for a hand-picked committee containing a few faculty members amenable to the program, refusing to allow faculty or students into the room. 

Its title is the Program in Civic Virtue and Civil Discourse, recently renamed because the former name, Program in American Values and Civil Discourse, was deemed too controversial.  A major meeting of its advisory board to plan the program occurred this week. 

Although curriculum and programming are supposed to be driven by UNC faculty, the administration rejected faculty members’ requests to attend the meeting.  Meanwhile, members of the BOG and Board of Trustees — hardly the usual committee members in University programming — are on the advisory board and were in the room. 

Both UNC’s own guidelines and N.C.’s open meeting law required such a meeting be open to the public at large. Yet, Dean Christopher Clemens, charged by the administration with spearheading the program, denied that the public meeting requirement applied. He asserted that the advisory board wasn’t instigated by the upper-level UNC officials who would trigger open meeting laws. 

This is belied both by the program’s own materials, which announce that it “grew out of conversations between . . . former UNC-system President Margaret Spellings, former Chancellor Carol Folt, Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Board of Governors members,” as well as Clemens’ own assertion to concerned faculty that it was Folt who, at the instigation of BOG members, gave the order that the program go forward.   

The administration has largely hidden the program’s development. Last year Folt denied to the Faculty Executive Committee that conservative programming was in the works. Yet, a UNC planning team had already visited Arizona State University’s lawmaker-ordered conservative program, as well as Princeton’s James Madison Program, headed by self-described conservative Robert George. 

Later it became clear that far more planning beyond the trips had occurred outside the faculty’s view. And who is the anonymous donor who has contributed almost $1 million of “seed money” to fund the program at our public University? Administrators refuse to say.

UNC has not been straightforward even about the program’s purpose. Both the chancellor and Dean Clemens have repeatedly denied that it is intended to boost conservative programming. 

But Clemens’ email introducing himself to professor George (back in 2017, when the administration began its secretive planning) contradicts this: “I have been among the most outspoken conservative members of the Art & Sciences faculty at UNC for many years . . . I am . . . intrigued to learn of our administration's interest in housing a conservative center on campus.” 

George is now being paid $20,000 to chair the advisory board of UNC’s program. So UNC faculty aren’t allowed into the room, but the administration is paying large sums to outside professors. Why?

By the University’s own guidelines and longstanding traditions, programming is supposed to be developed by faculty, who use their professional knowledge and standards to develop curricula. 

In circumventing UNC’s longstanding guidelines and processes in order to give free rein to the BOG’s political dictates and those of its anonymous underwriter, the UNC administration undermines the university’s most sacred ideals. It should be standing up for them instead. 

Professor Maxine Eichner & professor Sherryl Kleinman

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