This article was updated Feb. 21, 2023.
The Faculty Council passed a resolution Feb. 17 that asked the UNC Board of Trustees and the administration to take “no further action” on the School of Civic Life and Leadership, which would teach students debate and deliberation skills, until the faculty can develop and “properly discuss” a proposal for the institution.
The UNC Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution on Jan. 26 calling for the creation of the school, which they said is needed to increase students’ capacities for debate and deliberation with the goal of developing better citizens and leaders. They called on University administrators to “accelerate its development.” Some faculty members maintain the school is unnecessary and politically motivated.
Some faculty members also said trustees should have consulted them about the school and have not articulated their vision for it.
“The creation of a new, degree-granting school on the UNC-CH campus is a matter for which faculty are responsible,” the resolution said. “The proposal for a new School of Civic Life and Leadership did not originate with the faculty, was not communicated to the faculty in advance and has not been studied by the faculty.”
The resolution also states faculty members’ questions about the proposed school have gone unanswered.
Dave Boliek ’90, chair of the Board of Trustees, told the Carolina Alumni Review last week he expects plans for the School of Civic Life and Leadership to proceed.
“The current leadership of the Faculty Council is certainly free to take whatever position they want,” Boliek said. “My sense is, however, that the current Board of Trustees will continue to strive to keep Carolina a national leader on many fronts. Ultimately, we are appointed to serve the 11 million people in North Carolina who own the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
When he introduced the resolution for the school in January, Boliek said its core mission would be to develop both the capacities and knowledge necessary for healthy democratic citizenship and that its curriculum would pay particular attention to the foundation of the American experience. He also told Fox News that the school “is all about balance” and UNC has “no shortage of left-of-center progressive views, … but the same really can’t be said about right-of-center views.”
Some trustees in arguing for the school cited a 2022 Carolina survey that found about one in five UNC students chose not to voice an opinion in class for fear of what their fellow classmates or professors may think. Of those, 54 percent who self-identified as conservative reported self-censoring their opinions, compared with 9 percent of liberal and 21 percent of moderate students.
The proposal calls for a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty members — some newly recruited and some from within faculty ranks — and would build off the Program for Public Discourse, formed in 2019 to strengthen students’ abilities for deliberative debate, with the goal of enabling them to serve as better citizens, civic leaders and stewards of democracy.
During the council meeting, some faculty also said trustees described the resolution approving the School of Civic Life and Leadership as an outgrowth of a $3 million budget request to implement the existing requirements of the IDEAs in Action curriculum, which incoming Carolina students began taking this academic year. The council passed a separate resolution stating the two issues “are conceptually separate undertakings that should not be entangled.”
Administrators have said the school will follow the same formation path as the recently established School of Data Science and Society. At the Faculty Council meeting Gary Marchionini, dean of the School of Information and Library Science, former provost Bob Blouin and others discussed the process that led to the creation of the School of Data Science and Society, which was announced in spring 2020 and officially launched in fall 2022. At the time, it was UNC’s first new school in more than 25 years, Blouin said.
Although he didn’t mention it by name, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz acknowledged during the meeting that the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership hasn’t followed normal procedures. “While the idea of a new offering at our university began outside of our typical process, we are bringing the proposal into line with how initiatives like this are evaluated and have always been evaluated and developed at our university,” he said. “We will follow that process in exploring and considering new ideas. I have no doubt about our faculty’s ability to lead this process and continue to foster an environment of rigorous debate and scholarship. As I like to say often, we’re built for this. This is what we do as faculty: take interesting ideas and research them, deliberate and develop them, and that will never change if this is to move forward in any way.”
During discussions before the vote on the resolutions, some faculty members said they do not oppose the School of Civic Life and Leadership. Keith Sawyer, the Morgan Distinguished Professor of educational innovations in the education department, said he “can attest there are faculty here on campus who would be delighted to join a group like this, to support a school like this, and that includes me. So there certainly isn’t just the provost, the chancellor and the Board of Trustees” who support the school.
Allison Schlobohm ’10 (MA, ’16 PhD), clinical assistant professor of management and corporate communication at Kenan-Flagler Business School, said, “We do have multiple schools that would be very interested in this development — the School of Government, communication studies department — and I’m just wondering if anyone knows if any of those programs have been involved?”
Other faculty members said they feel maligned by what they perceive as insinuations by some trustees that they try to indoctrinate students and do not allow them to freely express themselves in their classrooms.
Guskiewicz told those attending the council meeting that “in times of polarity, the faculty will do what we have always done. We will set the academic standards for this institution and serve as the marketplace of ideas in developing and delivering curriculum to serve our students as future citizens of a changing and challenging world.”
Faculty Council Chair Mimi Chapman ’97 (PhD) said the resolutions will be transmitted to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Chris Clemens and trustees this week. Trustees are not bound by faculty resolutions.
— Laurie D. Willis ’86