After trying to ensure police accountability and improve campus-community relationships with law enforcement, the UNC Campus Safety Commission has dissolved. However, this should come as no surprise, as the commission was given virtually no authority to make decisions or directly influence campus leadership.
The University took the commission’s time and energy, using them as a public relations stunt to provide the facade that they were doing something positive, in the eyes of many commission members.
Frank Baumgartner, one of the commission's chairpersons, and other members of the commission wrote a letter to the chancellor where they expressed their sentiment that the work of the commission was not valued.
“These actions have undermined our efforts to build trust. Actions speak larger than words,” the letter said. “We have played virtually no role in the most significant threat to campus safety in a generation: University response to the Covid pandemic.”
Commission members told the Daily Tar Heel they felt used and unheard. It is inexplicable for the chancellor to create these committees and then ignore their advice.
This isn’t the first time administration has inadequately addressed the concerns raised by the committees they themselves created. In August, faculty chairperson Mimi Chapman expressed frustration to the chancellor that she was “in the dark” about the University’s COVID-19 plans for the fall semester. Chapman is a member of the Campus and Community Advisory Committee (CCAC), which was established by the chancellor to reflect on the Fall 2020 Roadmap.
“My own standing meetings with Kevin (Guskiewicz) have been rescheduled multiple times making me wonder whether the lack of communication is deliberate,” Chapman wrote in emails obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.
Chapman went on to explain her frustrations with the toxic positivity promoted by the administration, something the DTH's Editorial Board also views as problematic rhetoric.
UNC administration created these committees and solicited recommendations from both the CCAC and Campus Safety Commission, only to ignore their advice and leave them in the dark. When these well-intended groups aren’t given any teeth, their recommendations and concerns remain unaddressed by those with the real power.
The commissions were tokenized and left placating. They could advise, plan and write resolutions repeatedly, but the power holders — University administration and the UNC System — retained the right to judge the legitimacy of their advice. The commission would send its advice upward, but never be heard in response.
The Campus Safety Commission put in substantial effort to try and make this University a safer place. Its work included requests for action to increase Black student enrollment, recommendations on how the University should navigate COVID-19 and guidance for improved police accountability.
CCAC’s work was also praise-worthy, providing recommendations for a safer way to navigate campus reopening during the pandemic.
All of these efforts were worthwhile. They deserved to be acted upon.
These entities are useful to the University, not in the role they play, but for the image they portray for UNC. It gives the guise of having community members from underrepresented groups at the table with power to address important issues and influence campus decisions.
These commissions are important. They are tackling big issues on this campus like safety and race relations that urgently need to be addressed to make our campus better. That is exactly why it is so distressing to see these entities not given real influence to make decisions, especially when they were explicitly created and subsequently ignored by the chancellor himself.
Since the emails were reported by NC Policy Watch, Chapman said she had a productive conversation with Guskiewicz to improve communication. The Campus Safety Commission was asked to reassess their decision, but Baumgartner and colleagues decided against it because their recommendations were not taken.
CCAC and the Campus Safety Commission are full of students, faculty, staff and community members who volunteer their time to discuss how to make Carolina better, but their efforts are wasted if the suggestions and recommendations they pose are pushed to the wayside.
It is no longer enough to just be listened to by the administration — there is a need for action and real power in the hands of these commissions. The next time UNC forms a new commission, it needs to be coupled with the influence to actually change the policies it’s designed to address.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.