“(Fear) could be an opportunity for the University,” he said. “Because teaching and research at a university are a way to challenge fear, and so gaining new knowledge demystifies exactly what people fear, and this is why education is so empowering.”
Guskiewicz gave several updates to the faculty during his remarks, including information about the recent 2020 Summit on Safety and Belonging. He said a number of helpful recommendations came out of the summit, including recommendation for a more proactive active shooter training for the faculty.
He also addressed concerns that the Unsung Founders Memorial in McCorkle Place has been sinking, saying the facilities team will put a plan into motion to raise the memorial over the late spring and summer. He said the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward may decide to add other elements to the area.
“But we want to let them do their work to make those recommendations and move us forward,” he said.
Guskiewicz said an offer has been made to an individual to serve as a special adviser to the chancellor and provost on equity and inclusion. The individual, Guskiewicz said, will begin their work by the end of the month and will also serve as the chief diversity officer until that position is filled permanently.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from our faculty about the need to really place at the forefront issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said.
Free expression survey
The faculty then heard from English professor Jennifer Larson, business school professor Mark McNeilly and political science professor Tim Ryan about a recent survey that looked at free expression on campus.
Among other ideas, Larson, McNeilly and Ryan recommended offering training to faculty on how to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment in the classroom and providing more opportunities for students to hear speakers from across the political, social and cultural spectrum.
They said the survey found that students across the political spectrum want more opportunities to engage with those who think differently from them.
Kramer asked if this recommendation could lead to false balance.
“What if you had someone come in who was a Darwinian scientist and they had better arguments — then do you have to bring in a creationist to balance … ?” he said.
They responded that the University should be bringing evidence-based and research-based speakers from across the political spectrum.
English professor Mary Floyd-Wilson commented on one of the survey’s findings that some conservative, white and male respondents said they heard negative comments about themselves. She said this perception may be a backlash against a conservative, white and male power structure being challenged.
“I’m just wondering really, is this speaking back is what’s going on, and then that’s getting turned into a narrative that’s saying we’re being — that folks who feel that they’re being criticized,” she said. “Well, that’s because they finally are — we’re allowing people who, for centuries were not allowed to speak at all.”
Business school professor Larry Chavis said he is wary of running with a narrative that students feel marginalized in the classroom based on their personal beliefs because there are students, such as racial minorities, who he said have better institutional reasons to say they feel unsafe or unrepresented.
Chavis said he tries to make his classroom a safe space for students with all beliefs, pointing out a friendship he formed with a conservative student who disagreed with him on a variety of issues. But he said he disagrees with the idea that professors should not share their personal beliefs in the classroom.
“For me, my teaching is all about expressing my personal beliefs because my students are never gonna see — well, they can see a few other Lumbee professors,” he said. “But they’re not going to see anyone in the business school and they’ll only see one or two other African American professors maybe if they try.”