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'Resignation and defeat': A breakdown of the 2023 development of the School of Civic Life and Leadership


Photos courtesy of Ira Wilder and Adobe Stock.

Nearly a year after the UNC Board of Trustees passed a resolution to accelerate the development of a new School of Civic Life and Leadership — a move that many faculty members said they were not consulted about — development of the SCiLL is being led by a group of 9 inaugural faculty members with legislative funding.

The school was first announced during a Jan. 26 BOT meeting. Hours later, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial praising the Board's acceleration of the SCiLL as a step toward fighting "increasingly abstruse woke politics" within the University. 

Since its conception, the SCiLL has been shrouded in debate about the role of political ideology in higher education.

Development of the SCiLL

UNC’s Program for Public Discourse
was created in 2017 by Provost Chris Clemens to establish a “conservative center” on campus, according to emails obtained by The Daily Tar Heel.

Trustee David Boliek said he believes some conservative students on campus do not feel as comfortable as they should expressing their political views and that they "ought to feel confident" expressing their perspectives as conservatives.

The PPD program was largely based on the James Madison Program at Princeton University, Boliek also said.

Members of the Faculty Council voted to delay the PPD in 2019, expressing concerns over its development, but their request was denied. The program was integrated into the IDEAS in Action curriculum in the fall of 2022.

Boliek described the SCiLL as a “natural extension” of the PPD. 

“Our vision for the [SCiLL] is that it will be a home for the study and practice of public discourse—essential tools for today’s students seeking to communicate effectively in an increasingly polarized society—and will provide a foundational grounding in what it means to be an engaged and informed citizen, the cornerstone of a strong democracy,” Jim White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in an email statement.

Sarah Treul Roberts
, the SCiLL’s interim dean, said nine inaugural faculty members are currently working on developing a vision and curriculum for the school. She also said the faculty is planning a minor focused on civic life and leadership that will consist of five courses: two “gateway” courses and three electives.

 The PPD is being “folded into” the SCiLL and the school could potentially begin offering courses in the fall of 2024, Treul Roberts said.

“As an instructor of American politics courses, I see polarization everywhere in society,” she said. “And, hopefully, this school provides our students, but also the broader community, with tools in which to communicate past differences, beyond differences and move us toward creating a better democracy, a stronger democracy and a better nation.”

Jaleah Taylor is a member of the Agora Fellows, a discussion group within the PPD. She said she feels the events and discussions held by the PPD are effective in facilitating constructive dialogue on campus. She also said she feels there is a perception that UNC has a particular political ideology.

“I would think if they’re creating another program that’s similar to the Program for Public Discourse, it would be in efforts to change that narrative and to have more perspectives outside of the general consensus that UNC is a liberal school,” Taylor said.

Concern from faculty members

Faculty Executive Committee
member Sue Estroff said she feels the resolution by the BOT was “not a good way to start” the process of designing a new program on campus. She also said many of the faculty feel a sense of "resignation and defeat" toward the lack of communication and collaboration between the BOT and the faculty, regardless of the inaugural faculty's involvement.

“Yes, there is a process now that involves faculty, but the fact remains that it was a fait accompli,” Estroff said. “It wasn’t a question of whether this was going to happen — it was a question of how, and that’s a huge difference.” 

Boliek, who was chair of the board at the time the resolution was passed, said the board was “squarely" in its lane to put forth the decision to create the SCiLL. He also said he feels the BOT has been "unfairly vilified."

The board is the voice of taxpayers that "own the University," Boliek said, and that the BOT speaks for the citizens of North Carolina.

“The fact that some faculty don’t like an idea is not a reason not to do something,” he said.

Some faculty members also expressed concern that the development of the SCiLL did not follow the same processes as the School of Data Science and Society, the most recent school created before the SCiLL.

“There’s nothing similar about it, in terms of the chronology and the collaboration across the campus," Estroff said. "The most important preliminary thing being the idea that academically, intellectually and in terms of what the world needs — these things are what drove [the School of Data Science], not a budget allocation that came from the legislature before anybody knew about it."

The N.C. General Assembly allocated $2 million toward the development of the SCiLL for each of the next two fiscal years in their September budget. An additional $1 million pledge from the Orville Gordon Browne Foundation has been received to establish an endowment for a professorship at the school.

The budget also mandated that the provost name a permanent dean for the school by Dec. 31 and hire 10-20 tenured or tenure-track faculty members from outside of the University.

@dailytarheel |

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