At UNC, conservatives claim they’re oppressed, so they’re oppressing the faculty | Opinion

Julia Wall/

North Carolina hasn’t seen much snow this winter, but the University of North Carolina is experiencing storms brought on by conservative snowflakes.

What’s behind the strange political weather is an outcry from conservatives who think the culture of universities discriminates against them. In response, the right-wing appointees who oversee the University of North Carolina are proposing changes in hiring and promotion policies across the UNC System.

The first step was a Jan. 18 vote by the UNC Board of Governors governance committee proposing a change in admission, hiring and promotion policies across the UNC System. It would forbid what its proponents call “compelled speech.” That means applicants for employment or promotion cannot be asked about their views on contemporary issues.

Meanwhile at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Board of Trustees has called for the creation of an academic program to give conservative faculty and students a place to express their views without fear of criticism. The board last week passed a resolution supporting the creation of a School of Civic Life and Leadership.. The school, with 20 faculty members, is intended to promote independent (read conservative) thinking in a time when campuses are supposedly dominated by liberal cancel culture.

A Wall Street Journal editorial promptly hailed the idea as a haven for conservative students who “face harassment on social media as well as disciplinary action for words that offend dominant political sensibilities.”

Despite efforts to cast these moves as a protection of civil rights or respect for diverse opinions, they’re really about protecting the tender feelings of conservatives and serving the one objective that unites and animates today’s Republicans – owning the libs.

Let’s take these one at a time.

First, the governance committee’s resolution says in part: “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.”

This is a solution in search of a problem. People are not being denied admission, jobs or career advances at the University of North Carolina if they do not pledge allegiance to liberal or any other political views. If the Board of Governors members thinks that’s happening, let them present evidence of the problem before they propose a solution. This so-called defense of free speech and political association is actually a repression of the ability of administrators and faculty members to freely and fully assess candidates for admission, jobs and tenure.

As for the School of Civic Life and Leadership, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees role is oversight, not launching academic programs. Nonetheless, Board Chairman David Boliek said the board wants the new program because “it would create the space for free speech [and] a culture of civil and open inquiry.”

In other words, the nation’s oldest public university and one of its most respected institutions of higher education does not already provide “space for free speech [and] a culture of civil and open inquiry.” If that’s true, the board shouldn’t be pressing for a new school. They should close the current one.

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members were surprised by the board’s vote and met on Monday to discuss how to respond. Former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, a critic of political meddling in the university, didn’t need to think about it. “The board doesn’t have any ability to propose a class, to propose a degree, or — for God’s sake — to propose a school,” Thorp said in a report by The Daily Tar Heel. On Twitter he said of the board’s overstepping its role: “No functional board would do this. Dark, dark times in Chapel Hill.”

UNC faculty members should stand firm against this and all proposals based on the myth — and a favorite Republican talking point — that universities engage in liberal indoctrination