To the campus community and all who love Carolina:
Last week, I wrote about the sweet aspect of the bittersweet tenure vote. Now, I write about the bitter. Like all of you, I am deeply saddened that Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be joining us in Chapel Hill. Her choice is the best for her and for the many students she will teach at Howard. For us, even in the triumph of our collective voice, it is a defeat and a win for those who want to see a radically different UNC-Chapel Hill from what we have now, one that is much less diverse, both in demography and in scholarship.
No matter what decisions the Board of Trustees or Ms. Hannah-Jones have made, the assaults on this campus will continue. Right now, a legislature controlled by one political party appoints, either directly or indirectly, every member of the Board of Governors and every member of the Board of Trustees with the exception of the student body president, who serves by virtue of the office. The Democratic governor’s ability to participate in these appointments was stripped in 2016 upon his election. This hyperpartisan reality means that our administrative leaders, namely the chancellor and provost, are in a position where they cannot transparently lead or autonomously make decisions for our campus. We have seen this over and over with Silent Sam, with campus reopening plans, with vaccines, with professor Eric Muller and the UNC Press Board, and with the tenure fight for Ms. Hannah-Jones. The legislative budgetary process makes withholding raises or attending to buildings that need repair the choice method of punishment when this university gives voice to its values. Even as I write this, I am worried as to whether I am doing the right thing in speaking out. A world-class research university, the key economic driver for the state, and the reason that Apple and all the rest want to locate here, cannot continue to function this way.
In yesterday’s News and Observer, a group of former trustees took out a full-page advertisement that made “The Case for Carolina.” They laid out in detail the great contributions this university makes to the well-being of our state and indeed the world. They focused on science and health contributions and, of course, there are so many more parts of a Case for Carolina: the arts, the humanities, teacher education, our top-ranked departments in philosophy and comparative literature, just to name a few. But a case is not enough. The next step must be a coalition, A Coalition for Carolina. Years ago, a similar effort, The Coalition for the Public Trust, came together to make sure that Blue Cross and Blue Shield remained a nonprofit that served North Carolina citizens, not a for-profit company’s shareholders. It was an incredible effort, and it worked. Such a coalition must come together again. We desperately need a group of concerned citizens, legislators, business leaders, people of faith, members of the philanthropic community, former trustees and alumni to use their resources, voice and influence to reform a governance system that has become toxic. As faculty, staff and students we can and must do the hard and painful work around equity and inclusion that this moment calls for. However, we cannot make meaningful, lasting change when we are beset by crisis after crisis, most of which find roots in the governance structure.
I recognize that this call will win me few friends among our current governing bodies and for that I am sorry. I am always willing to listen to anyone who calls or writes to me. But not exposing the truth of this situation helps no one. For the last five or more years, the strategy has been “do not poke the bear” in order to protect this or that budget allocation. It is not working. Our salaries are still much lower than our peer institutions, and many of our buildings are safety hazards. The current Senate budget does not include promised allocations for renovations to even non-controversial areas such as the Schools of Nursing and Business. Most importantly, the current governance structure means that we are unable, as an institution, to live our values. The faculty, staff and students cannot change this situation alone. We need all those that love Carolina to come to our aid in a concerted, organized, sustained effort to reform the way our campus is governed and chart a forward course. Let’s create a Coalition for Carolina and find our way out of this mess. Contact me and let’s make this happen.
Mimi V. Chapman, MSW, Ph.D.
Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information
Associate Dean for Doctoral Education
School of Social Work
Chair of the Faculty, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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