UNC System schools receive guidance on equality policy

The new plan replaces the repealed DEI policies

NC State has 36 diversity, equity and inclusion administrators, the most of any school in the UNC System. (Photo by PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — All 17 UNC System Schools have received legal guidance on implementing a new equality policy adopted by the UNC Board of Governors on May 23. The policy replaced the system’s diversity, equity and inclusion policy that was previously in Section 300.8.5 of the UNC Policy Manual.

The new guidance emphasizes the need to balance institutional neutrality with academic freedom, student support and the university’s core mission.

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“The operative language of the Policy, taken together, directs campus administrations to abstain from the political and social fray,” the guidance reads. “This is the driving principle of institutional neutrality — that each institution will be the forum in which others may fully debate but will not itself be a participant in that debate. By committing to neutrality, the University’s weighty voice avoids chilling speech and allows constructive discourse to thrive. Institutional neutrality is in fact principled neutrality operating in service to academic freedom and the University’s core mission.”

The guidance aims to guide chancellors and campuses in implementing the new policy while maintaining a commitment to nondiscrimination, equality of opportunity and student success. Campuses must certify and report compliance by Sept. 1.

Key areas outlined in the guidance include a focus on student success while maintaining institutional neutrality on political and social issues, and avoiding endorsing specific ideological content while still supporting diverse student groups.

Universities should generally refrain from making public statements on external matters of public concern, per the guidance on the adopted equality policy.

Centers and programs may need to restructure to comply with neutrality requirements, but academic freedom is preserved for faculty-led initiatives.

Under the guidance, curriculum and course content decisions remain under faculty control due to academic freedom, and research activities and grant applications are still permissible within policy guidelines. However, content-specific administrative positions and divisions (e.g., diversity offices) should be eliminated or modified.

Public service activities should avoid content endorsement or advocacy when administratively directed and contracts with external parties must comply with policy restrictions.

The policy does not apply to student-led activities using university resources, and student and faculty groups retain their rights to organize and invite speakers.

Attached to the new guidance was a memo from UNC System President Peter Hans, who underscored that the system “remains committed to welcoming and serving students of all backgrounds.”

“North Carolina is a vibrant and diverse place, and our public universities should welcome the full breadth of talent in this state,” Hans wrote. “Targeted initiatives to support specific student populations are well within the scope of the revised policy, provided they abide by nondiscrimination statutes and do not require students, staff, or faculty to adopt a political viewpoint as a condition of participation.”

Hans’ memo said the policy is a “powerful affirmation of academic freedom.”

“The goal of principled neutrality is to prevent administrative staff from establishing official stances on contentious issues, precisely so that faculty remain free to teach and research,” wrote Hans. “Students and student groups are likewise exempted from expectations of neutrality.”

“Simply put, the goal is more discussion, not less,” Hans says in the memo. “As President Bill Friday elegantly wrote in 1970, ‘While individual members of the University community deserve our support as they speak and act in a responsible and constructive manner, it must be clearly understood that the University itself, as an institution, must remain non-political.’ This policy affirms that long-held understanding of the university’s role in public life.”

The UNC System joins Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Texas and Utah, as well as Oklahoma University and the University of Wyoming, in dismantling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices, programs and mandates.

2022 report by the James G. Martin Center found spending on DEI staff salaries of $11 million spanning 14 of 16 UNC System schools.

The report showed two schools had more DEI administrators than the other 15 system schools: NC State has 36 DEI administrators and UNC Chapel Hill has 35 such roles. The report cited spending by the two schools at more than $3 million each on just administrator salaries.

In May, the UNC System Board of Trustees voted to pull $2.3 million of DEI funding that comes from state funds and direct it to public safety and policing efforts.

About A.P. Dillon 1342 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_