The athletic-academic scandal
An investigation into “paper classes” given to students, particularly athletes, stood out to faculty interviewed as one of the most momentous issues UNC faced in the decade. The scandal threatened to damage the reputation of the University and a chancellor resigned while grappling with its fallout.
Fitzhugh Brundage, a history professor who came to the University in 2008, said the messaging during the scandal, which he saw as an obfuscation on the issue, was concerning to him.
“When you look at how the University maneuvered its way through the NCAA, I would say it's not something that anyone who cares about the University can point to with pride,” Brundage said.
Johnson said the University’s communication system “ramped up” and became more corporate as a result of the scandal.
The University, Johnson said, needed to talk less about transparency during the scandal and just be more transparent.
James Moeser, who served as chancellor from 2000 until 2008, is now a music professor and will soon be celebrating 20 years at the University.
“It's difficult to be fully transparent when you're dealing with embarrassing issues,” Moeser said. “But the University has created many of its own problems by mishandling Title IX, the failure to report crimes under the Clery Act. And that's a that's a self-inflicted wound that has really damaged UNC.”
Chuck Duckett was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2013, while the NCAA investigation was still ongoing. He said the way the University handled the scandal was an example of progress in the 2010s.
“Everybody's got their story about which way they want to present it, but you know, it's behind us," Duckett said. "We've learned from it and we’re a better University as a result.”
Title IX issues
The 2015 documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” helped ignite a nationwide conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. The film was especially relevant at UNC because it centered around Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two former students who filed a Title IX complaint against the University in 2013.
In 2019, a report from the Department of Education concluded that the University violated campus safety laws under the Clery Act for years, including violating a non-retaliation provision against former student Landen Gambill.
The handling of Title IX issues, specifically with regard to sexual assault, has left some faculty and students skeptical of where the University’s priorities lie.
“The way that the administration has handled it is consistent with their desire to placate politicians and donors rather than support students,” said Michael Palm, a professor who started at UNC in 2008 and the president of the UNC chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Palm said he is heartened by the student-led activism on campus over the decade with regard to Title IX.
“I think very much like with racism and white supremacy on campus, it's only because of the work of activist students primarily that will see any kind of positive change in either area,” he said.
The BOT is dedicated to addressing Title IX issues, Duckett said, although it can be a difficult process because of how the law is written.
“There are going to be negatives every day,” Duckett said. “I mean, there's just things that have to change. But I'm pleased with some of the Title IX progress.”
Professor Jay Smith said the University’s handling of Title IX issues over the decade has been reminiscent of how it dealt with the athletic-academic scandal.
“They tried their best to conceal as much embarrassing information as they could,” he said. “They made excuses for their failure to disclose when they were caught failing to disclose information."
BOG turnover and budget cuts
Budgetary constraints following the Great Recession likely did not seem as dramatic as the toppling of a statue or a nationally-documented academic scandal, but their effects continue to be felt by UNC-system campuses.
In 2011, the system faced an overall budget cut of 15.6 percent, with UNC receiving the highest cut of 18 percent.
“We’re not in austerity mode, but some harder budgetary decisions than we’ve faced in a long time are gonna come home to roost here in the next few years,” Johnson said.
Moeser noted the budgetary constraints and their effects on faculty salaries, which he said have remained relatively stagnant over the decade. This, he said, poses a challenge when it comes to retaining faculty — but he is grateful for the faculty who have stayed at the University regardless.
“The faculty have been amazingly loyal, in spite of in spite of minimal increases in salary,” Moeser said.
The budgetary issues Moeser mentioned are linked, he said, to the “stranglehold” the legislature has on the BOG and the University. He said the new General Assembly strangled the University with no major increases in its budget since the recession.
The General Assembly appoints the members of the Board of Governors — and as Republicans were elected into seats in the legislature, they appointed new members to the BOG and over the course of two Board elections changed its makeup.
Smith said the main effect of this change as he sees it has been to render University leadership “mute and fearful.”
Racial issues and Silent Sam
While a good deal of major changes at the University over the decade happened behind the scenes, the toppling of Silent Sam was about as visible as a movement can be.
When students pulled down the statue in protest in August 2018, the conversation surrounding the monument and the history of slavery at UNC became almost impossible to ignore.
Geography professor Altha Cravey noted student activism and racial issues as some of the most defining pieces of the decade.
“I’ve seen much more awareness about how our campus is a predominantly white campus,” she said, “but also how our historically white campus — also how it tends to defend white supremacy.”
The renaming of buildings also comes to mind when thinking of racial issues over the decade. Saunders Hall, named after a Confederate soldier and Ku Klux Klan member, was renamed Carolina Hall in 2015. The Board of Trustees also instituted a 16-year freeze on renaming buildings when they voted on this change.
BOT Chairperson Richard Stevens said in a statement that while the moratorium is still in place, interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz will soon appoint a commission on race, history and reckoning.
“We are going to let the commission members do their work and then we will thoughtfully consider what they have to say,” he said in the statement.
Defining a decade
Looking back at 10 years of a University flanked by controversies, Duckett said the decade was about far more than that. He mentioned Nobel Prize winners, strong graduate students and progress on diversity as areas of growth.
“There's so many things that you can list,” he said. “That's the thing about it. What goes on down here — 98 percent plus is great.”
Palm sees the decade differently. He said he worries that what’s happened has been “kind of a crumble.”
Two chancellors stepped down amidst high-profile controversies, and the departure of UNC-System Presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings added to the churn.
“In the case of an institution that has had the series of crises that we have had over the past decade, one would have hoped that there would have been stability,” Brundage said.
The University has made national headlines at multiple points during the decade — and Johnson said the effects of this exposure are still somewhat unknown.
“The fact that everything you do now on a college campus is a potential national news story that could blow up in your face really changes the nature of student life in a way that is profoundly unhealthy and I think we haven’t grappled with,” he said.
Despite these challenges, Moeser said it has "continued to soar" over the decade because of dedicated faculty.
Moeser recognizes the challenges of leading UNC, and said the administration is moving forward and doing better. And if he could give UNC’s leaders one piece of advice, it would be to listen.
“The students continue to have a core of idealism about them," Moeser said. "It's sometimes naive, but it's wonderfully innocent. And it can be beautifully cool, pure. Listen to the students, listen to the faculty, listen to the alumni and listen to your core beliefs — your core values.”