If you missed our “How and Why Tenure Strengthens Carolina” webinar on April 27, 2022, you missed a great discussion. Like business career paths, tenure is a 10-to-15-year highly competitive process designed to prepare talented and committed scholars for coveted leadership positions.
Tenure plays a critical role in preserving academic freedom and protecting free speech. Webinar moderator and UNC Faculty Chair Dr. Mimi Chapman shared examples of how tenure has been threatened around the country. Several audacious actions are underway around the country to proactively eliminate tenure; replace tenured professors with those without tenure’s protection; or simply reduce the number of tenure- track professors. If these efforts are successful, there would be a serious erosion of both academic freedom and free speech rights. Additionally, such a move could be yet another dangerous step in governance overreach. Dr. Lloyd Kramer shared an ominous historical fact during the webinar: “One of the most common characteristics of authoritarian societies is that when teachers or faculty go against some reigning ideological or political position, they are dismissed. They are removed.” Tenure prevents such acts of retaliation and retribution.
The Nikole Hannah-Jones debacle at Carolina brought faculty tenure into the national spotlight last year. In this short video, former Chancellor Holden Thorp shares his thoughts on the historical role of the board of trustees in tenure decisions.
While the process for how tenure is awarded is important and has received much air time, there is so much more to know about faculty tenure.
Join us next Wednesday April 27, 2022 at 3:30 pm for discussion about how and why faculty tenure was created and why it strengthens Carolina.
One of the best-known benefits of faculty tenure is that it protects academic freedom.
There was a time in this country when educators were restricted in what they could cover in class, speech and writing. (Think the 1850s when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was banned for pro-abolitionist views as one example of such a time.) As a result, and out of fear of retribution, faculty stayed away from controversial or questionable topics. Tenure, and the protections it provided, changed that. With tenure, professors could speak freely, write freely, and encourage debate on the controversial or questionable issues of the day.
While the concept of tenure has been around since the founding of Harvard in 1636, modern tenure began to develop in the early 20th century. Tenure especially gained ground in the period around World War I (in part because some professors who criticized that war, or the developments of modern economic systems, lost their jobs). Over the past century, academic tenure has helped to protect free speech on college campuses, foster research on difficult or controversial subjects, enhance the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms, and strengthen enduring connections between professors and the universities they serve.
Join our discussion about how and why tenure benefits Carolina. Featured speakers are UNC Chapel Hill professors Dr. Karin Pfennig, Dr. Lloyd Kramer, Dr. Patricia Parker, and Dr. Mimi Chapman.
While we are always proud of Carolina, March is a special time for basketball fans. This year is no exception. We are especially proud to see both our men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Sweet 16! As we root for the Tar Heels to go all the way, we are mindful of the privilege we’ve had through the years to be able to watch many exciting March Madness games, and other NCAA Championship events, right here in North Carolina.
While we’re able to watch our women’s team play just down the road in Greensboro this month, we are reminded that the same politics doing harm to Carolina and the UNC System today drove the NCAA to pull seven championship events from North Carolina in 2016. Just like the Silent Sam and Nikole Hannah-Jones incidents, coverage of the so-called “bathroom bill” made for embarrassing national headlines. In 2016, the NCAA issued the following statement and Twitter post with their decision to pull the games:
“Based on the NCAA’s commitment to fairness and inclusion, the Association will relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year,”
So, as we go into the weekend to cheer our men’s and women’s teams into the Final Four, let’s be mindful that even the joy and excitement of March Madness can be ruined by politics.
Here at the Coalition for Carolina, we will continue to do all we can to reduce the level of politicization and overreach currently taking place at Carolina and throughout the UNC System.
It was indeed huge news when the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) pushed former UNC President Tom Ross out of his job. It was even bigger news when the public learned that the BOG could not give a good reason for doing so. In fact, in the BOG issued statement after the firing, they said that Ross was doing a good job. Here is an excerpt from that BOG statement:
“This decision has nothing to do with President Ross’s performance or ability to continue in the office. The Board respects President Ross and greatly appreciates his service to the University and to the State of North Carolina.”
So, with no good reason given for firing former President Ross, the BOG was asked if the firing was political. If you watch the ABC 11 coverage, you will see a very uncomfortable BOG Chair emphatically deny that the firing was political. What did former President Ross believe? Well, more than seven years later, and after similar shocking and embarrassing incidents, we asked him. Here is his response:
Coalition for Carolina:What are your thoughts about how you came to leave your job as President of the UNC System?
Former UNC System President Tom Ross: “Most people who observed that realized that it was a political decision that was made, somewhere, not sure exactly where. And the way I tried to handle that was, not to do as was going on a few months before at the University of Virginia or other places where there was a big protest for the university. I thought it would bring negative publicity and attention to the university. And I didn’t want to do that because I love the university. But I also wanted people to know what was going on because I felt like I had done a good job and I wanted to stay. And so, I wanted people to know what was going on.
And you know, I think the board made it clear that they were pleased with my performance, that things were going well. It had nothing to do with me and that was the message I wanted to get out because I wanted people to understand, first of all, it wasn’t something I did wrong –because I needed to go find another job. But it was also the beginning of what I believed was some sort of political intrusion into university governance system.
“But it was also the beginning of what I believe was some sort of political intrusion into university governance system.”
When I addressed the Board of Governors as I was leaving, I made the point that I hoped that they would always put the university first and not politics. Because I think, again… I used to tell the story about Terry Sanford when he was president of Duke. He was speaking in Atlanta and was asked a question. It was a Chamber of Commerce meeting, I think. And, he was asked the question; what has propelled North Carolina to sort of be the new South and to be a leader in economic development and so forth in the South? And his answer– while being president of Duke University–his answer was the University of North Carolina. And I think he was right. I think the university has been a tremendous asset for this state and so when I left, I wanted people to know what was going on. But I also wanted to do what I could to preserve the greatness of our university and hope everybody will do that.”
Over the next several weeks, Coalition for Carolina will share videos from a recent conversation with former UNC System President Tom Ross. We start with the following two videos where Ross shares thoughts on how shared governance should work and what the original vision was for the board of trustees.
Coalition for Carolina: We talk a lot about “shared governance” how has that changed or evolved over the past 10 years?
Former UNC System President Tom Ross: “I think shared governance is a really fascinating concept in higher education, because the way it’s designed to work is for the faculty to have a role in the governance of institutions as well as the administration and governing boards. And I think it’s been healthy for universities to have that kind of shared governance. And over time, it has proven to be a smart way to govern institutions.
Over the last ten years, we’ve seen that begin to shift really everywhere around the country. And there’s been sort of [more] of a role of governing boards and perhaps a little bit lesser role for faculty in the way it’s working now.
I’m not sure if you go back historically and think about the role of faculty that is at the core of an institution. That [faculty] is what makes higher education what it is and what makes a university great is the quality of their faculty. And, so when you have a system that begins to have faculty playing a smaller or lesser role, then I think that can do damage over time to the university.”
Coalition for Carolina: We have a complicated governance hierarchy with legislators, the Board of Governors and boards of trustees. What do you think the role of the trustees is in this structure?
Former UNC System President Tom Ross:“I think when you’re thinking about the role of the board of trustees and the governance structure, particularly in the UNC system, you have to remember that you have a board of governors [that] is really responsible for the major oversight and policy questions.
And, if you go back to when the system was created, we created a new board of governors to represent the whole state and look at all of the system. But we wanted to retain, or there was a movement to retain, boards of trustees because I think people felt like you needed a board on the campus because you wanted a group of people to promote the campus and to enthusiastically endorse that campus and go out and help the chancellor in any way they could. And that’s really what the tradition of the [board of] trustees has been– to advise and assist the chancellor, advise on the budget, advise on a number of different issues, including athletics and that sort of thing. But really to be a booster for the institution.And [while] they’ve had responsibility to approve tenure and some issues that are campus based, I think that [it] was appropriate to have that board [of trustees] really focused on advising the chancellor. But I think what you have to be careful of with a campus board of trustees is that it becomes more of an oversight operations board, which is really what the Board of Governors should be doing.”
UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT) Chairman David Boliek advised trustees to stay out of student government campaigns and elections, but Trustee Mary Kotis did not follow that advice.
First reported in this article by NC Policy Watch, on February 7, 2022 Kotis not only attended the online debate between candidates for student body president, but actively participated in questioning candidates and challenging some of their responses.
Several students complained about this overreach and inappropriate behavior to Student Body President Lamar Richards. Richards sent a complaint to the UNC System president and chair of the UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee, alleging that Kotis attended an online debate, asked questions and offered “pointed, professionally inappropriate responses in the chat”. Richards is requesting that Kotis be removed from the Board of Trustees.
In our February 2, 2022 webinar, Winston-Salem businessman and former Board of Governors member Mr. Paul Fulton provided suggestions for how the UNC system governing bodies can provide stability and leadership that empowers not distracts. Some of his suggestions:
Ensure that the diversity of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees matches the diversity of North Carolina and our universities.
De-politicize the selection process:
Distribute responsibility for appointing board members more broadly.
Restore the governor’s previously stripped appointing ability.
Perhaps adopt a law that would require minority party representation.
Appoint qualified board members who:
Fit with the universities’ needs
Understand that their duty and loyalty is to the institution that the board represents not to the institution or elected official that appoints board members.
Perform their duties according to governance best practices. Their role is to shape policy, not micromanage, nor get involved in day-to-day operations.
Video transcript of Mr. Paul Fulton – Winston-Salem businessman and former Board of Governors member:
I’m a firm believer that our university is the state’s greatest asset. I know a lot of other people that would agree with that. But today, as you’ve heard, a little bit already, our university tells
a very complicated story with world class highs. (We’ve certainly had a number of those.) We also have some dominating headline lows. And in recent years, the turmoil has risen sharply.
The UNC system has had its reputation tarnished. Good leaders have left our campuses and our campus has been upended and distracted. So, to me, it leaves us with one really central question, how can the UNC system provide stability and leadership that empowers not distracts the leaders of our campus level where the real work is really being done?
Put differently, how can we improve governance?
The two basic issues or problems facing our university regarding governance. Number one is over politicization of our governing boards. Number two, the selection process for our government boards and the two are definitely connected.
So here are a few suggestions from these prominent leaders. First, from Don Flow, a prominent Winston Salem business man and leader, and I quote Don, “For decades,
The UNC system has achieved excellence because of great leaders, but good leaders need an environment and a structure that supports them. They need a governance structure that enables visionary planning as well as bold action.”
Flow continues, “We must look at the selection process. If it is not depoliticized, the UNC system will be significantly and permanently diminished.”
Former Board of Governors Chair Lou Bissette said, “This is a diverse state, but we do not have a diverse board. Of the board’s 24 members today, only two live west of Charlotte,” and Lou is very sensitive about that coming from Asheville. Only three are persons of color. Only five are women and only one Democrat. And that simply is not representative of our state.
Former Governor Jim Martin said that just as we need diversity of thought among professors, we also need diversity on the governing board. Governor Martin proposed that we again adopt a law and that is a law that would require minority party representation on governing boards.
And as Senator Burr and Erskine Bowles stated, we should debate among all of us how to improve the makeup of the board, overseeing the UNC schools, ensuring bipartisan representation, which should be a good first step towards fostering stability.
Bissette and others had authority for appointing board members should be distributed more broadly. In the past, including the governor, most folks thought it was healthy.
Bissette and Belle Wheelan, who you’ll hear from in a minute and Chancellor Moeser already introduced, Belle Wheelan the President and CEO of the agency that accredits all 16 UNC institutions both pointed out that a board member’s duties is to the institution that it represents. It’s not to the institution that appoints its members and no micromanagement.
Wheelan, Flow and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl said board members are to shape policy. They’re not there to manage day to day operations. When a board intervenes in management, it drives away executive talent, and we all know that, Don Flow was quoted to say that, “any board that engages in operational details will always undermine the president.” Again, something we all know.
Our goal here is to elevate the discussion of governance. The best outcome we could have would be for a commission to study these proposals and others and make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.
Hugh McColl said recently, “it is time for state leaders to step in and improve a governance situation that has become fundamentally unsustainable.”
While politics have been a factor in university governance in the past, the level of overreach UNC is experiencing is unprecedented. We asked Former Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, and SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan to share their perspectives on how politics in university governance has changed over time. Check out their responses about politics in the accompanying videos. The Coalition will examine the impact current unprecedented governance overreach in future posts.
Coalition for Carolina: How are politics impacting higher education governance around the country?
Dr. Holden Thorp: Well, we have a whole lot of incidents around the country of boards becoming more intrusive into higher education. And, mostly it relates to how conservative politics would prefer to see higher education carry out their work. And, this really comes down to the fact that there has been, over the last about 50 years or so, an effort by the political right to change facts when they need to change them to suit their political goals.
Coalition for Carolina: How did university governance work in the past?
Dr. James Moeser: I was thinking back about my time when I was chancellor from 2000 to 2008 and one of the things I realized is that I never knew quite exactly what particular party a particular board member subscribed to, or whether he or she was a member of a party. I remember once a conversation with one of my best board chairs, Tim Burnett. And, I said to him, “Tim I thought you were a Republican.” He said,” whatever gave you that idea? I’m not a Republican.” I’m not sure exactly what Tim’s party affiliation was, if he had one, but, the point is that with both trustees and Board of Governors members, I was more concerned about their affiliation with an institution or a region of the state…. I was never concerned about their political affiliation. That is to say that governance in North Carolina was essentially nonpartisan. And now today it’s very partisan and very political and that’s a corruption, in my view. And, I think it’s something we are determined to change.
Coalition for Carolina: How have politics and university governance changed over time?
Dr. Belle Wheelan: It is true that for years our boards have been political whether the Democrats were in charge or the Republicans were in charge. It just appears that of recent, not just at UNC, but all across the country, there is a shift in the ideology of board members of what should be done, and what shouldn’t be done at that then puts them on the other side, if you will, of what the administration may propose. And, so you end up with policies that look very different than what we are accustomed to seeing because there is a change in philosophy.
“He loves Carolina.” “She really loves Carolina.” “Of course, they love Carolina.” Referencing generous alums, trusted advisors, sports coaches, legislators, recent graduates, trustees’ past and present, the “loving Carolina” moniker is applied to so many. Everyone it seems “loves Carolina.” I don’t doubt it, but such catch phrases are often a kind of code. At this moment in the University’s history when there is so much right, so much still to do, within a governance structure that is fraught, “loving Carolina” is a code worth dissecting.
Having moved across the country years ago, I am not deeply connected to my Texas undergraduate campus. But if someone were to ask me if I loved the place, if I had a meaningful psychological connection to it, I would probably say yes. I had professors that challenged me, read transformational books, and had important experiences that set me on my professional path. What’s more, I love who I was during my college days enthusiastic and curious about most everything, football games and formals, plays and poetry, studying abroad, new techniques in the darkroom, and chasing the moon down rural country lanes with the top down. That place gave me those memories and so I love it. But I know next to nothing about the day-to-day reality of that campus now, what it takes to run it, what the tensions are among students, faculty, and the administration. My love is based solely in memory.
That is not to say all Carolina alums “love Carolina” because of their memories. Some can see their time in Chapel Hill as part of a long-running river that changes the landscape and is changed by that landscape in return. Others devote time and treasure to the place in hopes that they can preserve or return the campus to some former version of itself. Others “love Carolina” because it is struggling with hard historical questions and working to live up to ideals of equity and inclusion. Some “love Carolina” for more specific reasons. UNC Health Care saved life or limb. A campus discovery or innovation added value to their business. Maybe their community was helped by the incredible state-wide work in which many of our schools engage. Perhaps they’ve become used to having their favorite artists – Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Joshua Bell, or Yo Yo Ma – routinely show up at Carolina Performing Arts. Faculty love Carolina’s “low stone walls” culture that leads to robust cross disciplinarity, committed students, prize winning colleagues. In some ways, we all love Carolina, but, perhaps we love different Carolinas and not all loves have room for everything that happens on our campus.
When I go beyond the “loving Carolina” code, I believe that I am being told to trust people who “love Carolina” without question. “Loving Carolina” protects people from critique whether their decision-making is transparent or opaque, deceptive, or straight-forward, wise or misguided. But in a culture of diverse interests and conflicting values, trust based on handshakes and coded language is failing. It’s time to look under the hood. A love for a winning sports team may be rooted in values like loyalty and submitting one’s desires for the good of the team. A love for a faculty fellowship program may be more about scholarship that thrives through autonomy and solitude. Gratitude, second chances, repaying a priceless debt characterizes a Carolina love rooted in care at UNC Hospitals. Some students love the Carolina of the blue cup and others love the fight for justice. There are Carolina parents who are astounded by the opportunities that come to their children who choose this campus. Some, like me, love all of it and others only part.
This Valentine’s day it’s time to go beyond the platitudes and the coded language. Let’s show that we love Carolina by being honest with ourselves and others about what we value about this place. And let’s talk about it. Such a dialogue could provide an opportunity to bring our governing boards, faculty, staff, students, and administration into more productive dialogue and alignment.