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'A problem that doesn't exist': Faculty concerned about legislative influence in curriculum

Consititution Avenue is cleared for the parade following Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan 21, 2017. The Capital Building is adorned with American flags.

Consititution Avenue is cleared for the parade following Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan 21, 2017. The Capital Building is adorned with American flags.

Two new student learning outcomes were approved by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs on Wednesday.

They require that students learn the principles of American democracy — similar to the requirements of the North Carolina Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage Act, or the REACH Act —which was proposed in the N.C. General Assembly in 2023 and passed by the House of Representatives. The bill has since stalled in the Senate.

The REACH Act would require a three-credit-hour class in American history or American government to graduate with a baccalaureate degree for all UNC System students, including a final comprising 20 percent of a student’s grade. Mandatory reading for the course would include the following documents in their entirety: the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Gettysburg Address, the North Carolina State Constitution and at least five essays from the Federalist Papers.

The act would also grant authority to the BOG to remove the chancellor of any institution that does not comply with the requirements of the act for more than one academic year.

The SLOs, although still requiring largely the same readings outlined in the REACH Act, would allow institutions to determine whether to create a new course entirely or to incorporate the outcomes into existing classes. The rationale behind the SLOs is a concern about the lack of civic knowledge among both young people and adults.

The UNC System Office asked the administration of some schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill, to select a representative for a working group that would create the SLOs. The group consisted of five professors from UNC, North Carolina Central University, UNC Asheville, Elizabeth City State University and UNC Greensboro. Molly Worthen, history professor and inaugural faculty member of the School of Civic Life and Leadership, was the representative from UNC.

Wade Maki, a philosophy professor at UNC Greensboro and member of the working group, said the passing of the SLOs should negate the need for the REACH Act to proceed any further since the core educational objectives of the act will have been met with the SLOs. He also said the creation of the SLOs is an attempt to accomplish the objectives of the REACH Act while preventing the North Carolina legislature from directly intervening in curricula.

Because there was so much political interest in the topic, the group could not have been created publicly, Maki said. He said the System Office's strategic decision to create the group privately was so faculty would be at the forefront of the development.

Some faculty have expressed concerns regarding their lack of involvement in creating curricula in the past, notably last year when nearly 700 UNC faculty signed an op-ed published in The Daily Tar Heel that claimed the N.C. General Assembly, the BOG and the UNC Board of Trustees had been violating principles of academic freedom.

UNC history Professor Erik Gellman said he felt the SLOs have been implemented in an anti-democratic way, similar to how the SCiLL was created — without the democratic governance of the faculty. Maki said members of the Faculty Assembly were not informed about the project until they were asked to provide feedback on the SLOs on Jan. 19, more than a week after the provosts of each university were first informed.

“I understand that there was a rationale behind it,” UNC Faculty Chair Beth Moracco said. “But I think it was damaging in terms of many faculties' belief that it was truly a participatory process.”

Moracco said while most professors agree that civic instruction is important, some are unsure if an undergraduate requirement is necessary. 

“It’s not clear to me that the need is among graduates of UNC System schools,” Moracco said. “It’s also not clear that there are gaps in our curricula where this content isn’t already covered.”

Gellman said the documents required by the REACH Act and the SLOs are already being taught in history courses at UNC, and he is not convinced there is a widespread problem with students' knowledge of them. UNC offers classes in early American history, such as HIST127: American History to 1865, which covers American development and major themes during the Revolutionary and national periods.

“I find it troubling that this seems to be a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist,” Gellman said.

These learning outcomes will appear on the consent agenda at the next BOG meeting on April 17.


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