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