UNC-Chapel Hill students discuss free expression on campus in public forum

As both students and faculty wrestle with speech issues on campus, a panel of undergraduates came together this week for a discussion on free expression and the environment on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The “Can We Talk?” panel, organized and co-sponsored by the Program for Public Discourse and the university’s Political Science department, was instigated by a recent report on speech issues on UNC-campuses. Mark McNeilly, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s business school and a co-author of the report, gave a brief run-down of his team’s research before moderating the panel.

The four students on the panel said their experience largely lined up with the report’s findings – including not feeling pressure from faculty to conform to certain political views but recognizing their fellow students might judge or socially shun them for their views, leading some to self-censor.

Still, the students said, socializing and debating with those with whom they disagree is an important part of their college experience.

“I just think it’s a good exercise and it helps you get better,” said Cho Nikoi, a history major. “Whether it’s your critical thinking skills or your ability to present arguments. It’s just a good thing to do that, especially as students in school, where we’re doing that every day.”

Maddux Vernon, a double-major in Political Science and Peace, War & Defense, said she finds it helpful to talk – and even debate – with people with whom she disagrees, as long as it remains constructive.

“The best way to do it is to make these conversations normalized and know when to end the conversation once it becomes not productive,” Vernon said. “I think far too many students self censor because they know… it will get into an ugly dog-fight that may lead to them losing friends, may lead to their peers having a lower opinion of them. Which I don’t think is productive.”

Much of her generation isn’t great at coming to compromises, Vernon said, which can be essential to having healthy conversations and leaving the topic when it’s clear disagreements aren’t going to be resolved.

See the entire panel discussion here.

The Program for Public Discourse will hold its next discussion on October 6 as part of its Abbey Speaker Series. The panel discussion, on intellectual diversity in higher education, will be moderated by Dr. William Sturkey, associate professor in UNC-Chapel Hill’s History department.

Details on that event can be found here.

Hundreds of UNC health professionals, med students and faculty push for compromise on Medicaid expansion

Hundreds of UNC medical and nursing students, health professionals, faculty and alumni are asking the head of UNC Health to push the N.C. Health Association to compromise in the current debate over Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

In a letter delivered Wednesday morning, the group asks Dr. Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health, to consider leaving the N.C. Healthcare Association if it will not soften its position on loosening Certificate of Need (CON) laws. The N.C. General Assembly’s GOP majority insist on changes to those laws before passing legislation to expand Medicaid. Loosening them could provide more competition for hospitals, changes for telemedicine and more independence for advanced practice nurses. While the association has supported medicaid expansion for years, it has stopped short of negotiating on CON laws to achieve it.

UNC Health professionals, medical students, faculty and alumni are pushing for negotiating on laws that could increase hospital competition in order to achieve Medicaid expansion.

“Our current political reality is that the only Medicaid expansion bill that can pass the NC legislature has to include CON reform,” the letter to Burks reads. “NCHA’s refusal to negotiate on CON laws effectively mounts opposition to Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, despite the fact that the current CON provisions have done demonstrably little to reduce costs, increase access to care, or advance health equity. Ample evidence shows that Medicaid expansion achieves all three of these goals, and thus should be prioritized.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has also called for compromising on certificate of need laws in order to achieve Medicaid expansion, saying it has taken too long for Republicans to agree on the need for expansion and industry lobbies shouldn’t stand in the way now that it is in reach.

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Elizabeth City State University records new eight year peak for students, continuing recovery from enrollment struggles

Elizabeth City State University recorded 2,149 students this academic year, the school announced this week – the highest student count in eight years.

ECSU, the smallest of the UNC System’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) faced enrollment struggles since its peak of about 3,000 students, but has recently seen a period of growth, with greater success recruiting both in-state and out of state first-year students, transfer and graduate students.

Chancellor Karrie Dixon attributed the continued growth to the NC Promise program, which offers  $500 per semester at four UNC System campuses – Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University.

“ECSU’s steady expansion in key demographic populations proves that the power of NC Promise tuition program is helping us reach more scholars who desire to earn a highly competitive degree at an affordable cost,” said Dixon in a statement on the enrollment increase. “We are welcoming highly gifted scholars who possess strong academic credentials and are laser focused on their collegiate success. We are also attracting students looking to continue and complete their education, which leads to economic mobility for our graduates locally, regionally and in North Carolina.”

Elizabeth City State University

The student population at ECSU increased by 4.6% from the 2022 to the 2023 academic year, with growth seen in most student categories. The university increased its first year students both from in-state and out of state for the fifth consecutive year. Sixty five percent of first year students were from North Carolina. The school also saw growth among first-year students from out of state, a trend the UNC Board of Governors was hoping to see continue when it raised the cap on out-of-state students at the system’s HBCUs.

Last year, the UNC Board of Governors raised that cap to 25% at all five of the system’s HBCUs.

In April, the system’s board of governors approved raising the cap to 35% at N.C. A&T and N.C. Central University and to 50 percent at Elizabeth City State University. The cap at Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University will remain at 25%.

Graduate students at ECSU also increased 20 percent over the 2021 academic year to 116. That’s the highest number the school has recorded in a decade.

“This year, we are seeing how both the value and demand of the ECSU education are bringing new Vikings to our community,” said Dr. Farrah Ward, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. “Aviation Science, our signature program, is the top intended major for first-time freshman, along with Business Administration, Psychology, Biology and Sports Management.”

In April ECSU announced it would provide a one-time $1,000 housing grant to each student living on campus in the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters, capitalizing on a recent survey of U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard data that found the campus to be the most affordable HBCU in the nation.

Late last month the university announced it had received more than $100,000 in grants for two library-related projects. The university will use the money to update the digital inventory and self-checkout systems at its G.R. Little Library as well as becoming a satellite office for the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center’s work digitizing historical documents, photographs and newspapers.

HPU poll: North Carolinians express low trust in most institutions, people

North Carolinians are feeling low levels of trust in most institutions – government and otherwise – and even in each other, according to a new poll from High Point University.

The poll, taken though online interviews from Aug. 18 -25, found exceptionally low levels of trust in the federal government with just 7 percent saying they have a great deal of trust in Congress and 11 percent saying the same of the presidency. The U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Bureau of Investigation did not score dramatically higher, at 13 and 17 % respectively. Only 8 percent of respondents said they almost always trust the government to do what is right. Just one in five (19%) said they trust the federal government most of the time, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they never trust it.

“The HPU Poll tested how North Carolinians have different ideas about the government in Washington,” said Brian McDonald, associate director of the HPU Poll and adjunct instructor, in a statement released with the results. “And this poll shows that a majority of respondents trust the government in Washington only some of the time.”

But the levels of trust were low for a variety of non-governmental institutions as well, including banks and public schools (both 14%) and the church or organized religion (19%).

Respondents in the poll also didn’t express much trust in each other. Just over a quarter (28%) said most people can be trusted while nearly three-quarters (72%) said you need to be careful in dealing with people.

Get the full results of the poll and information on methodology here.

Editorial calls on lawmakers to exempt student debt relief from state income tax, can their attacks on program

A Capitol Broadcasting Co. editorial says Sen. Thom Tillis should can his hypocritical attacks on student loan debt relief.

As was noted in this morning’s radio commentary, North Carolina lawmakers need to act to prevent an absurd outcome for thousands of state residents who will benefit from President Biden’s student loan debt relief initiative.

It turns out that while the federal government and almost all other states will not consider this debt relief as income for tax purposes, North Carolina will offer no such break. Instead, recipients will have to pay North Carolina income taxes on the debt relief they receive.

And, of course, this makes no sense.

As the lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com put it this morning:

The North Carolina legislature is one “that’s never seen a corporate tax cut it didn’t embrace. It wasted little time to link to federal tax codes to exempt those businesses from state taxes on millions they got in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) dollars.”

That’s why, the editorial notes, “It should act with the same dispatch to extend the same break to those with student loans.”

The editorial also echoes some of the main points conveyed in this morning’s Weekly Briefing — most notably that conservative critics like Sen. Thom Tillis should: a) can their hypocritical attacks on the relief program, and b) get serious about taking on the root cause of the debt crisis: inadequate investments in higher education.

As the editorial notes in conclusion:

Education, as the state’s founders clearly saw when they wrote the Constitution, was critical to the state’s civic and economic well-being. They saw it as a responsibility – and obligation – to provide as broadly as possible both access to a quality basic education as well as the additional benefits of higher education.

The General Assembly must act, immediately, to extend the personal tax exemption to those who will benefit from the federal cut in student loan debt.

Even more significantly, it should embark on an effort that fulfills the state Constitution’s promise of a higher education that is “free of expense” on all campuses – not just a select five.

Click here to read the entire editorial, here to explore the Weekly Briefing and here to listen to the one-minute radio commentary.