The University of North Carolina faculty is outraged that the school’s trustees favor open academic inquiry.
of North Carolina’s effort to create a new school dedicated to free inquiry and open academic discourse has caused a fuss on campus that illustrates why the new school is needed. It seems that faculty grandees are outraged that the UNC board of trustees thought such a school is necessary and didn’t even seek the faculty’s permission.
The Daily Tar Heel documents the angst in the Chapel Hill faculty lounge in a Jan. 30 story that is unintentionally hilarious in its ivory-tower indignation. The reporter quotes UNC law professor Eric Muller as saying, “I thought: how on Earth? How on Earth could The Wall Street Journal know this.”
Here on Earth, it’s called journalism.
Chair of the Faculty Mimi Chapman told the Tar Heel she is “flabbergasted” at the trustees’ decision and tweeted that UNC alumni are “leading and civically engaged left, right and center” with the hashtag #solutioninsearchofaproblem.
All of this umbrage is over the board’s decision—without a dissenting vote—to establish a new School of Civic Life and Leadership dedicated to encouraging open-minded study in history, literature, philosophy, political science and religion. These are among the most politicized disciplines at nearly all universities these days, and the new school will hire at least 20 new professors to teach in a way that encourages study without ideological blinders.
You’d think the faculty would be pleased at the new job openings for academics in non-science fields. You’d also think that, if they’re right that there’s no intellectual conformity on campus, the faculty has nothing to fear. But the outrage gives away that it’s precisely the prospect of intellectual diversity that has the professors sputtering.
The UNC trustees also apparently violated modern academic protocol by taking their governance roles and the school’s educational mission seriously. “The board doesn’t have any ability to propose a class, to propose a degree, or—for God’s sake—to propose a school,” Holden Thorp, who served as UNC’s chancellor from 2008 to 2013, told the student newspaper.
You gotta love the “for God’s sake.” Don’t the trustees know they are supposed to shut up, write big checks for new buildings, and let the faculty run the place?
By the way, the trustees’ meeting was broadcast live on YouTube, and the trustees are justifiably proud of their plans for the new school and are putting their money where their convictions are. The Daily Tar Heel says the paper has submitted a request to see communications between trustees and our editorial board. Such tenacity in trying to find out if other journalists have sources will well prepare these Tar Heel tenderfoots for political enforcement duty at the Washington Post or New York Times.
All of this shows how right the trustees are to establish the new school. American higher education has been corrupted in recent decades by a self-reinforcing culture of conformity, and someone has to counter it. The UNC faculty clearly won’t allow it, so one alternative strategy is to set up a free institution within the institution. Other trustees at other universities might take a look at the UNC example and see if they can do the same.