College and university presidents: Time to speak up

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University — Photo:

As students, faculty and administrators at North Carolina’s colleges and universities struggle with questions of free speech and academic freedom, veteran leaders in higher education — including a former chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill — are urging them to speak up on difficult issues.

Last week Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, cited a a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey that found 80 percent of presidents said they would self-censor their comments on national political issues “to avoid creating a controversy for themselves or their colleges.”

Last year, when the first in a series of student surveys on speech issues found 68 percent of conservative students at UNC-Chapel Hill reported self-censoring, it was regarded as a crisis by Republican leaders and activists in the state.

But the consequences for the leaders and representatives of college and universities self-censoring at a volatile time in the nation’s history are perhaps more dire, McGuire wrote in her guest column for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The implications for the future of higher education and this nation are dire if we presidents fail to break out of our posture of self-censorship and take our rightful places in the bully pulpit,” McGuire wrote.

In late July the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees adopted both the “Chicago Principles” and the conclusions of the “Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action” in late July.

The “Chicago Principles,” crafted at the University of Chicago in 2014, affirm free expression as essential to university culture. Dozens of colleges, universities, and student and faculty groups have adopted them, including the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council in 2018.

But the principles are not without controversy. Political conservatives, many who believe right-wing speech and ideology are suppressed in academia, support the principles. Some educators believe they preserve free, open and rigorous debate on campuses. Yet others say they fail to address some of the thorniest issues about free expression on campus and can be used to justify ignoring or curtailing student activism.

Far more controversial is the Kalven report, a product of the tumultuous political environment on campuses in the late 1960s. Few colleges or universities have adopted the conclusions of the report. Its critics at UNC system schools say it’s easy to see why: The report emphasizes that a university should stay neutral on controversial political issues.

In adopting the Kalven report, the UNC Board of Trustees said it “recognizes that the neutrality of the University on social and political issues ‘arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.’

The report “further acknowledges ‘a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day,’” the trustees wrote in their resolution of support.

McGuire rejected the idea that colleges and universities have an obligation to be neutral in times of political upheaval and controversy.

From her piece: Read more

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10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Angry about student loan forgiveness? Not me

Here’s what I don’t understand.

Why does it fry your tater if someone who used a student loan to help pay for college gets up to $20,000 of that loan forgiven?

Is it because Lauren Boebert (R-Pluto) quipped the loan was used for “Karen’s daughter’s lesbian dance theory class?” (Boebert loves a dog-whistle so a dig at a lifestyle she doesn’t approve of wasn’t even the worst thing she said all weekend. Speculation that Joe Biden wears adult diapers rolled right off her forked tongue the next day. Classy!)

Boebert’s nothing if not predictable but the rest of y’all? I don’t get the outsized outrage that someone who thought a college degree could lead to a better life is getting a little break.

Is it because you find it a lot more palatable to give billionaires tax breaks? The mental contortions required to seriously whine about college loan forgiveness that benefits working class Americans while CRICKETS on the 1 percenter’s is hard to explain. Maybe it’s because you think the fat cats are job creators whose largesse will trickle down to the working man. Well, no. Except in the way bird poo trickles down your arm if you feed the seagulls long enough.

“B-b-b-but I had to pay mine back” you say. Are you also bitter your property taxes fund education even though you don’t have kids in school? Do you not give to cancer research because your relative didn’t live? How deep does this particular ugly go?

Some of the loudest uproar comes from conservative Christians which, as several common-sense pastors have pointed out, is super weird considering Christianity is founded on the idea of a cancelled debt. Amen?

To be honest, I don’t believe everyone needs to go to a four-year college. I have a two-year degree from a community college that cost almost nothing. It was a good call that led to a great career, and I spend exactly zero seconds regretting that decision.

For the past six or seven years I’ve mentored high school seniors who, almost always, are going to be first-gen college students. My task is to help them craft a compelling “Common App” essay. Here’s what I’ve learned: There needs to be a whole lot more financial literacy taught in schools. Even better if the parents attend as well. Because what happens is, a student with little to no college fund gets accepted to a private school with steep tuition and a glam campus. Usually, the school’s admission rate is high enough to be sus, as the kids say.

I always counsel these kids to get those first two years at community college. No debt. Legit course credit. And two years to grow a little wiser about their path. Plenty of these loans being forgiven are for community college grads in the trades, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. You got a problem with that, too?

It’s disgraceful for bottom-feeding schools with huge price tags and zero academic bona fides to be allowed to show up on campus to recruit. But they do. And these kids’ eyes light up because they see the dream, not the debt.

This may sound like I am talking out of both sides of my laptop but I’m not. I don’t begrudge the desire to live the dream. That’s what being young and hopeful is about. Mistakes (wrong major, bad college) will be made sometimes. But other times, that degree can lead to a job that reverses a generational slide into poverty. So, yeah, forgive that loan. Instead of the mythical “job creators” with offshore accounts, paying zero taxes and only concerned with shareholders, show some love to these folks who now have more income with the boot off their neck. More income to resuscitate the economy, even. Win-win.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write to her at [email protected].

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