Taken together, the letter says, the proposed changes “effectively constitute a war on higher education in our state.”
The letter, like the open letter from more than 670 faculty members at UNC-Chapel Hill this week, opposes the expansion of powers of the North Carolina General Assembly and its political appointees and the marginalizing of faculty and campus-level administration. AAUP represents faculty across the 17-campus UNC System and, at the national level, tens of thousands of faculty across the country.
Last year, after a long investigation, the national AAUP produced a scathing report on UNC System governance that highlighted growing political influence on the university system and its individual campuses.
The letter, reproduced below, says the proposed changes — ranging from the elimination of the academic tenure system and prohibition of diversity efforts to changing how university and community college leaders are chosen — could endanger millions of dollars in research grants, lead highly qualified faculty to pass up or leave positions across the university system and even endanger accreditation.
Open letter from the NC American Association of University Professors on higher education-related bills
The recent introduction into the State Assembly of a bill that would eliminate tenure in North Carolina’s universities and community colleges adds to a list of proposed changes that effectively constitute a war on higher education in our state. Barely one year after the national AAUP’s blistering report about the state of UNC system governance, North Carolina’s successful and admired institutions of higher education confront a range of new threats to proper governance and effective education for the state’s students:
- House Bill 715. This bill, called the “Higher Ed. Modernization & Affordability Act,” will “prospectively eliminate academic tenure and establish [a] uniform contracting procedure for faculty at constituent institutions and community colleges.” Contract terms will range from one to four years; the new law would go into effect on July 1, 2024. Without the protections of tenure, academic freedom–meaning the freedom to inquire, research, teach, and speak out about important issues in which faculty expertise can make a positive difference–will cease to exist.
- In apparent confirmation of the AAUP’s 2022 diagnosis of systemic racism within the UNC system, the Board of Governors’ is now attacking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts at UNC-system universities and community colleges. This is part of a larger effort to curtail and prescribe higher education across the state.
- HB 96 violates the core principle of academic freedom, dictating a course requirement on U.S. history/government, specifying content for the course and even determining the weight of the final exam.
- Senate Bill 682 would alter the governance of North Carolina’s community colleges, consolidating power in the General Assembly. System presidents, who would be appointed by and beholden to the Assembly, would gain veto power over the selection of local college presidents and could dismiss individual trustees on local campuses. Meanwhile, membership on the State Board of Community Colleges would be determined “entirely by the House and Senate” by 2027.
- We note the absurdity of the creation of a School of Civic Life and Leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill amidst ongoing assaults on academic freedom. This initiative, reflecting Board members’ claimed desire for greater partisan balance among the professoriate, came from Board members rather than faculty. It is a clear violation of the AAUP principle that faculty should shape curriculum and “those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process” (per the AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities).
Our legislators and Board members apparently never learn.
- They would endanger hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues that come into North Carolina from U.S. government grants and private foundation grants that presuppose research based on the freedom of inquiry that the presence of tenure allows for and disciplines.
- They would discourage faculty from providing the world-class, cutting-edge learning experience in our classrooms that our state’s students need and deserve.
- They would threaten the loss of UNC’s accreditation, which would make it impossible for North Carolina colleges to offer federal financial aid to students, and would damage the reputational value of their degrees. Poor students and students of color that attend our HBCUs would be most adversely affected.
- They would encourage world-renowned faculty to leave the state for tenured positions elsewhere, taking with them scarce specializations and valuable intellectual capital. At the same time, they would severely curtail institutions’ ability to recruit new faculty and graduate students.
Our public universities have long been a major contributor to North Carolina’s economy. But this is only because their faculty have academic freedom from political pressures in their research and teaching, and because UNC campuses have policies that reinforce racial, economic and gender equity in student and employee access and opportunity. Since 2010, unfortunately, legislators have made North Carolina educations less affordable by their failure to increase per-student appropriations in line with inflation, by raising tuition and fees, and by increasing sales taxes for the great majority of residents, even while decreasing income taxes only for the most wealthy and for corporations. Thus naming HB715 the “Higher Ed. Modernization & Affordability Act” is an outrageous falsehood. Some would call it gaslighting.
We call on all stakeholders in public higher education to contact your representatives and the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Public Universities in North Carolina (on the Commission, see here) to speak out against the radical deformation of higher education that many conservatives are now promoting. Specifically, we request that you ask your representatives and the Governor’s Commission to work together to reverse the assault on traditional protocols and norms and to return to AAUP core principles on academic freedom, tenure and shared governance as well as its position on racial justice. Together, we can ensure a flourishing and just system of higher education for present and future North Carolinians.
Model email/letter for parents of North Carolina students:
“Dear Representative/Senator/Commissioner________. As a graduate of _______, and the mother/father of X children who have attended UNC universities/community colleges, I write to implore you to use whatever power you have to stop the continuing attacks on the core operations of our state’s colleges. The research conducted at these schools fuels North Carolina’s economy. The transformative educations students receive in their classrooms prepare them for productive civic lives and rewarding professional careers. The expertise and innovation of North Carolina’s faculty have earned the state a reputation as a national and international leader in the development, dissemination, and application of powerful ideas. Please don’t kill the golden goose. Allow our colleges and universities to continue their excellent work without unwarranted meddling by political actors of any stripe.