UNC faculty really did seek openness on the Edwards deal

Note: The objections by select UNC-CH faculty members to a proposed Western Civilization studies initiative has always smacked of opposition to the liberating study itself, given their weak, ad hominem attacks on the donors of the proposal (e.g., the opening salvo.) An open letter by 71 UNC-CH professors opposing the Western Civ proposal, published in The Daily Tar Heel on March 1, however, surprisingly shared several features in common with the following. Below is a letter obtained by the Pope Center in January that was reportedly1 written in protest against the since-approved Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity to be headed by John Edwards.

WE THE UNDERSIGNED FACULTY are writing to express our concerns about the ongoing secret negotiations between high-level university administrators and John Edwards regarding the “poverty” center. This secrecy is disrespectful to the faculty. We call upon Chancellor Moeser, Provost Shelton and Dean Nichol to suspend immediately all negotiations on this proposal.

The lack of transparency and the administration’s withholding of information throughout this process are disturbing. The proposal written by the Law School dean was sent by the dean to Edwards three days after his Nov. 2 election defeat. Since then, the administration has continued to negotiate with Edwards, without notifying the faculty at large.

At the January meeting of the Faculty Council, after faculty queries, Provost Shelton said that the proposal was being “redrafted.” The impression given was that the Law School faculty committee was revising it. But the committee had not even been informed that Edwards sought revision of, or further information about, the proposal.

Further queries to the dean revealed that the administration has been working privately with Edwards to redraft the initiative to reflect better on his election chances in 2008.

Administrators have repeatedly claimed in private that faculty are designing, querying and redesigning the multiplying proposals to Edwards. Dean Nichol said in the only open meeting on Nov. 5th: “At no point during the development of the proposal has Edwards intervened or controlled or influenced in any way what is being proposed. Nor do we expect him to. That’s not the nature of our relationship with him and he fully understands this.” But the faculty committee was informed that the administration was continuing to negotiate curricular matters with Edwards only after the provost was publicly asked whether the senator had accepted the proposal.

Administrative secrecy, especially on a matter of the creation of a brand-new center within a college, constitutes a serious breach of trust with the faculty. Other controversies about this proposal remain: the propriety of using Edwards’ name recognition to influence decisions about major initiatives within the Law School; the marked naïvete of Edwards with regards to issues related to the Center’s proposed area of study, given his routine pleas for raising the minimum wage and confusion over poverty and poor; the contingency built into this proposal from the beginning, by which Edwards can withdraw from the program when politically expedient, after as few as two years.

Thus, we consider it urgent that the College immediately suspend negotiations with Edwards until these serious issues can be settled. We call upon the administration to:

1) Appoint a faculty committee to set guidelines for Edwards-Law School relations. Until the committee’s guidelines have been accepted by the Law School, the administration should discontinue discussions with Edwards.

2) Appoint an intellectually diverse faculty committee – whose proceedings will be open to the Law School – to clarify the definition of “poverty” and “opportunity.” It is the faculty, not Edwards or administrators, who define our centers of study and teaching, and a respectful campus dialogue will help create much-needed clarity on this topic.

3) Establish a clear policy regarding center founding for political rehab.

End note

1. Faculty members’ names are withheld because the Pope Center cannot verify that this letter actually was written by UNC-CH faculty, let alone sent. It could, we suppose, be an expedient hoax to underscore differences in UNC-CH faculty reaction between this highly secretive, major university initiative (given that the politics of the matter were in alignment with nigh on all of them) and their reaction to the Western Civilization proposal (whose “politics” make them more agitated than a hippie in a soap factory).