Conservative group takes credit for direction of UNC as Board of Governors says it’s not political

If you’ve been following our ongoing coverage of the UNC Board of Governors and the shifting direction of the UNC system, you know two things:

1) A new, conservative tilt to the UNC Board of Governors has brought about a number of controversial changes opposed by students, faculty and staff throughout the system.

2) Most members of the Republican dominated board of governors claim these actions aren’t political.

According to a recent piece from the News & Observer’s Jane Stancill, a prominent conservative think tank is contradicting the board on that second point. In a recent fundraising letter, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (formerly the Pope Center for Higher Education) took some credit for the conservative policy shift and praised the conservative majority on the board for being so receptive to the conservative policy positions it advocates to them.

Stancill quotes the center’s president, Jenna Robinson, on the group’s work:

“And with your help, that work has paid off,” the letter said. “Four problems that we have highlighted in our work have been addressed by North Carolina policymakers in the last six months.”

  • the board’s controversial action in September to bar the UNC Center for Civil Rights from filing lawsuits.
  • a free speech law and soon-to-be policy for UNC campuses.
  • the board’s consideration of hiring its own staff separate from the office of UNC President Margaret Spellings
  • a study of campus equal opportunity and diversity compliance offices, with an eye toward more consolidation.

Robinson said the center has focused on similar issues for a long time, and they are now coming to fruition. She cited a paper she wrote on campus free speech policies seven years ago, exposing problems with various speech restrictions.

“Finally we’ve seen action from the people who are in the position to make decisions,” she said. “Seeing that means that we are pointing out problems that people think are important. We will continue to point out those problems, and obviously not every problem that we point out will lead anyone to take any particular action.”

She acknowledged that there is a receptive audience now, with the Republican-led legislature and the Republican-dominated Board of Governors.

The story goes on to quote board member Marty Kotis – part of a conservative wing of the board who has pushed many of the changes – as saying that the center is very influential on the thinking of the board members. It also quotes board chairman, who has opposed some recent proposals from that wing, as saying the center isn’t as influential as it is portrayed and board members don’t really discuss the analysis it sends to the board.

A recent broadside from the conservative National Review, which took aim at faculty and staff resistance to changes from the board, contained a very blunt assessment of the situation:

What is going on here is that the Board of Governors consists largely of conservatives who are trying to exert control over the very leftist faculty and administration.


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