By Connie Lovell
In late January, the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill voted unanimously to create a new learning environment, The School of Civic Life and Leadership. Board Chairman David Boliek told The Wall Street Journal: “The idea is to end political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.” Essentially, to avoid conflict with the established curriculum, this school would start with a new dean and new professors in what might be called liberal arts. Students would be able to crosswalk the new school and establish studies to fulfill their core requirements.
This follows the 2015 University of Chicago commitment to freedom of expression on campus that has gotten little traction. The weight of tenured faculty and entrenched administrators has allowed for radicalization in higher education, which is reaching new heights of irrelevance. As expected, the UNC faculty has had a meltdown in the lounge and is “flabbergasted” that the trustees could pull off such a stunt without being consulted.
The School of Civic Life and Leadership promises to offer a platform of free engagement between faculty and students without judgment or intimidation. The curriculum will include Liberty and Equality in America, Race and the American Story, and The Role of Science and Religion in Society. Scary stuff. Ideological blinders will be checked at the door. The trustees recognize that leadership to navigate a polarized society is a skill best learned in an atmosphere of free expression.
This is a much-needed course correction for higher education. Our institutions are threatened by inflated tuition and failing graduation rates. Anger and frustration are fomenting an unsafe and unhealthy environment for our next generation of leaders. Campus aggression must de-escalate. The UNC trustees should be praised for facing the poor condition of higher education, working out a reasonable remedy and promising to fund it. However, resistance is mounting.
In mid-February, Belle Wheelan, accreditation official for the Governor’s Commission on Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina, suggested UNC could lose its accreditation, citing the announcement of the new school. She assured authorities that this was not a threat, rather a warning to the UNC board of trustees. Wheelan is president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
In the meeting with the Governor’s Commission, Ms. Wheelan advised that the role of board members should be “eyes in, hands off.” She said SACS standards “give the faculty the role of developing the curriculum,” and to do otherwise could jeopardize accreditation. This is important because federal financial aid to the institution is dependent upon favorable accreditation. Her statement contradicts the North Carolina constitution, which gives responsibility to the trustees by their appointment by the legislature. It is the trustees who run the school not the students, the faculty or outside influence peddlers.
UNC-Chapel Hill has given the state a voice for higher education that is nearly unmatched in our nation today. We have a role to play in the advancement of civil life and leadership in our state. We have the funds necessary to create a new learning environment, free of ideology and aggression. We have students capable of learning civil discourse and leadership. We have a courageous board of trustees willing to recognize the need for a new institution of free expression.
Studies now show that hiring reforms in government and private enterprise are adopting a “best practice” model, reducing college degree requirements amid a tight labor market. This is very favorable to high school graduates and community colleges. Many students qualify for skilled and technical placement with basic education. Four-year colleges and universities must find a way to fulfill the role of advanced education in developing professional and leadership skills. Teaching classical and practical thinking in a forum free of bias makes good sense and good citizens.
This is an extremely important advancement in the state’s university system. UNC is a national leader in higher education, thus there is no doubt other ranking universities are watching to see if this new school will open opportunities for them. The State Board of Education, Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, Catherine Truitt, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the 24 members of the Board of Governors need to hear your support for this important endeavor. Give them the confidence to prevail. Call them, write them, lobby them. Let freedom ring.