GOP lawmakers have overthrown the University of North Carolina, a group of professors say

A prestigious national university group accused Thursday that the North Carolina legislature had politically interfered in the operations of the University of North Carolina for more than a decade, creating a hostile academic and racial climate on its campuses, including including the Chapel Hill flagship.

A report by the American Association of University Teachers details how Republican lawmakers, after seizing control of the General Assembly in 2010, took control of the university system’s board of governors as well as the trustees of its 17 campuses. individuals, influencing the appointments of chancellors and the closure of university centres. dedicated to the fight against poverty, pollution and social injustice.

After reviewing the tensions surrounding the toppling of the Confederate soldier statue in Chapel Hill known as ‘Silent Sam’, as well as the decision-making surrounding a job offer to the New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the report concludes that racism is institutionalized in the system. In a state that is about 20% black, 5% of UNC faculty members are black.

Responding to the report, Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president of the university system, said it was a “relentlessly bleak representation of one of the strongest, most vibrant and most productive university systems in the world. country” and “impossible to reconcile” with the campus. She listed achievements including lowering tuition fees, improving graduation rates for low-income and minority students, and investing in six institutions that have historically served minorities.

The association’s report, she added, “contains no empirical data on the true health of the university system.”

Previously, the administration had attempted to address the racial issues criticized in the report, establishing a task force to examine the legacy of race and racism in North Carolina’s public higher education system, which published its own report in 2020.

Many state university systems have come under political pressure, especially in states with Republican-led legislatures that view universities as centers of liberal indoctrination.

While acknowledging that several university systems have been the target of political interference, the faculty association argues in its report that the frequency and intensity of controversy at UNC, coupled with mismanagement by the system and campus councils, are singular.

The association, a national watchdog, has no formal authority over universities and its actions are largely symbolic. But the report – and a possible official sanction by the group – could tarnish the reputation of the country’s oldest public system and one of its most prestigious. It could also harm future faculty recruitment efforts.

Michael C. Behrent, a history professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, who leads the organization’s North Carolina chapter, said he hopes the report spur change.

“We have to make sure that there is not one party that unilaterally controls the Board of Governors and the boards of directors,” he said.

Tim Moore, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, defended the legislature in a statement, saying, “Our state Constitution gives the legislature sole responsibility for governing the university system, and Republican members of the General Assembly will always ensure that the voices of the taxpayers of this state who fund UNC are heard in its governance.

The association’s report says the Republican takeover of both houses of the General Assembly in 2010 – achieved for the first time in more than a century – marked the start of what it calls a ” new era”.

University system board appointees as well as individual campus trustees have become “more uniformly Republican, more interested in the political ideologies of campus actors, and less experienced in higher education than their predecessors,” the report says. report.

At the request of the legislature, the system began a review of 237 specialty centers on campuses in 2014, resulting in the closure of three centers.

Two of them were led by professors critical of state leaders, and one, the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at Central University of North Carolina in Durham, was funded by the George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, a frequent target of conservative ire.

In 2016, Pat McCrory, the incumbent Republican governor, signed legislation stripping his Democratic successor, Roy Cooper, of the power to appoint campus-level boards, resulting in near total Republican legislative control of the university system.

The following year, the Board of Governors moved to ban Chapel Hill Law School from engaging in litigation, eventually voting to ban its Center for Civil Rights from taking on new clients, many of whom were indigent.

The report also denounces legislative interference in the appointments of university leaders, including what it calls a “very unorthodox” method for chancellor searches.

It says political interference played a role in the 2021 selection of Darrell T. Allison as chancellor of Fayetteville State University, one of six state institutions that primarily enroll students from color. Mr Allison, a former school choice lobbyist, was added to the list, the report says, although he was not chosen by the search committee and critics said he was not had no references.

But the most damning criticism of the report concerns issues of race.

It tells the story of Carol Folt, the former Chancellor of Chapel Hill who now heads the University of Southern California. Under pressure from the board to find a place for Silent Sam, which had been torn down by protesters, Ms Folt announced instead that she was stepping down and removing the remains of the statue.

The council then agreed to pay the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to build an off-campus site for the statue. A graduate student tweeted that the university was returning the statue “to racists”.

The agreement was canceled by a court.

The report also criticized the university’s handling of a job offer to Ms Hannah-Jones, a writer for The Times Magazine and head of the 1619 Project, which sought to reframe the country’s history by putting the consequences of the slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the national narrative.

Although the Chapel Hill School of Journalism recommended that Ms Hannah-Jones, who is black, be offered a full professorship, the university, apparently after pressure from a powerful donor, instead offered her a unincumbent position.

After public outcry, the trustees eventually voted to grant him his term. But Ms Hannah-Jones declined the offer and joined the faculty at Howard University.

The report says the Silent Sam and Hannah-Jones controversies “sent a message to faculty members of color across the system, making them feel unwelcome, undervalued and insecure.”