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Trustee and faculty chairperson disagree on timeline of School of Civic Life and Leadership

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Mimi Chapman, chairperson of the UNC faculty, speaks in front of members of the UNC Board of Trustees on Wednesday, March 22, 2023. She emphasized the concerns of faculty regarding the development of the School of Civic Life and Leadership.

The University Affairs Committee of the UNC Board of Trustees met on Wednesday, March 22 at the Carolina Inn to hear an update from faculty chairperson Mimi Chapman on recent University issues. 

Much of the discussion focused on tensions between faculty and the Board regarding the development of the School of Civil Life and Leadership, which the Board voted to accelerate earlier this year.

Compelled speech and DEIA actions

Chapman began by sharing data from the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment that showed between 80 and 96 percent of undergraduate students across schools expressed satisfaction with their academic experience. She then expressed faculty concerns over a few different issues.

  • Chapman said faculty are concerned that a revised UNC System policy on employee political activities would inhibit the types of questions that can be asked during the hiring process. 
  • The Board of Governors updated the policy in late February to advise University representatives to avoid questions that would solicit applicants to share viewpoints or beliefs — such as a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility statements or political perspectives.
  • Faculty members feel “worried, anxious and devalued,” Chapman said after the North Carolina General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations requested documents related to DEIA training and activities in a March 14 letter.

Dispute over SCiLL timeline

Chapman spoke about an op-ed, written by Trustee Perrin Jones, that was published in the Greensboro News & Record on March 17. 

  • In the op-ed, Jones asserted that SCiLL was introduced by faculty and administration over several years. 
  • He also wrote that the Faculty Council voted on the Program for Public Discourse twice, in September and October meetings in 2019.
  • “Based on the op-ed, it appears that there is still considerable confusion about what happened when and what votes have been taken by faculty,” Chapman said.

She said the Faculty Council voted to approve the IDEAs in Action curriculum in April 2019 and voted on a motion, which she said failed in October 2019, to delay the implementation of the Program for Public Discourse. 

  • Chapman stressed the importance of separating IDEAs in Action from the Program for Public Discourse and SCiLL. The Faculty Council passed separate resolutions in February supporting the IDEAs in Action curriculum and disapproving of the development of SCiLL without more input from the faculty government. 
  • Jones listed faculty members who were involved in the development of the Program for Public Discourse, which Chapman said is not the same as faculty involvement in the development of SCiLL. 
  • "You are conflating the Program for Public Discourse with the School for Civic Life and Leadership," she said. "If you're asking me, 'Have I ever heard of Program for Public Discourse, and do I know anything about its origins?' Yes. But if you were asking me, 'Did I know anything about a School for Civic Life and Leadership prior to your January resolution?' The answer is no."

Later in the meeting, Provost Chris Clemens shared his perspective on SCiLL’s development.

  • “I don't think there's a fundamental conflict, factually, about what's being said here. And I'd like to be kind of forward-looking more than backward-looking at it,” he said. “It was a very small number of faculty who saw anything to do with School of Civic Life and Leadership.” 
  • He also said the new school will be an expansion of the Program for Public Discourse. 
  • “I think the resolution makes that clear, but it had not been shared broadly with the faculty,” Clemens said. “I am grateful for the Faculty Council and their resolutions because what they call for is exactly what the plan was, which is to have a larger faculty working group.”
  • The provost said that, at Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's request, he has asked more than 30 faculty members if they would be willing to serve on a working group focused on SCiLL, and that all but two have said they would be interested. 

Chapman also said that some faculty were discontent with how members of the Board spoke about them publicly. 

  • “I can't tell you how difficult it is for this faculty to be continued to be disparaged in the media,” Chapman said. “As I've said before, we need you to be our cheerleaders, to stand up for us and to trust us.”
  • Trustee Rob Bryan, chairperson of the committee, said the trustees think highly of the faculty.
  • “It doesn't mean that we can't have really substantive conversations about what is the crisis facing our nation with respect to civil discourse,” he said. “Everybody doesn't have to agree that we need this part.”

What’s next?

The Board met in full on Thursday, and its next round of meetings is scheduled for May 17 and 18. 

@emilycgajda

university@dailytarheel.com

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