Emails give reason for anxiety about UNC after Ross


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

The announcement in January that UNC President Tom Ross was being pushed out was a cause for uncertainty and anxiety for many citizens in the state of North Carolina.

We do not know who will replace Ross, the circumstances of his ouster give a fairly clear idea about where the UNC system is headed.

In all likelihood, Ross will be replaced with someone who shares the educational philosophy of other conservative lawmakers in the state. Unfortunately, that probably means someone who insists on even greater “efficiency” for the cash-strapped system and will lead the way to push a more vocational focus throughout the system.

A public records request by the News & Observer reveals that several North Carolina Republicans emailed their support to UNC Board members over their decision concerning Ross.

Our own U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx was quoted as saying in an email that she was looking forward to new leadership and hoped “it will be someone who asks pertinent questions and helps reshape the system.”

That tone of triumph that comes through in these emails is not unexpected, but disturbing considering the effect that the decision to push Ross out has had a chilling effect on expression throughout the entire system.

By firing Ross, the board sent a message that opposition to the plan of state leaders to “reshape” the system would be met with real consequences. The board doubled down on this message in February by closing university centers which had expressed liberal viewpoints or interests.

And the effect extends far beyond just top officials and prominent personalities. In a New Yorker piece published in March, Chapel Hill professor Tamar Birckhead revealed that he had been told to use his personal cell phone, rather than university email, to discuss “controversial” topics.

The New Yorker article mentioned another unnamed professor that said the political climate had an effect on the way he approached teaching.

For a university system that must necessarily survive on the free exchange of ideas, this type of atmosphere is toxic. It is bad not only for professors, but also the students whose quality of education is directly affected by this.

The current situation in North Carolina is making it increasingly necessary that students come to understand the way that education is being attacked in our state. At the very least, students should become more vocal in expressing that what is going on in the state is unacceptable.

And, if the celebratory tone of many of the emails is any indication, things might not be getting better anytime soon.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.