UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Chris Clemens met with the campus Faculty Executive Committee Monday. Credit: Screen grab of remote meeting)

This story originally published online at NC Newsline.

UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Chris Clemens told a Faculty Executive Committee meeting Monday he was surprised by some of the mandates and timelines for a controversial new school that were included in North Carolina’s new state budget. The provost joins faculty, administrators and even members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees in saying they weren’t consulted on some details the legislature mandated for the new school. The budget, including the provisions on the new school (see pages 161-162), became law on Wednesday.

Faculty have long had concerns about the new School of Civic Life and Leadership, which was described as a “conservative center” from its earliest conceptions and more recently as a means of “leveling the playing field” on a campus where conservatives believe liberal views are overrepresented.

The prospect of a new school initiated by the state legislature and its political appointees rather than campus level faculty and administrators is troubling enough, said Beth Moracco, chair of the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill. It further blurs traditionally bright lines between politics and the development of schools, departments and curricula, she said.

It was “jarring” to see some of the specifics of the school set in stone by the budget after faculty had spent the summer working collaboratively with campus administration on what the new school may look like, Moracco told Clemens Monday.

In addition to a $2 million allocation in each of the next two fiscal years, the budget sets an aggressive hiring deadline of December 31 for the school’s dean. Typically, such a hiring process can take a year or more. The budget also requires the university to hire between 10 and 20 tenured or tenure track faculty for the new school from outside the university.

“I was surprised to see it too,” Clemens told the Faculty Executive Committee. “I didn’t know there was going to be language except for the allocation we had already seen.”

Deadlines, mandates and impossibilities

Surprising as some of the details were, Clemens said, he doesn’t see any place where they “collide in an irrevocable or destructive way” with making the new school a faculty-led effort.

Prominent faculty members, however, disagree with that, saying mandating details down to the number and type of faculty to be hired and from where they must come is a clear message from the legislature that a faculty-led process cannot be trusted to create the school the legislature’s Republican majority wants in the way it wants it.

In Monday’s meeting, Clemens and the faculty went over some of the mandates and what they will mean as the school is developed.

The budget’s language describes what Clemens said was fairly “standard procedure” or conforms to faculty ideas of what the school should be — for instance, making it a unit within the College of Arts & Sciences.

Chris Clemens
 Provost Chris Clemens (Photo: UNC-Chapel Hill)

The budget language also stipulates that the school’s leader will hold the title “dean” — unusual for an academic leader within a college that already has a dean.

“We are going forward with the title of ‘Director and Dean’ to distinguish it from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,” Clemens said. “So we will comply with that dean title and I think everyone is comfortable the unit head within the college can have that title and also be reporting up to a dean.”

The deadline, Clemens admitted, is a challenge.

“I would love to comply with all the laws of the state of North Carolina, except where they violate laws of physics or other impossibilities,” Clemens said.

“We will do our best,” Clemens said. “We cannot, I think, say that we know an external person has been identified, secured, hired and on location by December 31. So my answer to that is that it may require that we have an interim. And I don’t think the legislation rules out that we do that. As long as we are moving with alacrity as that is meant in academia, we’ll be okay.”

The search—which will be national and consider both internal and external candidates—won’t be rushed if no candidate can be identified and hired by December 31, Clemens said.

New faculty, new process

While no timeline for hiring other faculty members was set out in the budget legislation, it did mandate at least 10 and no more than 20 tenured or tenure track faculty be hired from outside the university. That unusual provision raised eyebrows among faculty members, many of whom are now working in departments with hiring freezes, or which have lost faculty through attrition as people retire or take jobs elsewhere.

“I would hope any new thing we did at this level would avail itself both of our own faculty who are interested and search for the best external people,” Clemens said.

The legislature setting out the number and type of faculty members felt “a little prescriptive,” Clemens said, but he believes the school can comply with the mandate over time. The current plan is to begin with faculty already teaching at the school in dual appointments. The school could then build to, for example, ten faculty members from on campus and ten hired externally.

That seems like a large number of mandated hires, several faculty members said, for a new program that doesn’t yet have a curriculum, cannot yet grant degrees, and for which it is uncertain if there will be graduate students or what research, if any, will be done.

“Particularly for those of us who have been involved with educational policy, programs and curricula before, as you know it’s a very detailed process,” Moracco said.”You have to be consistent with other degree, other requirement, etc, etc. I haven’t seen anything that’s spelled it out to that degree.”

 Beth Moracco, chair of the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill. (Photo: UNC-Chapel Hill)

Viji Sathy, a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said it seems very unusual to be told how many and what type of faculty members must be hired before any of that has been determined.

“It feels a little bit opposite, like ‘Let’s bring the people in and then develop the curriculum’,” said Sathy, who is also associate dean for Evaluation and Assessment and director of the Academic Leadership Program at the Institute for Arts & Humanities.

“You have to have a lot of trust in that system, where you’re bringing in people not already part of this community to develop that curriculum,” Sathy said.

Though skeptical of the school, Moracco said, faculty members have made a good faith effort to engage with the creation of the school and worked with administration in doing so throughout the summer. That makes it particularly discouraging to have so many specifics now dictated to the university by the legislature, she said, and to feel as though “the train has left the station” on a number of important details.

That’s more than discouraging, said Francesca Dillman Carpentier, a professor who teaches mass communication theory and statistics. She called it “a major breach of honest communication and respect for faculty voice.”

The faculty council will hear from Jim White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at its Friday meeting. Members will bring with them a number of still unanswered questions.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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