In July of 2020, UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor sent an email to the university’s leadership cabinets requesting responses to three questions regarding “structural racism.” Through public records requests, the Martin Center obtained a copy of the many responses submitted over the following days by Chapel Hill’s academic and administrative units. Our previous article on this subject introduced the chancellor’s DEI questionnaire and examined some of the more extreme proposals supplied by respondents. Below, we look in greater detail at the “solutions” proposed by Chapel Hill’s various divisions and schools.
The questions posed by Chancellor Guskiewicz were as follows:
1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Carolina’s scholarly, co‐curricular, administrative and service efforts to identify and eliminate structural racism on our campus and beyond?
2. What should we be doing/what can you do to stand against structural racism and stand for equity within our/your school/unit?
3. How can we learn from and partner with other schools/units, institutions, organizations or communities in the region to be agents of change against structural racism?
The original email was sent to 40 people and garnered 38 responses. Those who submitted responses included (but were not limited to) the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the School of Information and Library Science, the UNC School of Government, the Office of the Provost, the UNC School of Nursing, the UNC School of Medicine, the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and the UNC School of Law.
Nearly all of the replies to Chancellor Guskiewicz’s questions were long-winded word salads.Of the schools and offices that responded, many have experienced turnover in the three years since Chancellor Guskiewicz’s email, so the current deans, vice chancellors, provost, and directors may not have been involved in this project and perhaps are not even aware of it. Reached for comment by the Martin Center, Chapel Hill’s media relations office asserted that, at the time of Guskiewicz’s request, “campus leadership collected ideas and thoughts … when questions were being raised about how universities across the country and our society could be better and safer for everyone. That exercise represented a brainstorming conversation, not an action plan.”
As for the replies to the chancellor’s queries, they were mostly what one might expect: long-winded word salads offering (supposedly) actionable steps for how UNC-Chapel Hill can end “structural racism.” Unfortunately, Chancellor Guskiewicz did not provide a definition of that term, and it turns out that finding one is quite difficult. The general idea appears to be that the structure of society is such that some people are given an unfair advantage due to their race.
As such, the responses provided to Guskiewicz were largely filled with DEI buzz-concepts. “Racial diversity” was, without a doubt, the most commonly given suggestion, and all 38 responses mentioned something along the lines of increasing it. The School of Information and Library Science, for instance, stated, “Most importantly, we need more people of color leading, teaching, and advising our students” (emphasis in the original). This sentiment was echoed throughout all of the responses submitted. Some units even included data showing how many faculty and students of each sex and race were currently employed or studying at their school, as well as their plans for increasing diversity.
Another common theme throughout many responses was the desirability of lowering standards. Of the responses submitted, five of 38 suggested changes such as removing the GRE as an admissions requirement. Other units shared that they had already implemented that change. Still other responses were more vague in their wording, but the intention was nevertheless clear: UNC-Chapel Hill must be accessible to everyone, regardless of whether “everyone” can meet the university’s academic standards.
For example, the School of Information and Library Science wrote the following:
Excellence can have many facets and consequents: leadership, compassion, and magnanimousity [sic], but also hubris, pomp, and elitism. Elitism is by definition exclusive rather than inclusive. Do we aspire to a more diverse elite or do we aspire to serve a larger portion of the whole population?
Along the same lines, the UNC School of Law seems to have wanted Chapel Hill to be accessible rather than academically rigorous:
Carolina is always living in the vortex of a paradox: striving for excellence versus striving for accessibility. Unless excellence can be redefined with DE&I success in mind, pursuing widely accepted indicia of excellence (e.g., rankings) seems likely to drive us deeper into structural racism.
To combat supposed problems like “white supremacy” and “implicit bias,” 13 respondents suggested requiring DEI trainings for faculty and staff or shared that they already had such requirements. Some shared that they wanted to create a requirement (or already had one) that all students in their school take a DEI course at the start of their program.
Thirteen respondents suggested requiring DEI trainings for faculty and staff or shared that they already did so.Among these suggestions were many statements in support of the Racial Equity Institute (REI), whose trainings a number of respondents had already participated in. As shared in a previous Martin Center article, Chapel Hill has spent nearly $1 million on DEI trainings over the past four years, including a number of REI trainings. And these instructional sessions haven’t been just for faculty and staff. As of September 2019, the Gillings School of Global Public Health began requiring all incoming students to participate in a three-hour training facilitated by REI.
Unfortunately, two Chapel Hill schools made comments about limiting free speech in an effort to combat systemic racism: the Hussman School of Journalism and the Gillings School of Global Public Health. The journalism school’s recommendation was as follows:
Revisit “diversity of viewpoint” in our definition of diversity. There is a fundamental conflict between efforts to promote racial equity and understandings of structural racism, and efforts to promote diversity of thought. These two things cannot sit side by side without coming into conflict.
The Gillings recommendation was perhaps more subtle, but it nevertheless made the specious claim that there is only one way to view or discuss the topic of structural racism:
Our students do not share a common vocabulary and understanding of structural and historical reasons for long-standing health inequities. Many are uninformed about [the] history of racism in NC and the UNC-CH campus. It is important that, no matter where they come from, they obtain a shared understanding of our history and how that history influences our present.
The quotes and data shared here are truly only the tip of the iceberg that made up these word-salad responses. Not only were the responses to Chancellor Guskiewicz’s prompts full of concerning suggestions, but many were actively being implemented at the time the responses were given. Whether they will continue to be implemented is unclear. However, due to recent state legislation concerning institutional neutrality and compelled speech on campus, it would be wise for UNC-Chapel Hill to look into the current status of these DEI practices. Ultimately, the university should not shy away from pursuing academic excellence for fear of perpetuating “systemic racism.” There are still many people who value a quality education over the latest political fad.
Ashlynn Warta is the state reporter for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.