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


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.

More advice for the Class of 2022: ‘Don’t wait for happiness; build it yourself.’ (w/ video)

More than 2,700 students took part in commencement ceremonies over the weekend at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Peter Hans, the President of the University of North Carolina System, delivered this year’s commencement address.

Hans told the Class of 2022 there is a “national happiness deficit.”

In a world filled with genuine problems, he urged graduates to limit their screen time, avoid chasing material possessions, spend more time outdoors and in conversation with friends.

Here’s an excerpt of President Hans’ speech.

‘So don’t let anyone tell you that this era is uniquely unsettled, that our challenges are truly unprecedented. Yes, there’s a war in Ukraine, inflation in our economy, climate change, a racial reckoning, and another worldwide pandemic that upended lives and caused profound grief for so many. These are real problems to be tackled and real losses to be remembered.

But keep a sense of scale. As President Barack Obama wisely counseled a few years ago, “the next time you’re bombarded with over-the-top claims about how our country is doomed or the world is coming apart at the seams, brush off the cynics and fearmongers. Because the truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.”

You’ll be a far better advocate, citizen, and friend — far more able to fight for the things that matter to you — if you can hold onto that gratitude, maintain perspective, and find contentment in your own life. Be a happy warrior. It will ripple forth to many others.’

Click below to watch more from Peter Hans. You can watch the full rebroadcast of the May 14th ceremony  for UNC-W’s Ceremony College of Health and Human Services online here.

Enjoy more of this year’s commencement celebrations here.

Advice for the Class of 2022: Gratitude, integrity are key to life’s success (with video)

If you missed it over Mother’s Day, thousands of North Carolina college students donned their caps and gowns and celebrated graduation over the the weekend.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, New York Times columnist and journalism professor Frank Bruni reflected on his loss of vision and the loss that students experienced as they made their way through the pandemic.

“Many of you felt cheated, and with good reason. But you know what? In crucial ways you got a better education because of it,” Bruni told the graduating class on Sunday.

“You learned fate really does turn on a dime, you learned trouble comes how and when you least expect it, and the you can survive that trouble. You learned that there is no one way of doing things. There are almost always ingenious alternatives.

“You can choose to take comfort and confidence from that. You can regard what you have been through as empowering. That’s the trick of happiness.”

Down the road at Duke University, General Motors CEO Mary Barra delivered Sunday’s commencement address at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Barra, the first woman to lead a major auto company, has been ranked by Forbes and Fortune on their lists of the “Most Powerful Women in Business.”

Barra told the graduates five life lessons from her parent’s kitchen table made an indelible mark on who she is to this day. Those lessons: #1 Do your best, #2 find your purpose, #3 listen to understand, #4 be honest always, and #5 include one more.

“There’s always room for one more. Everyone was included,” Barra reminisced.

“You know there’s a lot that’s not right in the world. Plenty to be worried about. But there are also so many reasons for hope, and I think the collective conversation and the progress we’re making on the power of inclusion is a huge cause for hope,” Barra said. “You are challenging assumptions and pushing all of us to be better. I hope you never stop.”

Click below to hear Barra speak on the importance of integrity:

Got a favorite commencement address  from this year or past years? Let us know.

Top stories: A scathing report on the UNC System, two charters in hot water, water quality violations that result in one of the largest civil penalties ever, and organized retail crime on the rise

12. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:



National faculty organization releases scathing report on UNC System

Thursday’s scathing report on the UNC System from the American Association of University Professors included input from universities across the system.


“The University of North Carolina system is in trouble,” according to a report released Thursday by a national faculty group. “And not the kind of trouble that record enrollments or good rankings can fix. It is the kind of trouble that festers and spreads.”

The 38 page report, released Thursday by the American Association of University Professors, chronicles what the group says is excessive political interference, threats to academic freedom and systemic racism throughout the 17-campus system. It is the product of a special committee’s interviews with more than 50 faculty members, current and former administrators and trustees and members of the system-wide Racial Equity Task Force. The report includes quotes from many of those interviewed, though they are not identified by name.

The report is the first step in a process that could lead the national organization to sanction the system for violation of the group’s governing standards. While the AAUP has no power over the system, a formal sanction from the group could carry weight with professors and further harm the university’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Only 13 institutions have been formally sanctioned by AAUP, according to the group’s own list – mostly smaller, private colleges and universities.

“This is a rare occurrence,” said Michael Behrent, professor of History at Appalachian State University and president of the North Carolina AAUP.

“There is already concern about an exodus of faculty of color and other faculty as well,” Behrent said at a press conference at UNC-Chapel Hill Thursday morning. “The fact that the national organization of professors tells other professors that this institution is sanctioned could pose serious recruitment challenges for this system, with all of the consequences that come with that for its reputation, the quality of its degrees and so on.”

The investigation, conducted by a committee of professors from universities outside the state, was sparked by last year’s controversy over UNC-Chapel Hill’s very public failure to hire acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. But Behrent said the seeds of that controversy were sown years earlier, when Republicans took over state government in 2010 and began a purge of Democrats from the UNC System’s Board of Governors. Critics within and outside the system say that contributed to more partisan and ideological governance and a series of scandals that gained national attention.

Beyond the Hannah-Jones controversy, the report looks at the ouster or politically motivated resignations of system presidents and chancellors, the controversial installation of new system and campus leaders under rules changed by political appointees and failed responses to everything from the toppling of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also addresses a lack of diversity on governing boards, among the faculty at most UNC system schools and high profile incidents in which faculty members said they were singled out for retribution for expressing criticisms of the university or conservative leaders in the state.

The AAUP committee reached out to UNC System President Peter Hans, UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair David Boliek as it did its prepared the report. The group said each of them declined to be interviewed.

The report contains “countless errors,” UNC System spokesman Josh Ellis told Policy Watch Thursday.

Megan Hayes, associate vice chancellor and chief communications officer at Appalachian State, provided Policy Watch with the school’s 8-page refutation of the sections of the report that deal with App State.

The system shared two response letters Kimberly van Noort, the system’s senior vice president for academic affairs, sent to an AAUP representative before the report was released.

“You offer a relentlessly grim portrayal of one of the nation’s strongest, most vibrant, and most productive university systems,” van Noort wrote on March 23, after having reviewed a copy of the report. “It’s nearly impossible to square the bleak portrait you’ve created with the thriving campuses we know and love.”

“During the last six years, we have lowered tuition for nearly all of our students; improved graduation rates among low-income and minority students; and made historic investments in growing and supporting our system’s six historically minority-serving institutions,” van Noort wrote. “We continue to recruit and support world-class faculty, and we secured substantial raises for faculty and staff in the most recent (bipartisan) state budget, as well as more than $2 billion in capital funding for our campuses.”

These are not small accomplishments, van Noort wrote. While the system appreciates dissenting voices and criticism, she wrote, “our harshest critics should not be mistaken for anything like a consensus among the 260,000 faculty, staff, and students across the UNC System.”

In an earlier e-mail exchange, dated October 18, van Noort addressed the Nikole Hannah-Jones controversy specifically. Writing on behalf of Ramsey, van Noort pointed out that the question of Hannah-Jones’s hiring and tenure was handled at the campus and not the UNC System level, but she noted that ultimately the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees did offer a tenured position to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.  The revelation of details as to how and why the offer was held up, political and donor pressure exerted on administrators and the university’s board of trustees ultimately led Hannah-Jones to turn down the position at Chapel Hill for one at Howard University.

“It is hard to read this as anything other than a situation in which a sought-after scholar weighed multiple tenure offers and selected the one she most wanted to pursue,” van Noort wrote.

At Thursday’s press conference AAUP members said that sort of pushback – and regular assertions that criticism from students, staff and faculty don’t represent the consensus opinion on the system’s campuses – is disappointing.

“I came to the UNC System in 2010 because I believed it was one of the best university systems in the United States, if not the world, for teaching and research,” said Nicole Peterson, an Anthropology professor and president of the AAUP chapter at UNC-Charlotte.

But during her time in the UNC system, Peterson said, she and her colleagues have felt the system isn’t living up to its potential.

“This new report backs that feeling with evidence,” Peterson said. “It shows that our reputation and our state’ reputation is suffering. The problems that this report highlights is keeping the UNC system from being one of the best university systems in the world.”

Peterson said the system can be a leader in education, but the number of problems and details in the report are “shocking” and must be addressed rather than waved away or met with justifications.

Behrent said he hopes the university will instead take in the details of the report and begin working with its students, faculty and staff to address them meaningfully in the sort of shared governance promoted by the AAUP and long seen in the system.

The AAUP could take up the question of sanctions by early summer, he said.

“It is my sincere hope that sometime between now and then – after having been ignored for a long time – members of the board of governors, members of the boards of trustees, campus administrators, system administrators, will actually listen to these concerns and agree that it is not a good thing for the system to be sanctioned,- and will talk to us an other campus constituents about trying to solve these problems,” Behrent said.

Read the full AAUP report here.