National faculty group condemns UNC System for political interference, institutional racism

AAUP members addressed problems across the UNC System in a scathing 38 page report in April.

A national faculty group voted unanimously Thursday to condemn the UNC System Board of Governors and UNC System office for a pattern of political interference it says threatens academic freedom, chills speech and  perpetuates institutional racism.

As Policy Watch reported in April, a special committee of the American Association of University Professors released a scathing 38 page report detailing its investigation into problems across the UNC System. On Thursday, at the group’s national convention in Washington, D.C., the group’s governing council voted to officially condemn the system and its board of governors. The resolution cited a series of actions, “among them the 2015 closure of three of the system’s university-based policy centers, the nonreappointment of distinguished professor of law Eric Muller to the UNC Press board, and the adoption of a policy implementing the 2017 North Carolina state “Free Speech” legislation on UNC’s seventeen campuses—that have placed the basic protections of academic freedom in jeopardy and made the overall environment for academic freedom in the UNC system insecure.”

Michael Behrent,  professor of History at Appalachian State University and president of the North Carolina AAUP,  said the formal “condemnation” was an unusual move AAUP in dealing with universities.

“Indeed, the problems identified in the AAUP’s report were so extensive and varied—the gutting of shared governance, disregard for academic freedom, rampant institutional racism—that the AAUP, for the first time since 2015, had to invent a new term to capture its concern: ‘condemnation’ (the more traditional terms, “sanction” and “censure,” being too limited in scope),” Behrent said.

“The AAUP’s condemnation of the UNC System should be an alarm call to every North Carolinian who cares about higher education,” Behrent said. “The word is out: something is seriously wrong with the University of Carolina. The country and world are finding out about it.”

The condemnation was also avoidable, he said.

“Things could have been different,” Behrent said. “If the UNC System had really been concerned about its direction, it could have expressed a willingness to work with AAUP when the report was released. The AAUP has existed for over a century. It has played a crucial role in making American higher education the envy of the world, and in establishing the principles for a democratic educational system in a democratic society. Yet the UNC System’s leadership is so beholden to its political taskmasters that it could not even comment on the report’s substance.”

In a statement AAUP released the report in April, spokespeople for the UNC System called it relentlessly negative and said it was riddled with errors, especially disputing sections wherein the AAUP called out actions the system says its politically appointed board of governors is empowered to take.

“We know that the UNC System will claim that it embraces equity and diversity while denying tenure to faculty who denounce racism, that it will present itself as a champion of free speech while making sure faculty don’t say too much, and will claim to support shared governance while disregarding the perspective of academic professionals,” Behrent said. “In North Carolina, one party is responsible for this situation, and the other has washed its hands of it. North Carolina has a robust tradition of higher education. Its citizens deserve leaders who aren’t content to let the UNC System wither away on their watch.”

The UNC Board of Governors effectively purged all Democrats for several years. The current board has just one Democrat and has been criticized for not reflecting the political, racial and gender diversity of North Carolina or the UNC system.

The AAUP’s statement of condemnation addresses the board’s composition directly, saying “UNC Board of Governors and System Office, the racial composition of which is disproportionately white, have fostered a culture of exclusion, marked by a lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making, that has prevented faculty members of color from moving into positions of leadership and authority, chilled the climate for
academic freedom, represented a constant threat of political interference, and perpetuated institutional racism.”

Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, said she was not surprised by Thursday’s condemnation.

We’ve been holding listening sessions for the faculty over the last couple of weeks to talk about this report, to give people a chance to react to it,’ Chapman said. “It has certainly rung true for people as they have watched it unfold in real time. And they’ve had their own personal experiences that aren’t documented in the report.”

Chapman is also one of the organizers of the Coalition for Carolina, a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni who have been sounding the alarm over political interference at the UNC system’s flagship campus.

People may have issues with specific sections of the report, Chapman said, but “the overall spirit and documentation and analysis is not in dispute.”

There’s a lot of grief that faculty members are carrying around, people who have been here a long time and have been through a lot of difficult periods on this campus,” Chapman said. “But they’re dismayed by this political interference and they don’t know what to do. It is also true that young scholars are very concerned for their future here.”

The condemnation is another in a series of high profile embarrassments for the school with consequences to its reputation.

“If this makes people think about the damage they’re doing to this place, perhaps it’s a necessary consequence,” Chapman said.

Pew Research Center releases report from focus groups with transgender, non-binary Americans

This week the Pew Research Center released its findings from focus groups of transgender and non-binary Americans, in which they discuss their experiences, challenges and hopes for the future.

As Pew noted, their research comes at a time of increased visibility and acceptance of transgender people in American life as  evidenced by the U.S. State Department and Social Security Administration announcing earlier this year Americans  will be allowed to select “X” rather than “male” or “female” for  sex markers on passports and Social Security applications. At the same time, a number of states – including North Carolina – have moved to limit the rights of transgender people, what children may learn about them in school and may make teachers, counselors and administrators out LGBTQ students to their parents before they are ready.

One such bill, N.C. House Bill 755, is one procedural vote from heading to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. Though Cooper has signaled he will likely veto the bill, Republicans see it as a wedge issue in the coming elections.

From Pew’s announcement of its survey data:

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes people who describe themselves as a man, a woman or nonbinary, or who use terms such as gender fluid or agender to describe their gender. While relatively few U.S. adults are transgender, a growing share say they know someone who is (44% today vs. 37% in 2017). One-in-five say they know someone who doesn’t identify as a man or woman.

In order to better understand the experiences of transgender and nonbinary adults at a time when gender identity is at the center of many national debates, Pew Research Center conducted a series of focus groups with trans men, trans women and nonbinary adults on issues ranging from their gender journey, to how they navigate issues of gender in their day-to-day life, to what they see as the most pressing policy issues facing people who are trans or nonbinary. This is part of a larger study that includes a survey of the general public on their attitudes about gender identity and issues related to people who are transgender or nonbinary. Those survey results will be released later this summer.

These focus groups were not designed to be representative of the entire population of trans and nonbinary U.S. adults, but the participants’ stories provide a glimpse into some of the experiences of people who are transgender and/or nonbinary. The groups included a total of 27 transgender and nonbinary adults from around the U.S. and ranging in age from late teens to mid-60s. Most currently live in an urban area, but about half said they grew up in a suburb. The groups included a mix of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial American participants. See Methodology for more details.

 

The report delves into how those in the focus groups identify, when and how they realized they were transgender or non-binary and their experience navigating medical care, among other issues.

The report also uses pull-quotes from participants in the focus groups to highlight their experiences in their own voices.


Read the full Pew Research Center focus group report here.

Read more about methodology here.

UNC-Chapel Hill a finalist for national “most secretive public agency” award

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a finalist for a dubious national honor — an award recognizing the most secretive public agency or official in the country

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Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) announced the five finalists for its annual Golden Padlock Award this week. UNC-Chapel Hill made the list for
“a pattern of secrecy that includes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight cases involving open meetings law violations and the disclosure of documents detailing campus sexual assault cases.”

IRE also cited the school’s investigation of its own faculty over a leaked donor agreement, a story first reported by Policy Watch last August.

From IRE’s announcement:

“This year, the university targeted a coalition of its own journalism faculty after members filed formal requests seeking the university’s donor agreement with Walter Hussman, an Arkansas media magnate who gave $25 million to the journalism school and who also lobbied against the university’s hiring of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The university rejected efforts to release the donor agreement for months, and after it was leaked to a reporter, officials launched an investigation into the source of the leak. As the school was renamed in Hussman’s honor and faculty members pushed for details, records released earlier this year showed the university attempted to access data on the hard drives of faculty without their knowledge. The names of those journalism faculty members, and the rationale for accessing their computers, was redacted.”

Other finalists for the award include the Arizona Senate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Utah’s Department of Corrections and the City of Huntsville, Alabama and its police department.

The winner will be announced at the  IRE22 conference on Saturday, June 25, in Denver, Colorado.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s inclusion on IRE’s roll of dishonor is the latest in a series of public black eyes for the university.

In late April, the American Association of University Professors released a scathing report on the UNC System that could lead to sanction by the national group. The report’s sections on UNC-Chapel Hill focused on some of the same controversies cited by IRE.

Earlier this month, a national accrediting group officially downgraded the accreditation of the university’s journalism school, citing diversity and governance issues.

Meredith Poll: Majority in NC support legal access to abortion, more divided on other “culture war” issues

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade, a new Meredith College poll shows more than half of North Carolina registered voters surveyed support keeping Roe’s provisions in the state or expanding access to legal abortion.

Just over half of those surveyed (52.6 percent) said they want to see a state law preserving the level of access to abortion under Roe or expanding it further. Just under 40 percent said they want a law that severely restricts access or makes it illegal in all circumstances.

Just 10 percent of respondents said they would like to see abortion made illegal in all cases and  9 percent said they would like to see it severely restricted, making it illegal after 15 weeks. A larger number – 20 percent – said they would like to see it made illegal unless a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life or the pregnancy is the result or rape or incest.

“The expected decision by the conservative Court to overturn Roe will eventually lead to a very divisive fight over abortion law in North Carolina,” said David McLellan, director of the Meredith Poll, in a statement on the results. “Currently, the Republicans cannot overturn a veto from [ Democratic] Governor Cooper, but if they pick up a few more seats and get a veto-proof majority, we may see North Carolina go the way of Texas or other states and immediately try to restrict abortion rights, even if most of the state’s citizens favor protecting abortion rights.”

Respondents were sharply divided by partisanship on the issue of abortion than nearly any other issue in the poll. More than three quarters of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said they would like to keep the current level of access to abortion or see it expended. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they would like to see more restrictions or for it to be made illegal.

The poll also showed a sharp divide by age of respondents. More than two-thirds of respondents 18-24 years old said they want to keep the level of access under Roe or see it expanded. Older voters were much more evenly divided on the issue.

The poll found respondents much more divided on other “culture war” issues that may play a part in the coming midterm elections and beyond – including laws restricting mentioning of LGBTQ people in schools

The poll asked registered voters in the state about the Florida law restricting public school teachers and employees from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in lower grades. The legislation, called “Don’t Say Gay” by critics. allows parents to sue the school system if they believe teachers and staff members violate the law.

Nearly half (47.1 percent) of respondents in the Meredith poll said they believe public elementary school parents should be able to sue schools if teachers or staff discuss sexual orientation or gender identity. Those surveyed were evenly split on the question of enacting this type of law for all public school grade levels, with 41.5 percent in support and 41.7 percent against.

A strong majority of Republicans (nearly 60 percent) said they supported such a law in North Carolina elementary schools. The poll found strong support among respondents identifying as Hispanic/Latinx and older respondents.

“Public education will continue to be a political battlefield in 2022 and beyond,” McLellan said in his statement. “Cultural issues such as discussing sexual identity, banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports, and banning books with certain content are all part of the culture wars being fought in electoral politics. As we saw in the Virginia governor’s race last year, Republicans can be very successful in appealing to parental rights on a host of educational topics.”

The poll also asked respondents about evolving marijuana laws, noting that 18 states and Washington D.C. now allow legal medical and recreational use by adults and another 17 allow adult medical use.  In North Carolina, only cannabidiol (CBD) use is legal, except on some tribal land. A bill expanding medical use in the state could see movement this month and has the support of influential Republican state lawmakers.

More than 60 percent of respondents said they would support expanding legal access either for medical or recreational use.

Nearly 38 percent of respondents in the Meredith poll said they are for expanding medical and recreational use while nearly 23 percent said they would support legalizing medial use only. Another 18 percent said they are for keeping the law as it is, allowing CBD use only and 13 percent said all forms of marijuana and CBD should be illegal in the state.

Greensboro Bound Literary Festival to feature Nikole Hannah-Jones, panel on journalism and activism

Book lovers, mark your calendars: The Greensboro Bound Literary Festival will bring more than 50 authors to the Gate City May 19-22 to discuss their work and its inspirations.

Among the most prominent of the featured authors will be Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will speak at an event at N.C. A&T as part of the school’s series on the racial history of the city and the practice of redlining.

Hannah-Jones’s panel will bring her to the nation’s largest historically black college or university (HBCU) nearly a year after a political controversy led her to choose Howard University over a tenured position at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hannah-Jones is expected to discuss the fight for an up-or-down vote on her tenure at her alma-mater in addition to her New York Times bestselling books, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and The 1619 Project: Born on the Water.

Nikole Hannah-Jones will appear in conversation with Dr. Jelani Favors of N.C. A&T.

Hannh-Jones will appear in conversation with Dr. Jelani Favors, the Henry E. Frye Distinguished Professor in N.C. A&T’s Department of History and Political Science.

Favors’ own award-winning book, Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism, examines the ways in which HBCUs like A&T have always been incubators of activism and social change. Favors calls that tradition a “second curriculum” beyond the classroom. From educating national civil rights leaders, attorneys and legislators who beat back racist laws and policies to fostering activists like the A&T Four who sparked the national sit-in movement, Favors said HBCUs have always been at the forefront of difficult social conversations.

On May 22 N.C. Policy Watch’s own investigative reporter Joe Killian will host a panel on journalism and activism featuring Tara Green (Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson) Tessie Castillo (Crimson Letters: Voices from Death Row) and Lynden Harris (RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW: Life Stories from America’s Death Row).

Journalist Phoebe Zerwick (Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt) will appear on a separate panel May 21. Policy Watch recently spoke with Zerwick, director of the journalism program at Wake Forest University, about her book. Listen to that conversation here.

More information on the free festival, including time and location for individual panels, available here.