UNC Board of Trustees preparing for possible end of DEI

Preparations for reallocating millions in DEI funding dominated discussions

The Old Well on the campus of The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The idea of preparing for an end to diversity, equity and inclusion was discussed during committee meetings of the UNC Board of Trustees held on March 27.

The topic was first raised by Board of Trustees (BOT) member Jim Blaine, the former senior adviser to Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), who said “it’s an elephant in the room” that either the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) or the General Assembly will “follow Florida’s path” dismantling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on college campuses.

“I actually think that’s the right decision,” Blaine said. “DEI creates and exacerbates problems on a college campus, it doesn’t solve them.”

Sources at the General Assembly told North State Journal that DEI is on the table for the short session.

Blaine added he believed the BOT should develop a contingency plan and should look at using DEI funding to increase graduate student salaries or fund programs to address the “10% of students that fail to matriculate” to fix six-year graduation rates.

Member Marty Kotis agreed, citing administrative bloat and cost-cutting.

“Let’s say you take the DEI efforts with approximately 37 employees in that category and you use an average of $100,000 a pop for fully loaded cost, that’s $3.7 million — that could be 370 $10,000 scholarships or stipends,” Kotis said.

“You’ve heard us say a lot about cutting cost, whether it’s roofing or other items. But mission creep and administrative bloat is another area where we need to target and make sure we’re addressing root problems rather than masking them. And I think that the sentiment from a lot of folks around the state is that DEI is causing more divisiveness than coherence at the university level.”

An August 2022 report published by the James G. Martin Center said, “North Carolina State University, with their 36 DEI administrators, and UNC-Chapel Hill, with 35, top the list, spending over $3 million each on DEI administrator salaries.”

Trustee Ralph Meekins urged the BOT to wait and see what the BOG instructs them to do.

“I tend to agree 100% with what Trustee Blaine said, particularly with respect to contingency planning and taking a look at where we have allocated funds in our budget to DEI efforts,” said Trustee and meeting chair Dave Boliek. “If there is a change in policy that funds it, we should be prepared.”

Boliek said his “personal belief” is that DEI, as well as critical race theory, have “caused more distrust in higher education than any other effort in modern times.”

Meekins pushed back again, citing a memo from the BOG to the BOT “telling us to stay in our lane” and wait for direction from the BOG.

Meekins then brought up the UNC Strategic Plan, noting “a significant part of it” talks about “the importance of DEI,” and the BOT shouldn’t “all of the sudden change that opinion.”

Kotis expressed concern over mounting legal costs related to lawsuits involving discrimination and preferential treatment, and he mentioned the case brought by Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) against Harvard University and UNC Chapel Hill. In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of SFFA, effectively ending race-based admissions.

Later in the meeting, Mark McNeilly, a professor of practice of marketing and organizational behavior at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, gave a presentation and related remarks about the Strategic Plan.

McNeilly referred to remarks made to the BOT by noted social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who believes universities are confused about their actual mission to pursue truth or other missions like social justice.

“They are in conflict because one pursues an ideological mission; there is motivated reasoning that affects what is taught and how research is performed and what findings are allowed to be published,” said McNeilly. “There are data that UNC may have this issue.”

McNeilly gave the example that UNC’s current strategic plan mentions “diversity 29 times, equity 28 times, and inclusion 25 times,” but mentions truth only once. The school’s course catalog shows a search for gender returned “394 course results, diversity over 200 results, race 189, critical theory 92,” yet the word “civic” only returned 10 courses.

McNeilly warned the “ideological lens” risks a loss of public trust and suggested building a new Strategic Plan built on the “pursuit of truth.”

About A.P. Dillon 1287 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_