Chancellors Given Guidance on Implementing New Diversity Policy

UNC System President Peter Hans (Photo: University of North Carolina System)

The UNC System Office’s division of legal affairs issued on Monday a guidance to chancellors to help them understand what’s expected as they begin implementing a new diversity policy.

Chancellors have until Sept. 1 to submit their certifications and report to UNC System President Peter Hans ’91, who forwarded the guidance document to them.

The UNC System’s new diversity policy, titled Equality Within the University of North Carolina, was approved in May and replaces the former diversity policy, which was adopted in 2019 and required system schools to hire diversity officers and meet certain goals.

The Board of Governors will ultimately assess how the new diversity policy’s plain language is implemented, but the guidance is intended to assist chancellors and campuses as they prepare their certifications and reports.

“Implementing the Policy will require changes in practices across the University — some of which developed and grew as constituent institutions implemented the original version of [the diversity policy enacted in 2019]”, the guidance states.

A broad range of topics — from student success to content-specific employing divisions and employee positions to on-campus centers to student and faculty groups and outside speakers — are covered in the document, which officials said is necessary “to reaffirm the University’s commitment to nondiscrimination, equality of opportunity, institutional neutrality, academic freedom, and student success.”

The new policy “directs campus administrators to abstain from the political and social fray,” the guidance reads. “This is the driving principle of institutional neutrality — that each institution will be the forum in which others may fully debate but will not itself be a participant in that debate.”

By committing to neutrality, the guidance continues, the University’s “weighty voice avoids chilling speech and allows constructive discourse to thrive.”

In a note accompanying the document, Hans told the chancellors the system office has received “constructive feedback from across the University System and from the public” over the last few months. Officials listened to the concerns, he said, adding, “I hope you’ll find that the attached guidance carefully addresses many of the key questions raised in those discussions.”

Hans’ note to the chancellors began by saying the university “remains committed to welcoming and serving students of all backgrounds.” North Carolina is a vibrant and diverse state, Hans said, and its public universities “should welcome the full breadth of talent in this state.” Hans said targeted initiatives to support specific student populations “are well within the scope of the revised policy, provided they abide by nondiscrimination statutes and do not require students, staff, or faculty to adopt a political viewpoint as a condition of participation.”

In a letter sent to the UNC System Board of Governors May 24, a day after the board repealed its diversity policy, about three dozen alumni suggested the BOG should “honor the achievements of DEI programs” including Carolina Covenant, an academic scholarship program, and Project Uplift, a 50-plus-year-old initiative that works to increase access to higher education for high school seniors, in particular those who are underrepresented in postsecondary education.

The alumni letter, signed by current and former members of the Carolina Alumni Board of Directors, also touted Carolina’s Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity as “one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious faculty diversity pipeline programs in the country.”

Hans also told the chancellors the new diversity policy is “a powerful affirmation of academic freedom” and the goal of principled neutrality is “to prevent administrative staff from establishing official stances on contentious issues, precisely so that faculty remain free to teach and research.” He added students and students groups are “likewise exempted from expectations of neutrality.”

Hans quoted a 1970 statement from former UNC System President Bill Friday ’48 (LLB) who said, “While individual members of the University community deserve our support as they speak and act in a responsible and constructive manner, it must be clearly understood that the University itself, as an institution, must remain non-political.” Friday was president of the UNC System from 1956 to 1986 when he retired.

Hans concluded his note by acknowledging “fair-minded implementation of policies around nondiscrimination, equality of opportunity, and principled neutrality will inevitably raise challenging questions…” and pledged his commitment to working with the chancellors “in good faith as we pursue our shared mission of student success for all.”

The guidance document states student success is quantified using metrics identified in the University of North Carolina Strategic Plan, and each campus’ focus “should drive towards meeting or exceeding those standards for the campus and individual students alike.”

University spokesman Kevin Best ’93 said administrators will review the guidance document and “carefully determine their next steps to adhere to the policy” while meeting the Sept. 1 deadline.

“In a diverse and rapidly growing state, we have an obligation as a public university to ensure that our students are successful,” Best said in an emailed statement. “We are focused on building a welcoming environment that maintains our commitment to institutional neutrality and the equality of opportunity for every member of our community.”

— Laurie D. Willis ’86

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