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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: UE Local 150 comes out in defense of academic freedom

Political appointees in the UNC governing boards threaten academic freedom. The workers in our union reject their attempts to overstep their roles and seize authority from university faculty and administration. One of the pillars of academic freedom is shared University governance – a principle that holds that certain roles, such as faculty hiring decisions and curriculum development, fall under the exclusive authority of the faculty.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, however, this principle is under attack from the politically-appointed figures that form the Board of Governors, which oversees the entire UNC System, and the UNC Board of Trustees. This is especially concerning given similar power grabs that are being enacted currently in the state of Florida.

In January, the BOG proposed a rule change that would interfere with currently-established hiring processes, including that of faculty and graduate workers. This rule change not only threatens the University’s accreditation status, it also interferes with the faculty’s authority to choose the procedures to identify the most qualified scholars to join their ranks. 

That same month, the BOT approved a resolution to create a new “School of Civic Life,” without any consultation of faculty or any other group of University workers. The purported motivation for this new venture is to create “a space for free speech” and “a culture of civic and open inquiry." This assumes that faculty and graduate workers do not already have such a space and culture in their own classes, and is an insult considering how much effort they spend trying to foster such an environment. 

Furthermore, the University administration is reported to be working on a state budget request to fund the new school, which speaks to the priorities of the members of the Board — the same Board that did not recommend such an action to address the real issues of poor building maintenance, lead contamination, insufficient course offerings for undergraduates, pay-to-work parking policies, poverty wages for many university workers, and understaffing in the facilities services department, the university libraries, counseling and psychological services, the academic departments and in the UNC Health System.

As workers of UNC, without whom the University cannot operate, we believe that the University should be a public good, producing research and an educated workforce and citizenry for the benefit of the State of North Carolina. We are certain that this role cannot be accomplished in the absence of academic freedom, or in the presence of political intervention in University affairs. We demand both governing boards take a step back, stick to their traditional roles and let us do our work.

– UE Local 150, The Workers Union at UNC-Chapel Hill 


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