An essay penned by a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claiming a course at one of North Carolina’s flagship schools cast a favorable light on the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack has gone viral in the last week.

The freshman journalism student, Alec Dent, claimed in his essay published on the conservative news site College Fix that readings for the optional freshman seminar course “present terrorists in a sympathetic light and American political leaders as greedy, war hungry and corrupt.”

Problem is, as he told WRAL earlier this week, he didn’t actually take the class or read the listed materials.

UNC offers more than 80 seminar courses to its students but “Literature of 9/11” struck a chord with Dent. The course claims to explore a diverse number of themes related to the September 11 attacks, but for Dent it was not diverse enough.

“The class reading list is what first stuck out to me because it really got me thinking, is this a fair and balanced way of looking at the situation,” Dent said.

The freshman journalism major said that he looked at the reading list as well as the class syllabus before writing a piece for an online student publication called “The College Fix.”

Dent admits that he has not taken the class, nor has he read any of the books on the list, but he still felt the course was too one-sided.

“The more research I did into it, the more it seemed like the readings were sympathetic towards terrorism.”

A student who did do the reading and did take the class took issue with Dent’s description, saying that he enjoyed the class taught by Prof. Neel Ahuja, an associate professor in English at UNC, and found it was balanced.

Since Dent’s review was posted a week ago, it’s gone viral in conservative websites and media outlets, with outrage abounding.

Media Matters took a look at a Fox News segment, which had the header “Required Reading: UNC class sympathizes with 9/11 terrorists” and pointed out that the readings were not required, nor were they pushing a single point of view.

“In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks,” the Media Matters piece states.

Watch the Fox News segment for yourself below.


Scroll down to read UNC law professor Gene Nichol’s response to the expected closure of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. For a fuller account of Wednesday’s meeting, click here.

A committee for the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors issued a much-anticipated draft report on centers and institutes Wednesday, recommending that three centers on university campuses be shut down in the near future.

The report also recommends tightening existing university system policies banning political participation and limiting advocacy work.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

Among the three recommended for closure was the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. The others included the N.C. Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, which may be merged into a department, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University. Winston-Salem State University’s Center for Community Safety could also face closure if it doesn’t find new funding within the next six months.

The poverty center, which was started by former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards, receives no direct state funding.

Its director, tenured law professor Gene Nichol, has rankled some Republican state leaders and conservative groups in recent years by penning editorials decrying how state policies are failing impoverished North Carolina. (Note: Nichol is a past board member of the N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is part of. He had no role in the reporting or writing of this piece.)

“The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center,” Nichol wrote in an editorial published on the News & Observer’s website after Wednesday’s committee meeting. “This charade, and the censorship it triggers, demeans the board, the university, academic freedom and the Constitution.

“It’s also mildly ironic that the university now abolishes the center for the same work that led it to give me the Thomas Jefferson Award a year ago,” he wrote.

As a tenured law professor, Nichol will continue to be employed by the university. He was not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Wednesday’s draft report can be read here.

The review of centers and institutes across the UNC system was triggered by the Republican-led state legislature, which included an item in last summer’s budget requiring the UNC system to examine the centers, and make up to $15 million in cuts. The months-long review began with 237 centers, and the draft report made public Wednesday recommends action at 16 groups, while campuses moved to shut down eight others. A group of nine centers related to the marine sciences are expected to be examined at a later date.

The total dollars expected to be saved with the recommended closure was not available, but are likely to be a fraction of the up to $15 million in cuts authorized by the legislature.

The full UNC Board of Governors will vote at their meeting next week on the UNC-Charlotte campuses whether to adopt today’s recommendations. The current board of governors have all been appointed by a Republican-led state legislature, and attracted attention for its sudden decision last month to fire UNC President Tom Ross and look for a new leader of the 17-campus higher education system.

Much of the discussion at Wednesday’s nearly two hour meeting focused on the UNC Center for Civil Rights, a group within the law school on Chapel Hill’s campus that works with students and engages in litigation around the state. The draft report recommended that UNC-Chapel Hill review the civil rights center in the next year, and “define center policies around advocacy and conform with applicable university regulations.”

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights' director Ted Shaw and other staff

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights’ director Ted Shaw and other staff

Steven Long, a conservative member of the board of governors, spoke out Wednesday against the civil rights center, saying he thought it engaged in partisan politics, advocated for a narrow point of view and routinely sued the state.

“It’s really not an academic center at all; it’s an advocacy organization,” Long said, during lengthy remarks he gave Wednesday.

Long, a Raleigh attorney who was a board member for the conservative Civitas Institute until 2013, made reference to a federal desegregation lawsuit the center’s lawyers, who represented a group of African-American parents, filed against Pitt County.

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There’s already been much said about the lives that the student victims of Wednesday’s triple-shooting death in Chapel Hill led.

Here, you can hear directly from one of the victims, and some of her thoughts about growing up Muslim in North Carolina, and her larger worldview about peace and tolerance.

Yusor Abu-Salha, a 21-year-old newlywed who planned on entering UNC’s Dentistry school this fall, participated in a Story Corps interview with NPR when the national project visited Durham last summer.

In it, Abu-Salha spoke with a former teacher Sister Jabeen at Raleigh’s Al-Iman school and the two discussed how students at the school balanced and blended their American and Muslim identities, and the universal need for respecting others beliefs and backgrounds.

Listen here, or below.



The University of North Carolina didn’t win any points for transparency in a report issued this week that found the Chapel Hill campus failed to respond to a student journalist’s request for copies of athletic department documents.

large_blue_600pxSeveral University of Maryland journalism students, in this report jointly published by the Student Press Law Center, asked 83 public colleges and universities for copies of codes of conduct for athletic departments and teams and other related documents.

While most schools complied with the request for copies of policies related to social media use by student athletes, UNC sat on the records request for more than five months without producing anything. Their inaction stood out from the rest of the schools, the vast majority of which complied with requests for records.

The student journalists also encountered problems at the University of Delaware and the University of Central Florida, both of which denied the requests for information.

Dave Collier, the head of University of Arizona’s journalism school and current president of the national Society of Professional Journalist, called UNC’s handling of the requests “terrible.”

“I don’t know if that’s UNC’s intent here, but it’s really outrageous, that kind of delay,” Cuillier said in the SPLC report. “Does UNC really want to be an outlier? Does UNC want to be seen that way?”

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