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UNC System presents two proposals aimed to combat "civic illiteracy"

UNC Board of Governors Vice Chair Wendy Floyd Murphy, UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey, and UNC Board of Governors President Peter Hans speak during the UNC Board of Governors meeting at the UNC System Office on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

UNC System President Peter Hans presented a proposal for two new learning outcomes during a UNC Board of Governors meeting on Jan. 25.

The potential curriculum addition would be implemented across UNC System campuses in an effort to address what Hans called "civic illiteracy."

The first learning outcome, defined as what students are expected to gain from the courses, focuses on founding documents and concepts related to America’s founding, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. The second learning outcome emphasizes the implementation of democratic ideals and will allow students to engage with the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail."

“One of our big goals here is preparing students for democratic life, and one thing I think a lot of people would agree on is when you look at our country today, we are not doing as well as we could in civility and civic engagement and having everybody ready for democratic life,” Wade Maki, chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly, said.

Maki worked alongside a group of four professors from UNC-Asheville, Elizabeth City State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University to draft the new learning outcomes. He presented them to the BOG’s Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs on Jan. 24.

Maki said these requirements will be a refresher for some students, but for others may be the first time they are introduced to these documents. Any course that is relevant to the learning outcomes is eligible, and each school has discretion over whether to offer each outcome as its own course or as part of an existing course, he said.

Sean Colbert-Lewis, a history professor at NCCU, was one of the members of the faculty workgroup tasked with creating the new learning outcomes.

Colbert-Lewis said the UNC System Office was supportive of faculty exploring and discussing various topics that could be included in the proposal and taking the lead on the task.

“I believe that faculty in the system must work together, and I felt throughout this process, that was demonstrated,” Colbert-Lewis said.

Beth Moracco, chair of the UNC faculty, said there is some legitimate wariness among professors that not enough faculty across the UNC System were involved with drafting the learning outcomes.

Curriculum and related requirements are typically the domain of faculty because professors have a birds-eye view of the curricula on campus, how courses of study fit in and have subject-matter expertise, Moracco said.

“I think students gaining a perspective on this is a good idea and as somebody who offers courses that provide this kind of material in the first place, I’m glad people are recognizing that this is an important part of somebody’s civic education,” UNC political science professor Marc Hetherington said.

Hetherington teaches two sections of Political Science 100: American Democracy in Changing Times. He said he devotes the first quarter of each semester to various aspects of the country’s founding.

He said he encourages students to compare current politics to what the founders might have had in mind when they drafted the founding documents, a practice he said enriches students’ understanding of these topics.

Following the first public presentation of the new learning outcomes last week, a formal written policy was drafted and sent to every UNC System campus as well as the Faculty Assembly for feedback. The Committee on Education Planning, Policies and Programs will vote on a new policy in the BOG’s Feb. 21 meeting, Maki said. 

Pending the BOG's approval, the new policy will go on the full board’s agenda at its April meeting where all members will vote on whether or not to mandate the outcomes.

If the new learning outcomes are approved, schools will have an entire year to determine how they will implement the requirements, which would go into effect in fall 2025 if passed.

“To me, the greatest good — despite the struggles and challenges that history has shown America has endured to maintain democracy — overall, the greatest good is still educating students about how important democracy is,” Colbert-Lewis said.


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