RALEIGH — See if you can follow this logic. The Faculty Assembly of the University of North Carolina has just asked a regional accreditation board to investigate recent policy disputes involving the UNC system. If the accreditors conclude that something is amiss, they could sanction individual UNC campuses, which would endanger the ability of those campuses to attract research funding, facilitate financial aid, and compete nationally and internationally for faculty and students.
In other words, activist professors are threatening their own livelihoods and the well-being of their students in an attempt to embarrass or browbeat the Republican-led General Assembly and the UNC Board of Governors it has elected.
This “do what I say or I’ll punch myself” style of political discourse isn’t exactly foreign to North Carolina. It may remind you of the politicians and activists opposing HB2 who encouraged companies not to invest or hold events in our state until the law is repealed — and then cited the company boycotts as evidence that HB2 was economically damaging and should be repealed.
But the recent letter from the UNC Faculty Assembly to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is arguably more egregious, because of its obvious partisan bias. The relationship between the UNC system — which is a taxpayer-funded department of state government, after all — and the politicians who control state government didn’t start in 2010 or 2012.
Did the faculty ever complain to accreditors about Democrats routinely using the university system as an employment service for former Democratic officials? Did it object to the long procession of Democrats hired to run the UNC system and individual campuses while Democrats dominated the General Assembly and UNC’s governing boards? Did it complain when then-law school dean Gene Nichol and other UNC-Chapel Hill leaders created a “poverty center” in 2005 for former U.S. Sen. John Edwards to use as a platform from which to make another run for president?
No. In fact, the later decision of a UNC Board of Governors composed mostly of Republican appointees to close the poverty center was itself cited by the Faculty Assembly in its letter as an example of political meddling in university affairs — which was a bit like coming home after a trip, discovering that your house had caught on fire, and then suing the fire department that responded to it for causing water damage to your carpets.
Although university folks talk incessantly about diversity, university campuses are about the least-diverse places you’ll ever find when it comes to the ideas, inclinations, and political affiliations of its employees and contractors. I have no doubt that those active in the UNC Faculty Assembly do not see themselves and their institutions the way many North Carolinians do, as thoroughly suffused with insularity, ideology, and no small amount of inanity.
A lack of perspicacity is one of the very real and debilitating consequences of inadequate diversity, properly defined. These faculty activists are the villains of tales they don’t hear and the butts of jokes they don’t understand.
During recent legislative debate about a bill to reduce the size of the UNC Board of Governors from 32 to 24 members, Democratic senators protested that shrinking it might reduce its diversity. Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise responded by offering an amendment requiring faculty members across the UNC system to “reflect the ideological balance of the citizens of the state,” plus or minus two percentage points.
GOP lawmakers got the point, as did most of their Democratic colleagues, even if they didn’t agree with it. But some academic observers were aghast, and proceeded to question the amendment’s constitutionality and practicality. Perhaps they will write the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to amend the complaint, citing the Hise amendment as another egregious example of political interference with academic freedom.
All these events suggest, among other things, that some denizens of UNC campuses need refresher courses in irony, sarcasm, and parody. Surely the English professors aren’t too busy with other pursuits to help out.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.