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Column: SCiLL minor only divides campus further, is waste of resources


Photos courtesy of Ira Wilder and Adobe Stock.

After the initial controversy following the announcement of the School of Civic Life and Leadership during a January 2023 UNC Board of Trustees meeting, there has been little public discussion of what the curriculum would look like. Well, until recently when the SCiLL minor was launched.

UNC announced its plans for the School of Civic Life and Leadership on Jan. 26, 2023,  unbeknownst to many faculty and staff.

Beginning in fall 2024, UNC students will have the opportunity to declare this minor, designed to equip them with skills to actively engage in civil discourse by bringing in professors from many different backgrounds.

The allocation of $2 million to establish the school and hire faculty raises serious questions about resource prioritization. This move is particularly concerning given the scarcity of tenure-track positions within UNC's social science departments. With only a handful of such positions available, the sudden creation of 10 to 20 new tenured or tenure-track roles for the SCiLL program feels like a slight to current faculty members who have previously been striving for tenure.

Traditionally, tenure-track positions become available at UNC infrequently, either through a previous professor’s departure or retirement, making the spot highly competitive and coveted. The abrupt creation of positions for SCiLL faculty undermines this established process and could disrupt the career trajectories of existing faculty members.

Moreover, the similarities between the minor requirements for the school and the new IDEAs in Action general education curriculum are remarkable. Both aim to provide students with a well-rounded education by emphasizing critical thinking, problem-solving and engagement with diverse perspectives. For instance, the SCiLL minor includes courses such as Foundations of Civic Life and Leadership and Practice of Civil Life and Leadership. The IDEAS curriculum focuses on identifying societal questions and issues, discovering ideas and evidence and exploring methods that inform those questions. 

The parallels between the new minor and the general education curriculum suggest that funding could have been better utilized to serve the needs of the whole student body. The selection effect of declaring a minor through the School of Civic Life and Leadership is likely high, especially after being described as a “conservative center” by some.   

It is certain to draw students who align with its presumed political stance, particularly from majors like communications, political science, public policy and psychology. This selective appeal risks further entrenching ideological divides on campus rather than fostering genuine dialogue and understanding.

It seems unreasonable to expect students with a diverse range of academic interests to pursue SCiLL minors when the themes and ideas being taught are nothing new and should already be incorporated into each major at UNC. 

The University prides itself in providing students with a well-rounded, liberal arts education. Civil discourse should be an essential tenet of such an education for all students through the general education curriculum. The creation of a SCiLL minor negates our current faculty's ability to teach students how to actively engage in civil discourse within their major and general education requirements.

Further, the under the table manner in which the school was announced and funded only complicates these concerns. By sidelining faculty and staff input and bypassing transparent decision-making processes, UNC squandered the opportunity for SCiLL to serve as a genuine bridge across the partisan divide that plagues our campus. This disconnect between the University’s leadership and its stakeholders, be it faculty, students or the Board of Trustees, only serves to intensify existing tensions and undermines the credibility of the initiative.

The SCiLL's inception appears more like a missed opportunity than a genuine effort to promote civil discourse and bridge ideological divides at UNC. If anything, it risks further entrenching existing divisions and exacerbating tensions on campus. UNC would have been better served to create minors in pre-existing programs, establish new positions in psychology, political science or public policy, or further enhance the new general education curriculum.


@dthopinion |

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