A national association of university professors may sanction the UNC System over alleged violations of academic freedom, the group’s North Carolina conference president said Thursday.
A decision from the American Association of University Professors, could come in early summer, as AAUP leaders mull a 38-page report the group released Thursday claiming political interference in campus governance and alleged racism on North Carolina campuses.
The sanction would not be financial, but would serve notice to professors around the country that the AAUP sees “unsatisfactory conditions of academic government,” according to the association’s website.
The report, based on interviews with more than 50 people across the UNC system, decried a lack of faculty input on key decisions and said system leaders are reinforcing structural racism and classism in North Carolina.
The report ticked off examples at multiple campuses and focused in particular on high-profile controversies at UNC-Chapel Hill, including the back-and-forth over tenure for journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the saga around the removal of the Confederate Silent Sam statue from campus and the pressure brought to bear on the UNC’s Center for Civil Rights.
“The University of North Carolina system is in trouble, and not the kind of trouble that record enrollments or good rankings can fix,” the report said. “It is the kind of trouble that festers and spreads.”
A university system spokesman said the report contains “countless errors” and provided a response letter from Kimberly van Noort, the system’s senior vice president for academic affairs.
“You offer a relentlessly grim portrayal of one of the nation’s strongest, most vibrant, and most productive university systems,” she wrote. “It’s nearly impossible to square the bleak portrait you’ve created with the thriving campuses we know and love.”
Because of the report’s findings, the AAUP is considering a rare sanction for the state’s university system, and its Committee on College and University Governance will decide the issue at an early summer meeting, AAUP spokesperson Kelly Benjamin said via email.
Michael Behrent, an Appalachian State University history professor and North Carolina’s AAUP president, said there’s still “a window” for system and political leaders to respond. He also called for professors to organize and said that, if sanctions are levied, it could make it more difficult for the UNC system to recruit top professors.
“Do you want to attend an institution that faculty themselves are running away from?” Behrent said during a press conference at UNC-Chapel Hill. “This is a wonderful system … I do hope it is repaired.”