Republican state lawmakers are taking issue with equity, diversity and inclusion programs at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In a letter this week to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, N.C. House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) cited a piece in Carolina Review, the campus conservative publication, about the UNC Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life mandating a training with the group Social Responsibility Speaks.
“Some of the contents of this ‘training’ include the claim that we are on stolen land in North Carolina;” Hardister wrote. “The claim that grocery stores are oppressive because not everyone can reach the top shelf; that airlines are oppressive because not everyone can fit into an average size seat; that our society ‘disempowers, or sometimes harms’ people who are left-handed; that ‘whiteness’ and “white privilege’ pervade our society; and that ‘whiteness’ and ‘white privilege’ can be juxtaposed with other tenets of oppression.”
Hardister went on to say that some of the students claimed they felt “guilty” or “convicted” after the training.
“This is shameful,” Hardister said. “It is reckless and irresponsible to promote the theory that a person (in this case a college student) should feel guilty simply because their skin is a certain color.”
The university should not require “toxic, politically-motivated theories that result in social discord” Hardister wrote, but should instead be “a warm, welcoming environment that offers a diversity of perspectives to all students, rather than mandating divisive, ideological programs.”
As chair of the N.C. House Education – Universities committee, Hardister asked Guskiewicz to justify the training and for information on its cost and how it was paid for. He also asked Guskiewicz whether he will take steps to prevent programs like it in the future and whether his administration has “a plan to address concerns related to politically-motivated indoctrination on campus both in the classroom and in university-sanctioned organizations.”
“Are you concerned about people losing confidence in our education system due to incidents like this?” Hardister asked.
Hardister’s letter was co-signed by more than 50 House members and 15 state Senators. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) were not among the signatories.
The letter, copied to the UNC Board of Governors, UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and UNC System President Peter Hans, is indicative of the current conservative movement against diversity training and objections to ways in which the nation’s racial history is discussed at public schools and universities.
A coordinated conservative campaign
Republicans across the country have seized on this theme this political season, encouraged by conservative political activists who have been open in their desire to make such targets “the perfect villain” in political campaigns.
Conservative activist Chris Rufo, who first popularized the idea of gathering conservative talking-points under the umbrella of “critical race theory,” has written and spoken openly about his motives in doing so.
“We have successfully frozen their brand—”critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” Rufo wrote on Twitter earlier this year. “We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
“The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’ ” Rufo wrote. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”
In a June interview with The New Yorker, Rufo was more expansive about how and why he chose “critical race theory” – a term for a relatively obscure area of study not even encountered by most post-graduate students – as the perfect catch-all for conservative grievances with respect to history and literature curricula, diversity training and a variety of public policies.
“We’ve needed new language for these issues,” Rufo told The New Yorker. “’Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside.”
“‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain,” Rufo said.
The political right has seized on the idea with enthusiasm, passing and pursuing laws that ban certain books from being taught in public schools or being carried in libraries.
Last month, the Johnston County school board passed strict rules about how race and historical issues could be presented after its Republican-dominated county board of commissioners threatened to withhold $7.9 million in funding until policies were put in place to prevent “critical race theory” from being taught in country classrooms. School officials said it wasn’t being taught there.
Under a new set of policies in the county, it is required that “all people who contributed to American Society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes to our culture.” Teachers not complying with that policy may be disciplined or fired.
The conflict has erupted at public universities across the nation as well, including at UNC-Chapel Hill, where over the summer Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones turned down a tenure offer from the school to teach at Howard University. Jones made the decision after conservative activists, prominent donors and members of the school’s board of trustees tried to prevent her hiring and then her tenure over objections to her work on The 1619 Project and her writing on the issue of reparations for Black Americans.
Conservative opposition to concepts taught at public universities and the writing of prominent academics has become a national controversy.
At the University of Florida, at least three professors were told that they were not allowed to testify in lawsuits challenging controversial state voting laws. But at Florida International, a public university, a professor got the green light to testify in a court case in order to defend the state’s voting laws.
This week at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, Ohio author and Republican U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance touted the “wisdom” of former President Richard Nixon saying “the professors are the enemy.”
Vance has himself been a scholar in residence in the Ohio State University Department of Political Science.