UNC faculty protest proposed state civics requirement as 'undue interference in university affairs'

Nearly 700 faculty members at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill say that the state legislature’s actions “violate principles of academic freedom.”

State Representative John Hardister told Campus Reform that ‘the narrative that this is politically motivated is just false.’

673 professors at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) have signed an open letter saying that two education bills in the state legislature “violate the principles of academic freedom and shared governance.”

Campus Reform has followed recent higher education developments in North Carolina as faculty expressed outrage regarding the Board of Trustee’s decision to create a non-partisan school of civic engagement, which has also sparked questions about the public school’s accreditation. 

Now, nearly 700 faculty members are publicly condemning both the measures of the board as well as House Bill 96 and House Bill 715 as “interference and overreach of the North Carolina Legislature.”

History professor Jay Smith and law professor Maxine Eichner, who penned the letter, argue that “[i]f enacted…these measures will further damage the reputation of UNC and the state of North Carolina and will likely bring critical scrutiny from accrediting agencies that know undue interference in university affairs when they see it.”

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HB 96 passed the chamber on the first read by nearly 90% and mandates public college and universities require three credit hours of basic US civics for graduation, a move that the letter signatories argue “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”

North Carolina Representative John Hardister, who co-introduced the bill in March, told Campus Reform that “the narrative that this is politically motivated is just false.”

The reading list for the course includes the Declaration of Independence and the US and North Carolina constitutions as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and at least five Federalist papers of the instructor’s choosing. 

Hardister said this is intended enable young people to “engage more constructively as it relates to civil debates.”

“Right now, we’re in a time where…people shout each other down. They want to cancel the other side if they don’t agree and that’s not really how this country was founded,” Hadister clarified. “We’re founded in part on the idea that we are a democratic republic where you can…share ideas, you can debate ideas, and then you have a democratic process you go through to elected representatives, who you then can hold accountable.”

Smith and Eichner also highlight the tenure provision of HB 715 as a “disturbing recent development” to which they and their colleagues object. 

At the last Faculty Council meeting for the term, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “Eliminating tenure would be disastrous to our universities and our efforts to retain and recruit the world-class faculty that we enjoy here at Chapel Hill. And, in my opinion, it would be disastrous for the state of North Carolina.”

Replacing tenure with a renewable contract system, however, is a small portion of the six page bill, which also addresses more efficient use of taxpayer funds, transfer credits, Pell Grant opportunities, and ROTC funding. State representative David Willis told Campus Reform that the intention of his bill is “to ease the burden on students” pursuing higher education in his state.

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“Our higher education system has operated unchecked for decades and costs for the taxpayers and students have skyrocketed,” Willis noted. “It is time that we modernize the entire system, reduce costs, and make earning a degree more attainable for students and their families.”

Along similar lines, Hardister contends that the legislature is “perfectly within [its] right” to monitor and regulate public higher education.

“The General Assembly actually created the UNC system, not the other way around. We create the system we funded to the tune of billions of dollars,” Hardister said.

HB 715 is still in committee, but Hardister confirmed that he expects HB 96 to pass through the Senate.

UNC-CH has not yet responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment, but this story will be updated accordingly.

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