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‘A giant elephant in the room’: Employee Forum's Dobbs proclamation absent from University coverage

The UNC Employee Forum celebrating its 30th-anniversary event at the Carolina Club on Oct. 11, 2022. Photo Courtesy of the Employee Forum.

Following the leaked decision from the United States Supreme Court on the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade in May, Kira Jones and Katie Musgrove started working on a proclamation response for the UNC Employee Forum.

Jones and Musgrove, both members of the forum, wrote Proclamation 22-01 advocating for University employees that could be affected by changes in abortion legislation.

"Be it proclaimed that the Employee Forum commits itself to advocating for access to comprehensive, quality healthcare, including the full spectrum of reproductive services, for all Employees," the proclamation read.

Musgrove — who is chairperson of the Employee Forum and a business officer in the UNC School of Law — said the the forum serves as a voice to express staff concerns.

“We have a foot in the door, so to speak, with the administration,” she said. 

Apart from a statement of neutrality released by the UNC Board of Trustees, Musgrove said there has not been much conversation from the administration to faculty, staff and students about changes to state abortion policies. 

She said the Employee Forum proclamation intends to express support for employees affected by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and acknowledge the relevance of abortion as a health care issue.

Jones, who works as an academic program support coordinator at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said university benefits packages and health care are provided by the state. Because of this, there is a potential that prospective staff could be discouraged from coming to North Carolina —  where there are fewer abortion protections. 

“It just puts us in a different playing field in terms of retaining and attracting world-class staff,” Jones said.

Proclamation 22-01 was passed in the Employee Forum’s Sept. 7 meeting, but Jones said it was “noticeably absent'' in meeting coverage published in The Well. The Well is an online publication operated by UNC’s communications team and is intended to be the primary source for University news and information for employees. 

“We rely on the communications department to provide accurate coverage of our meetings,” Musgrove said. 

She reached out to The Well regarding why the proclamation was excluded from its coverage of the Employee Forum’s September meeting. According to the email obtained by The Daily Tar Heel,  representatives for The Well did not respond. 

“I think what we can say is the coverage seemed complete of our meeting, minus this particular important point,” Jones said. 

The Daily Tar Heel reached out to UNC Media Relations for comment but was directed to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s July 29 statement on the University’s role in public discourse. 

At the Nov. 10 UNC Board of Trustees meeting, trustee Teresa Artis Neal said she did not know why The Well did not include the proclamation in its coverage. 

She said she would be happy to speak to Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance, about how to better communicate to faculty and staff. 

“We need to make sure we get communication out regardless of what the health issue is,” Artis Neal said in the meeting.

The Daily Tar Heel reached out to Menghini regarding the proclamation, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Artis Neal also said that she and the other trustees want staff to feel that the University provides an environment where each employee is "well in all mind, body and spirit."

Musgrove said that her goal is not for the University to make a statement on Dobbs, but for the coverage of the Employee Forum’s meeting to be full and accurate. She said proclamations and resolutions are the way that the forum's voice reaches campus.

Jones said, as an advocate for people on campus, she is looking for communication regarding the transparency and acknowledgment of the effects of the Dobbs ruling.

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“But the fact of the matter is that there is a giant elephant in the room, to put it in those types of terms, that is not getting recognized," Jones said.

She said the Dobbs decision addresses people’s bodies, agency and privacy — all of which intersect in a University job. She said she wants better recognition of how these implications could affect how the University recruits and retains staff.

Looking forward, Musgrove and Jones both said they will continue to monitor state legislation and how it could affect staff at UNC.