Readers of North State Journal know that North Carolina’s universities were woke long before we learned to call them that. You also know that before Feb. 23, 2023, the hard left’s grip on our universities seemed invincible.
Then came the stunning news that an amendment to the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors’ policy concerning “Political Activities” declared that the “University shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment or professional advancement.”
In plain English the BOG has ruled against excluding — or silencing — students or employees whose viewpoint runs counter to the university’s ruling orthodoxy. On March 22, UNC Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees followed with a resolution prohibiting “compelled speech” in the university, that is, the use of mandatory DEI statements in admission, faculty hiring, promotion and retention.
What you might not know is that a think tank based in Raleigh has played a part in the BOG’s decision to sanction “Viewpoint Diversity” in our university system. Founded in 2003 as the John Williams Pope Center for Higher Education, the James G. Martin Center advocates “responsible governance, viewpoint diversity, academic quality, cost-effective education solutions, and innovative market-based reform” to ensure “that public investment in higher education provides value to students, taxpayers, and society”: (full disclosure: I’m on the Martin Center’s board).
The BOG’s growing receptiveness to proposals outlined in the Martin Center’s work scores a win for shareholders and for students who would challenge, with impunity, university professors who claim that “freedom of speech is always implicated in racism” or that the Age of Enlightenment marks the dawn of the “Age of Enwhitenment.”
The BOG’s endorsement of “Viewpoint Diversity” is all the more remarkable when you consider that university leftists have spent two decades trying to discredit a think tank’s research, dismissing our call for accountability to grantors, taxpayers and tuition-paying parents as “anti-intellectual” and “counterproductive.” University overlords would have you think that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff was right when he said that professors uniformly “want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives,” but my own experience researching writing programs for the Pope Center proved otherwise.
In 2006, the Pope Center commissioned me to review the writing programs at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill to determine why the National Commission on Writing had reported that college students were being “shortchanged” in their writing programs. When I agreed not to quote them by name, acclaimed senior faculty at both schools, all of whom identified as “progressive,” noted that the quality of student writing declined when a new breed of “experts” commandeered a university writing program and redefined composition as “a form of social action.” In short, leftist professors are not united in their endorsement of the hard left’s takeover of higher education.
English 101 is not the only course that has been repurposed as a boot camp for student activists, and professors who oppose the university’s leftward drift have made invaluable contributions to the Martin Center’s research — sometimes anonymously — lest they incur the wrath of the “social justice” warriors.
When renowned Yale historian Donald Kagan delivered his farewell lecture in 2013, he lamented the dearth of “faculty with atypical views” at Yale, then followed up with a statement that rests my case: “At the university, there must be intellectual variety. If you don’t have [that] … you are deprived of testing the things that you do know or think you know or believe in, so that your knowledge is superficial.”
Dr. Kagan did not live to see the president of the Common Sense Society say that North Carolina’s flagship university “provides a roadmap … for any institution that wants to restore true education and intellectual inquiry to their rightful place on campus.”
Having overcome the objections of senior faculty, having surrounded themselves with pliant students and skittish administrators, the hard left has ruled North Carolina’s universities unchecked — until now.