Political makeup of BOG creates hostile academic environment


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

This year has not been a good year for public perception of the UNC Board of Governors. The ouster of President Tom Ross in January and the decision to close three university centers last month has simultaneously prompted concerns about the future of the board and questions about its political motivations.

The recent General Assembly appointments to the board only magnify those concerns. Eight candidates were appointed to the board, with four new candidates and four reappointments. Seven of these appointments are republicans, with one being politically unaffiliated. These board members have donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, according to the News & Observer.

Developments like this are illustrative of the general rightward shift in state politics, a shift which has had a harmful effect on education in the state.

The economic effects of these political changes are often the most emphasized for understandable reasons.

However, the impact these changes have on the academic atmosphere are just as important.

The closing of the three university centers, and particularly the poverty center at Chapel Hill, provide the most prominent example.

Despite the denial of board members, it seems clear that the closure of the poverty center had a political motive. Gene Nichol, the former head of the center, was known to be highly critical of Republican policies. Faculty at the university reacted with outrage, seeing the action as a violation of academic freedom, according to the News & Observer.

While the academic center controversy is the most notable example of this phenomenon, other, less publicized incidents prove the same point.

A New Yorker profile of the political situation in North Carolina quoted Chapel Hill professors who felt so intimidated by the political atmosphere that they resorted to using private, non-university communication when discussing anything “controversial.”

Another faculty member expressed wariness about speaking publicly about certain controversial issues. Yet another describes being contacted by conservative advocacy groups who wanted to look over the professor’s syllabi.

The toxicity of these political influences in the system are apparent. Academic freedom is central to the university experience, and making professors feel that they cannot engage certain subjects greatly harms the educational process.

As these instances show all too well, the dominance of conservative politicians hostile to the mission of public education has hurt more than just the budgets of the schools in the system.

Unfortunately, with these new appointments, we are in for more of the same for at least the next few years.

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

Story: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer