Jessi Rae Morton
The North Carolina General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations has requested that Eric Naisbitt, the UNC System’s Assistant Vice President of Government Relations, provide information about employee training programs at system universities. The requested information would include descriptions, documents and costs related to any diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility training. The entire letter is available in NC Policy Watch’s report from March 17, 2023.
In an article for The Chronicle, Adrienne Lu describes the request like this:
“The letter specifies that colleges should report back about any training program that discusses or references diversity, equity, inclusion or accessibility — as well as subjects like racism, antiracism, oppression, systemic racism, sexism, gender, unconscious bias, critical race theory, intersectionality or social justice.
Colleges must provide: a description of the training topic, key learning objectives, estimated time to complete the trainings, dates of the trainings and whether the trainings were optional or required. Among other things, the commission asked for a summary table of the job classifications of all of those who attended the trainings.”
Unlike similar requests in other states, North Carolina’s request does not include information about courses or programs for students, but there is no clear indication of how the information will be used or whether additional information may be required later. As Lu’s article notes, “Republican politicians have proposed banning colleges’ efforts related to diversity. Critics argue that such offices and programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars and violate academic freedom.”
This is also not the first such controversy in North Carolina. In January, the UNC System Board of Governors proposed a change to the “Political Activities for Employees” portion of the UNC Policy Manual. The change was approved by the Board of Governors on Feb. 23. This change includes the following:
“[T]he University shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment or professional advancement. Nor shall any employee or applicant be solicited or required to describe his or her actions in support of, or in opposition to, such beliefs, affiliations, ideals or principles. Practices prohibited here include but are not limited to solicitations or requirements for statements of commitment to particular views on matters of contemporary political debate or social action contained on applications or qualifications for admission or employment or included as criteria for analysis of an employee’s career progression.”
As reported by NC Policy Watch in January, “‘Andrew Tripp, general counsel for the UNC System, said nothing in the policy would prohibit a student or prospective employee offering their thoughts on any number of political or social issues. But they couldn’t be asked about them in an interview except as it would relate to their willingness to adhere to existing laws, agency policies or licensure and certification requirements. Mimi Chapman, chair of the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, called the proposed change another example of political appointees on the system’s governing board overreaching into an area—hiring of faculty—that should be left to campus processes. “It’s more overreach, but at this point I’m not surprised by that,’ Chapman told Policy Watch.”
Additionally, a report from the American Association of University Professors issued in early 2022 raised concerns similar to Chapman’s. The AAUP report “details the pattern of political interference that has characterized the entire system since 2010, when Republicans won majorities in both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly. The report explains how the legislature subsequently consolidated its control over board appointments, taking away the governor’s power to make appointments to campus-level boards of trustees.”
The effects of the new “Political Activities of Employees” policy changes as well as the use to which the General Assembly may put DEI training information once it is provided are yet to be seen. The UNC System has a March 28 deadline for providing the information requested by the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations.
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