UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees votes down anti-discrimination resolution

Resolution sought to eliminate discrimination in hiring and admissions

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020, file photo, people remove belongings on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., amid the coronavirus pandemic. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH — A resolution that would eliminate discrimination in hiring and admissions was voted down by UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustee members at its Nov. 4 meeting.

The resolution is just a single line that reads, “The University shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to an individual, group or company on the basis of race, sex, color or ethnicity.”

UNC-CH Board of Trustees (BOT) member Marty Kotis made the resolution.

“The goal of this motion is to make sure that people are treated fairly and equally. When we start talking about quotas, or underrepresented, or overrepresented, or labeling people,” said Kotis at the meeting. “I think that’s not treating everybody fairly. It’s treating them based on a category, and that, in of itself, does not sit well with me.”

Kotis was appointed to the BOT by the General Assembly this past summer. He had previously been a member of the UNC System Board of Governors.

“I think this resolution is honestly disrespectful. That’s the only way I can sum it up,” UNC-CH student body president and BOT member Lamar Richards said at the meeting. “The idea that somehow by creating a more diverse campus you have to lower our standards is just false. It’s not true. And the language of this motion is not going to fly with me.”

Kotis pointed to a 2020 memo from UNC-CH journalism school dean Susan King to UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz detailing a diversity plan to address structural racism in hirings, admissions, and campus offerings and culture.

King admitted in the memo to removing the minimum GPA requirement of a 3.1 for incoming students to recruit more minority students. She wrote that students could write a “short essay” as a replacement for the GPA requirement, a practice that she also admitted had only led to 1% increases in both minority and minority male admissions.

Richards, who is black, also issued an op-ed on the UNC-CH undergraduate government website titled “Brace for Reckoning.” The op-ed criticizes the school as “rooted in racism” and tells black students to “look elsewhere” for a college.

“You cannot reform a system rooted in oppression, racism, and hatred. Tragically, the term ‘reform’ at this university continues to be used as a subtle tactic to oppress students, faculty, and staff—past, present, and future alike,” wrote Richards.

The reaction from board member Ralph Meeks was a concern the resolution would have “a negative effect on our ability to have a more diverse campus.”

“I’m not anti-diversity at all. I just think it’s a lazy approach to start setting quotas, and it’s not fair,” Kotis said in an interview with North State Journal. “Instead, you should allow personal choice and personal freedoms and what people want to do, and you should allow the best and the brightest to apply.”

“It’s fine to go out and recruit and try and find more of the best and the brightest and a diverse best and brightest,” Kotis said. “But when we start saying, ‘we have overrepresented or underrepresented communities,’ we’re really talking about quotas.”

Kotis mentioned the 2014 lawsuit brought by Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) which claimed UNC-CH was discriminating against Asian and white students in its admission policies.

A U.S. District for the Middle District of North Carolina judge ruled in favor of UNC-CH in the SFFA case on Oct. 26. Judge Loretta Biggs, an Obama appointee whose decision on Voter ID was overturned by the Fourth Circuit, delivered the ruling.

SFFA’s attorney Ed Blum told North State Journal they will appeal the decision.

“The plaintiff is claiming that Asians were viewed as over-represented because they make up maybe 11% of the student body, but less than three percent of the state population,” said Kotis.

He went on to say that some people talk about how women were overrepresented because, at Carolina, it’s significantly more than a majority of women. The question then arises of whether or not they would want to give preferential treatment to men.

“Well, that’s discrimination too, and I just don’t think we need to start playing God here,” Kotis said. “We need to let the best and brightest apply and not judge them based on their race, sex, national origin, or ethnicity. It’s just not our business, and we don’t need to label them that way.”

During his BOT meeting remarks, Kotis noted that his resolution is similar to California’s Proposition 209, which essentially banned affirmative action practices such as using race, color, sex, ethnicity, or national origin in public education settings. Last year 57% of California voters upheld that law via Proposition 16.

Kotis said that his motion is about more than just education; it applies to hiring practices too.

“People have tried to narrow down and say I was only focused on race in admissions, but that’s not what my motion was,” Kotis told North State Journal. “That’s not what we discussed. It has ramifications outside of just education.”

We’re treating people based on their category, and that, by its very definition, is discrimination,” said Kotis. “And people say, ‘well, we’re not discriminating.’ Okay, well, then why the resistance to my motion?”

BOT members Rob Bryan and Gene Davis gave similar remarks as Meeks.

In his interview with North State Journal, Kotis said he hopes his resolution opens up further discussion on the matter.

“We had a very civil and polite discussion about what I think is an important topic,” Kotis said. “It had the desired result of getting that discussion in the public eye so that we can have a broader conversation about it, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Kotis also outlined three ways the resolution might be addressed in the future.

“The Board of Trustees could choose to pick it back up again if they were convinced to do so,” said Kotis. “The Board of Governors could pick it up and make it a system-wide policy, or the legislature could pick it up and either enact it with Gov. Cooper’s approval or, if there is a legislative super-majority change or change in the governor, they [legislature] could pass is at a later date.”

Kotis said there is also the possibility that some of these cases could head to the Supreme Court and the law may change to require more blind standards or non-discrimination rules.

He also said he does not plan to make the same motion next month or in the January BOT meeting.

About A.P. Dillon 539 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_