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FEC discusses distinguished professorships, campus discourse regarding Israel and Gaza in Monday meeting


Amid campus discourse surrounding the war in Israel and Gaza, the UNC Faculty Executive Committee met on Monday to discuss the state of safety and free speech on campus and debated the best methods for making their meetings more productive.

Provost Christopher Clemens joined the meeting to discuss the General Assembly's new policy that limits distinguished professorships to STEM fields.

Here’s the rundown. 

What’s new?

  • Faculty chairperson Beth Moracco requested an update on the change in criteria for distinguished professorships and an explanation of what this policy means for non-STEM professors. 
    • Clemens said the new policy won't impact the University’s ability to appoint or fund distinguished professors in any disciplines. Instead, he said fund-matching via federal grants will only work for STEM professors moving forward. The legislation define STEM disciplines on a list provided by the UNC System president and approved by the Board of Governors, he said
      • He also said the University’s commitment to humanities, social sciences and other disciplines will remain firm and added that overall funds will not change drastically regardless of what the legislature decides to match funding for. 
    • Barbara Entwisle, a Kenan distinguished professor in the sociology department, said many faculty within social science fields conduct quantitative work and are considered STEM by the National Science Foundation. She described the policy as a complete “snub” of the work she does. 
    • Clemens said this change “came a bit out of left-field,” and that there is advocacy work to be done. He also noted that the federal grant money is especially valuable in fields where it is more difficult to raise research money. 
    • Sue Estroff, a professor in the School of Medicine, said the restriction is “another blocked artery” for the University system. 
    • Moracco said she authored an op-ed with Law professor Andy Hessick and other faculty to  promote the importance of the humanities and social sciences, but it was rejected from The News and Observer.
      • The Board of Trustees expressed dismay and shock that the legislation was part of the state’s budget, Moracco said
  • Viji Sathy, professor of psychology and neuroscience, asked the provost what faculty and student responses to the war in Israel and Gaza have been.
    • Clemens said he thinks the campus has done a great job of “doing what universities do well,” but there have been some exceptions and events where lines were crossed. He added that some University members hold different opinions about how acceptable some of these campus expressions have been. 
      • “I think we’re trying to draw a distinction between what’s permitted speech and what crosses a line and then deal with those things that cross the line, and it’s fairly constant,” Clemens said.  
    • Sathy said she feels disheartened by colleagues that are taxed by the current situation and must find safe spaces on campus. 
  • Moracco sought feedback from members on how the committee can make meetings more deliberative. 
    • Entwisle said prerecorded presentations might allow more time for questions and discussion. 
    • Suchi Mohanty, head of the Undergraduate Library, suggested rearranging the order of agenda items so that topics likely to prompt conversation surface first and those that are less important are moved to the end of the meeting. 
      • “I think even going back to some of those fundamentals could actually help us be a stronger and a much more assertive group,” she said.
    • Adopting classroom techniques such as intentional reflective time, small group discussions and a more democratic process for airing comments could allow thinking to happen, Sathy said

The next FEC meeting will be on Nov. 27 from 3-5 p.m.


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