Republican crusade to convert UNC-Chapel Hill will lead to its demise | Opinion

The crusade to convert the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill into a Republican, nationally scorned university continues with unrepentant enthusiasm.

Recall that last summer the American Association of University Professors “resoundingly censured” the UNC Board of Governors for shocking “political interference,” repeated “breaches of faculty governance,” “severe violations of academic freedom,” continued “patterns of institutional racism,” and for demanding “cowardly top-down administration.”

Gene Nichol
Gene Nichol

In recent weeks, UNC’s governing boards have demonstrated they think they can do even better. Republican orthodoxy now demands an opposition not only to critical race theory and affirmative action, but also to diversity initiatives. It’s apparently unseemly, though, to harp against “diversity” — sounds too barbaric, too Jesse Helms. So a Board of Governors committee just proposed a new policy which bars faculty candidates from being asked about “matters of contemporary political debate.”

The law professor in me marvels at the breadth and vagueness of that prohibition. It may be the most unwieldy classification I’ve ever heard of. And if questions arise, they must be submitted, for approval, to the relevant Board of Governors committee. I kid you not — the same board that has a strong record of suppressing free speech. This isn’t overreach, it’s displacement.

Not to be outdone in the high calling of political partisanship, the UNC-CH Board of Trustees next passed a resolution to “accelerate” the creation of a new academic program — a School of Civic Life and Leadership. The news “flabbergasted” the chair of the UNC-CH faculty, Mimi Chapman. She explained that no faculty members were aware of the school proposal and that “under the Faculty Code of University Government, faculty are in charge of the curriculum and requirements for the granting of degrees.”

Former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp was even more candid: “The board doesn’t have any ability to propose a class, to propose a degree or — for God’s sake — to propose a school.” He said the resolution was the “worst governance” he’d ever seen.

As is his tradition, UNC’s present chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, went into the Guskiewicz crouch, praising Carolina’s “commitment to promoting democracy.” Bring me your million-dollar gifts to the Sons of the Confederacy, your discriminatory denials of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, your forced Covid openings, and your Board of Trustees created political schools. I’m your guy, he seemed to say. No worries here.

Board of Trustees Chair David Boliek boasted to Fox News that the new initiative would “remedy the shortage of faculty with right-of-center views.” He told the Washington Post the idea that the move was politically-motivated was unfounded. “I don’t think about right, left, whatever.” Unpack that if you can.

Boliek also seemed to miss the direct conflict between his “right of center” claims and the non-ideological assertions of the Board of Governors’ proposal submitted days earlier. Maybe Boliek will name himself dean of the new school.

It’s important not to see these stunning transgressions as mere missteps or good faith miscalculations. The trend is too pervasive, too relentless, too ideological, too obedient, too unending. These folks are not “trustees.” They are not “governors.” They are an occupying force carrying out a mission. Nothing more. And it’s a mission the nation’s first public university won’t survive.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.