National AAUP Releases Report on UNC System, Which May Face Sanction

After months of investigating, the national AAUP has released its report (available here) on the governance failures across the UNC System. The Report documents damaging political interference by elected officials, the Board of Governors, campus Trustees, and the executive administrators who report to them.

The findings of this Report are so damning that it could lead to official Sanction from the AAUP. If the AAUP votes to sanction the UNC System, we join the ranks of Maricopa Community Colleges, Stillman College, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Idaho State University, and Nunez Community College–all of which have been, in recent years, either sanctioned or censured. The UNC System, once a top public university system in the nation, has fallen so far as to face the possibility of sanction thanks to political interference and unprincipled leadership which has failed to uphold the standards that made the UNC System great.

You might not be at all surprised–this is the North Carolina statewide conference of the AAUP, after all, and as one of its members you have been trying to right this ship for years. Campus AAUP chapters and courageous, committed faculty members across the state have been sounding alarm bells, writing letters to administrators and the public, blogging, meeting, and organizing. Various AAUP members and Faculty Senators have tried to meet with members of their university’s Board of Trustees, only to be ignored. At every turn, the Report shows, university administrators in the UNC System have evaded accountability while being pat on the back and given hefty raises by Trustees and the the Board of Governors.

At Appalachian State, for example, the Faculty Senate took a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Sheri Everts, after which Chancellor Everts appointed Interim Provost Heather Norris as permanent Provost with no search process of any kind. Norris, who as Interim Provost had served on a Shared Governance Task Force that embraced AAUP principles, accepted the position. Offered by a Chancellor in whom the faculty expressed no confidence. With no faculty input.

At Fayetteville State, the Report notes that Darrell Allison, a BOG member, was appointed FSU Chancellor by UNC System President Peter Hans, over the protests of faculty, student, and alumni groups. And so at FSU, too, we bid good-bye to effective shared governance.

At Chapel Hill, the Report notes that the trustees refused to grant the tenured position to Nikole Hannah-Jones that had been recommended by the journalism faculty following all the typical procedures of rigorous expert faculty vetting. Wealthy donors, legislators, and trustees who worried about the political consequences of Hannah-Jones’ scholarship used their powerful positions to block the hire with tenure, bringing embarrassment to Chapel Hill and causing Hannah-Jones to lose interest in joining the faculty. More broadly, this kind of overreach by the BOG, legislators, and campus trustees raises serious questions about whose interests these powerful influencers serve. Do they really have the average NC taxpayer in mind? Given that they are mostly white men, as the AAUP Report notes, one must ask how their decisions in their positions reflect and propel structural methods for excluding people of color and their interests.

Across the UNC System, integrity and transparency hit a new low during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNC campuses ignored warnings from health officials, ignored the concerns of the faculty, and misrepresented safety measures and data. Seventeen employees across the UNC System filed a class action lawsuit stating, in part, that the UNC System could not provide employees with working conditions safe from the recognized hazard of the COVID-19 virus. Moreover, once vaccines became readily available and many private schools in NC as well as many public university systems across the country mandated vaccination for most students and employees, our UNC leaders simply shrugged and told us that such a decision was either not legal or out of their hands.

The AAUP Report shows that the politicians and the Board of Governors have been interfering with the UNC System’s mission to engage in a search for truth. The BOG closed down three university-based, privately funded policy centers in 2015–East Carolina’s Center for Biodiversity, NC Central’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change, and Chapel Hill’s Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity. The AAUP stands up for the creation and dissemination of knowledge for the common good. To this end, the AAUP champions the principles of academic freedom and faculty governance because, without these, political interests take over and corrupt our search for truth.

You probably already know several stellar scholars who left a UNC school or who you were unable to attract to your UNC school. This Report explains why. As always, the campus chapters of the AAUP and the NC conference of the AAUP stand ready to help administrators and officials by honoring the core principles of a university, and continuing to champion the UNC System including our ongoing willingness to work to regain its integrity for the sake of the taxpaying public.

Please read the report and share this link widely on your campuses: