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:

NC-AAUP to NC Leaders: Protect the CORE of Our Higher Education Institutions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NC-AAUP to NC Leaders: Protect the CORE of Our Public Higher Education Institutions

May 29, 2020.  The current moment of economic dislocation requires reassessing our institutions and taking bold creative risks that will strengthen and improve public higher education in North Carolina. In determining the best paths forward, we must let faculties determine the ways in which we preserve our mission and serve the state. This effort must be deliberate about shaping what happens in our classrooms and labs, in the processes and structures we utilize to support our work, and in the governance of our institutions.

To ensure we enact the best options, we must remember that our universities advance economic and social development precisely because they exist to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society. Moreover, we recognize in times like the present where the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on persons already at socio-economic disadvantage, we must take seriously our goals as public educational institutions to provide equality of access, opportunity, and advancement for all citizens.

As we move forward through this challenge, four “CORE” principles should guide the leaders of North Carolina.

  • Commitment to student learning and faculty teaching and scholarship.
  • Openness to the community.
  • Realizing workplace equity.
  • Engaging and integrating the faculty in all university decision making.

The first principle recognizes that teaching, learning, and creating knowledge are the heart of what the University does. Therefore, we must prioritize financial support and job protections for our faculty engaged in instruction and research. Recent years have seen the de-professionalization of the academic enterprise through the attrition of tenure track faculty positions as well as pay that is often below market and employment instability for an ever-increasing number of contract positions. In order to build educational programs that address our global, national, and local challenges by advancing critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity across a range of fields and disciplines, we must commit to preserving and cultivating our most valuable resource.

The second core principle recognizes that non-profit universities exist to serve the public good and should be in vital relationships with local, state, national, and international communities. At this moment of crisis, we realize that continuing operation requires changes to the traditional “residential” model of education and will permanently alter our institutions. Achieving connections between knowledge generated and the communities served has too often been complicated by the gradual accretion of organizational units and operational practices that lock institutions into “the way it has always been done” and stifle innovation. However, in March 2020, faculty all over the country demonstrated their ability to effect dramatic transformation of how a university operates by developing new learning models in less than two weeks as well as contributing essential research and human power to examine a range of issues related to the pandemic. This dedication to the core mission of the institution underscores the central role faculty and their expertise must have in creating responses to this new situation. That work could include developing options for learning in interdisciplinary community collaborations, building varied models for scheduling, new ideas for use of our brick and mortar facilities, and perhaps creative suggestions for revenue generating formats such as credentialing or re-tooling tracks correlated to emerging needs and life-long learning rather than to earning a degree.

As a third principle, we must embrace structuring non-profit universities as models of workplace equity that demonstrate employment ideals, such as fair wages, safe working conditions, and reasonable job protections. The current university environment is marked by administrative overload and excessive investment in ancillary enterprises that can eclipse rather than complement the academic mission. The maintenance of a sprawling, stratified bureaucracy and investment in non-essential functions drives up costs in tuition and fees at the expense of the core academic mission. We have the opportunity to streamline our institutions by taking an “all hands on deck” approach that practices a less hierarchical, more equitable distribution of workload and tasks, promotes a just wage scale across all positions in the University, emphasizes positive working conditions and job security. In this way, our educational and research efforts can continue to advance social and economic progress for all citizens of North Carolina.

Finally, we need to engage and integrate faculty into all levels of decision making. Not only should faculty be primary drivers in developing and creating academic programs, but they should also have significant representation in areas that impact that work such as setting budget priorities and grappling with reduced revenue. As stated in the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities (jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges), sharing university governance responsibilities does not mean simply informing faculty of decisions. Mere consultation with faculty leaders via representative bodies is insufficient. Sharing governance requires utilizing faculty expertise in the daily and on-going running of the university.

The UNC Faculty Assembly statement of May 18, 2020 underscores the importance of faculty involvement in decisions about delivering instruction during the pandemic. Our statement of principles is intended to guide the fiscal decisions you will inevitably be forced to make. To these ends, we are looking to you as leaders in North Carolina to enact these “CORE” commitments as you move forward in the weeks and months ahead.

The Case for Careful Review and Transparency for Non-Traditional Sources of Funding Such as That of the Charles Koch Foundation 

On November 12, 2019 UNC Greensboro’s AAUP Chapter hosted a lecture entitled “The Charles Koch Foundation and Contracted Universities: Evidence from Disclosed Agreements” given by Professor Douglas Beets, an accounting professor at Wake Forest University, where he has taught since 1987.*  Professor Beets made a compelling case for why non-traditional sources of funding such as the Charles Koch Foundation should receive more careful review and transparency at all universities.  As traditional sources of funding are diminishing nationwide— particularly funding from state governments – these non-traditional sources can affect the quality of higher education—for good or bad—long after the initial funding disappears. 

Beets became interested in the Charles Koch Foundation as he became aware of its quest since 2000 to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to US universities, including a significant amount of money to Wake Forest. Charles Koch, who founded the CKF, is a staunch Libertarian. The eighth wealthiest person in the world with financial resources of $80 billion dollars, Koch has devoted his life to politically and financially supporting small government and minimum regulation of business.  Prof. Beets served on its Senate task force to review the CKF’s expectations in return for its generous contributions. 

Between 2008 and 2017, the CKF has contributed over to $230 million dollars dozens of major universities across the country, including Wake Forest, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and UNC-Greensboro. What particularly caught his attention while serving on the task force was the fact that, until recently, CKF had kept its agreements/contracts with universities secret. When confronted with public pressure and the Freedom of Information Act, CKF changed course:  currently CKF specifies that its agreements going forward will be open to public disclosure, though the foundation has not seen fit to make the bulk of its past agreements public. 

Consequently, Prof. Beets has gained access to 14 CKF contracts with universities that were established before 2019. But he has discovered some disturbing patterns within these contracts:

  • All contracts specify the creation of an institute or center that aligns with the Cato Institute and/or Ayn Rand philosophies.  (Charles Koch philosophy)
  • All contracts require the establishment of tenure-track positions that align with Libertarian views. (Charles Koch philosophy)
  • Most contracts specify that these tenure-track positions be established in Economics departments and/or Business Schools.
  • Most contracts have identified a specific individual or individuals to manage the established centers or institutes.
  • Most contracts have mission statements that advocate for teaching and supporting political philosophies that call for less government regulation and more free enterprise. 
  • All contracts insist that public disclosure must be approved by CKF.

Prof. Beets stated that the contracts all emphasize and support “academic freedom,” but Beets notes that whereas AAUP supports the role of the instructor as the primary source for decisions involving  academic freedom, the contracts dilute this primary source of decision making by including the university centers/institutes, students, and staff, as well as the instructor, in determining ultimate decisions involving academic freedom and curriculum planning.  

Moreover, Beets noted that when faculty senate learned that CKF proposed a gift to Wake Forest of three million dollars, the Senate voted to establish a task force to review the award.  The task force recommended the rejection of the donation if CKF insisted on its standard terms, which two thirds of the Faculty Senate thought threatened the pursuit of academic freedom, a right of the faculty. Yet the university administration did not sever its ties with CKF, and its contributions to Wake Forest have grown from three million dollars to five million dollars. While this money will support tenure-track positions that espouse CKF philosophy for four to ten years, the university may need to support these professors for the duration of their careers, should CKF withdraw their funding.

*Douglas Beets earned his Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is also a Certified Public Accountant, licensed in the state of Tennessee. Dr. Beets has served on the accounting staffs of Armco Steel Corporation, Eastman Kodak Company, Russell & Purkey, CPAs, and Arthur Andersen & Co. He joined the Wake Forest University faculty in 1987 and is a tenured full professor. BEETSHis teaching interests are business ethics, auditing, and financial and managerial accounting principles and his research interests include business ethics, accounting education, accounting for the environment, corporate responsibility, and international corruption. His articles have been published in Accounting Educators’ Journal, Accounting Horizons, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, Business and Society, Business and Society Review, CPA Journal, Journal of Academic Ethics, Journal of Accountancy, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Global Ethics, Research on Accounting Ethics, Scientometrics, and other academic and practitioner journals.

–Post by Deborah Bell

The 2019 Meeting of the North Carolina AAUP Conference

On October 4 and 5, the North Carolina State Conference of the AAUP held its annual meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Rudy Fichtenbaum, President of the national AAUP, and Jasmine Banks, Executive Director of UnKoch My Campus, joined faculty from Appalachian State, UNC-Charlotte, Elon University, Shaw University, Duke University, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina Central University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. We had lively, productive, and inspiring discussions of intersecting national, state, and campus-specific challenges to academic freedom and of student and faculty resistance to on-going threats.

Rudy Fichtenbaum spoke on Friday night. As UNC-CH professor emerita, Sherryl Kleinman reported in her recent post on Academe Blog, Fichtenbaum emphasized:

 the importance of faculty organizing, whether public employees can [legally] engage in collective bargaining or not. Faculty should recognize threats to academic freedom and shared governance, acting in solidarity against those threats. We can create a “union” of tenure-track, tenured, and non-tenure-track faculty.

Kleinman also summarized the key questions raised by Banks’s Saturday morning presentation, which started by laying out the Koch Foundation’s long-term plan

to turn colleges and universities into the kinds of places that will make students true believers in free-market ideology. As Banks noted, the Kochs have learned to rebrand their efforts so as to hide their overall goal.

Banks’s talk brought to mind two questions. First, will faculty who take money from funders with a clear political agenda find themselves, even unconsciously, shaping their program in ways that keep the donor happy? If donors are displeased, they will stop supporting a program after the initial gift. Second, who would a faculty member or director not take money from? Everyone has a line they will not cross. Medical schools, for example, stopped taking money from the tobacco industry. As Jane Mayer wrote in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the Kochs are among the major funders of climate change denial. Taking money from the Koch Foundation legitimates an organization that denies the major crisis of this historical moment.

Banks and conference attendees focused on two Koch-funded programs already established at UNC-Chapel Hill, a minor and certificate in philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE) and the Center for the Science of Moral Understanding. A Program for Public Discourse was just launched at UNC-Chapel Hill with seed money from a North Carolina donor, the Dowd Foundation, which is also funding a capitalism studies program at UNC-Charlotte. As Banks demonstrated, the justifications for such programs are strikingly similar to those presented by the Koch Foundation (see Frank Dowd’s op-ed in the Charlotte Observer) and offer more paths by which collective faculty control over the curriculum can be circumvented or coopted.

During the afternoon on October 5, a panel of faculty from Appalachian State and Elon University returned to many of Fichtenbaum’s points in their discussions of organizing for salary increases and administrative resistance. The presentations highlighted the importance of solidarity between tenure-track and non-tenure-track (contingent) faculty and of mobilizing public support for faculty.

The conference concluded by agreeing to launch this website/blog where we will periodically post North Carolina AAUP-related news and electing new state AAUP officers:

  • President: Michael Behrent, Appalachian State University
  • Vice President: Michael Frierson, UNC-Greensborough
  • Treasurer: Chet Dilday, Fayetteville State University
  • Secretary:  Richie Zweigenhaft, Guilford College.

Following this successful conference, the North Carolina AAUP looks forward to expanding and protecting academic freedom on campuses across the state.

by Karen M. Booth, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill and Secretary-Treasurer, UNC-CH Chapter of the AAUP.