UNC Chapel Hill swears it won’t chill speech, but violates its own principles

September 6, 2022 • 9:15 am

Many colleges and universities in America have adopted free-speech policies, with more than 80 adhering to some version of the University of Chicago’s liberal Principles of Free Expression.

It would be great if more schools could sign onto that, but what’s disturbing is that of all the institutions in higher education in America, only one—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—has committed itself to adopting the other University of Chicago pillar of free speech: the Kalven Report. I’ve reported on this document at length, so I’ll just say that it forbids any official statement of our University or its units about morality, politics, or ideology—save in those cases (DACA was one) in which the mission of the university—the dissemination and production of knowledge—is threatened.  Thus, despite pressure from faculty and students to make statements about Communism (denouncing it), Vietnam, Darfur and the like (read Geoff Stone’s statement on Darfur), the University has remained silent.

The rationale for Kalven is that “official” opinions on political or ideological issues act to chill and stifle free speech. What untenured faculty member or grad student, for instance, would dare buck an official statement of her department? Even if university statements affirm a political/ideological view that nearly all people agree with, it’s still important to create a climate in which people can dissent. (It is for this reason that the First Amendment guarantees the most odious speech.) Thus Kalven and the Free Expression Principles buttress each other: the former creates a climate in which people are free to express their opinion; the latter prohibits the University from punishing those who do so.

These are two exceptions to the ubiquity of such statements at a gazillion other colleges and universities throughout the U.S., who fall over each other to make official statements on what they favor and oppose, very little of which has anything to do with the mission of a University. (The mission of a university is not to effect “progressive” social change: that’s for other organizations or for faculty and students who wish to issue personal statements.) Some departments at our school have tried to put up such statements, but the administration has ordered them removed.

As I reported recently, one other school has now adopted the Kalven Principles: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (it adopted the Chicago Principles of Free Speech at the same time.) But, as this article in the conservative City Journal notes, UNC has a long way to go, for to fully adopt Kalven means to get rid of mandatory diversity statements, which are rife at UNC. Such statements are inimical to free speech because they force candidates to swear fealty to an ideology they may disagree with, something that a University should not require. (It is sufficient, in my view,  for the University to say that it does not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, ethnicity, “ableness”, and so on. If a professor acts against those principles, they can be sanctioned.)

Needless to say, the University of Chicago prohibits mandatory DEI statements for admission or promotion; that’s for the same reason we have the Kalven Principles.

But UNC Chapel Hill has DEI statements in profusion. I’ll quote one bit of the article below (click to read):

. . . many scholars on both the left and right decry the use of diversity statements. Most recently, the Academic Freedom Alliance released a statement urging universities to end the practice. The statement echoes the language of the Kalven Report, arguing that “[a]cademics seeking employment or promotion will almost inescapably feel pressured to say things that accommodate the perceived ideological preferences of an institution demanding a diversity statement.” It adds: “This scenario is inimical to fundamental values that should govern academic life.”

Mandatory diversity statements are widespread at UNC. The most egregious example comes from the university’s school of medicine. In 2020, the medical school convened its “Task Force for Integrating Social Justice Into the Curriculum,” which released a report outlining dozens of recommendations. These included requiring students to develop “advocacy skills” (the report even listed the political causes for which students should advocate), requiring faculty to adhere to “core concepts of anti-racism,” and revising the school’s promotion and tenure guidelines to “include a social justice domain required for promotion.”

Initially, the medical school indicated that it had accepted each of these recommendations. Even after it walked back the most extreme measures, it stood by its newly issued tenure and promotion requirements, which require faculty to submit a diversity statement and list their contributions to DEI. The guidelines’ list of sample DEI contributions includes “[p]erforming DEI or social justice-focused lectures to students, residents, or peers” and “[p]reparing DEI or social justice curriculum materials.”

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has also jumped on board. As I reported in January, the school recently updated its promotion and tenure manual to “strengthen recognition for anti-racist and equity-focused research, practice, service, teaching and mentoring.” The school’s Anti-Racist Planning Guide for Public Health Pedagogy gives some indication of what “anti-racist” research and teaching might involve—making such outlandish proclamations as “we have all been colonized and socialized in a white supremacist system” and “anti-fatness is deeply tied to anti-Blackness and is pervasive in public health research, policy and practice.”

Note that the statements just noted are debatable ones, not absolute truths. And if they are debatable, the University has no business proclaiming them as truth. The article goes on:

More broadly, the university clearly supports the use of diversity statements in hiring. Recently, I reviewed all the current faculty listings on the UNC website, 19 of which required diversity statements. From the Department of Chemistry to the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, applicants are expected to outline their commitment to the cause. Thus, applicants for a role in the Department of Genetics and Psychiatry must submit a statement that describes their “track record of engagement and activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as a vision of how their work at UNC will continue to support this mission.”

If UNC is truly serious about adopting the Kalven principles, it must stop using mandatory diversity statements. Remember, the banning of such statements is not an approval of bigotry, but a guarantee of free thought and free speech.

7 thoughts on “UNC Chapel Hill swears it won’t chill speech, but violates its own principles

  1. It is easy to see what is coming, if this trend in academia spreads much further. Statements of fealty to DEI will first be required for job applications in public agencies, and then for all job applications. Next, similar affirmations will be required to obtain a driver’s license, receive social security benefits, get a library card, board an airplane, or use a public restroom. The whole of society will quickly come to understand that “Inclusion” means exclusion, that survival depends on swearing loyalty to DEI, and along with that declaring devoted allyship to all the assorted 2SLGBTQI+ communities and on avowing affirmations such as “a trans-capybara is a capybara”. When DEI Committees hold up five fingers and explain that they are four, everyone in society will insist, as loudly as they can, that they see only four. Before long, all work in architecture, science, medicine, agronomy, engineering, and mathematics will be deeply informed by this psychology, and will represent its consequences.

    1. Unfortunately, there exists little, if any, evidence, that this trend is not, in fact, accelerating. According to some reports, all schools and departments at the University of Tennessee are in the process of creating their own “Diversity Action Plans”. Furthermore, few indeed seem to be, within the academy, any sensible voices of dissent from this lunacy. None of this augurs well for the future of scholarship or of rational discourse or of freedom of expression.

  2. OMG about the “anti-fatness” proclamation. How can anyone be willing to sign their name to such a thing? Yes, UNC has a ways to go.

    1. Let’s see…if every person, action, speech, or study is either racist or anti-racist, and anti-fatness is racist (Surely a Med School would have the data), then to be anti-racist, one must be pro-fatness, right?, even if there might be thousands of studies suggesting otherwise. The latter must be ignored (or destroyed) to promote anti-racism, and of course the investigators must be de-platformed and denied access to research funds or the ability to publish. Certainly that will improve the well-being of obese Blacks although I’m confused as to whether it would help obese Whites (if there are any). Maybe there were never any obese folks in KKK hoods (as they carried torches and signs denouncing fat people), or wearing law officer uniforms as they bludgeoned peaceful marchers in Selma and elsewhere.

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