Press Releases | Civic Literacy

ACTA Lauds UNC Board of Trustees for Bold Commitment to Civic Values, Freedom of Expression, and Intellectual Diversity on Campus 

January 30, 2023 by ACTA

January 30, 2023—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today congratulated the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s (UNC) Board of Trustees for bringing to UNC–Chapel Hill a new academic unit that will explore American civic values with the full freedom of expression, intellectual diversity, and open inquiry that such studies require.
In a unanimous vote, UNC–Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees moved to establish the School of Civic Life and Leadership at the university. The School of Civic Life and Leadership will be a stand-alone program with its own dean and faculty and an ideologically balanced roster of courses, which will count toward UNC–Chapel Hill’s core requirements. The board’s vision does not entail removing or redeploying current faculty; rather, the board intends to recruit additional scholars to enhance the diversity of its faculty and broaden course offerings within the new school. The university’s 30,000 students will have the opportunity to take courses on history, literature, philosophy, political science, and religion, taught with the multiplicity of perspectives that build mature understanding.

The decision to establish the School of Civic Life and Leadership comes amid the thoroughly documented, decades-long deterioration of American civic education. Countless surveys and polls show a surge in political polarization and point to the decline in civic education as a main contributor. A trove of evidence also indicates a disturbing increase in student self-censorship and the entrenchment of ideological monocultures on American campuses.

In a Wall Street Journal article, UNC–Chapel Hill Board Chair David Boliek and Vice Chair John Preyer described the objective of the new school as loosening “political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.” In a letter to the university community, UNC–Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz stated, “As the nation’s first public university, we have a responsibility to be a place that brings together people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to debate the issues of our day.”

Inspiration for the board’s resolution came in part from discussions held at a public UNC–Chapel Hill board retreat led by ACTA in November 2022. ACTA has advocated for a national revival of rigorous civic education and American history requirements since its inception in 1995. ACTA made a strong case that the board should consider restoring more balance to the university’s academic programming, along with offering opportunities to engage in open discourse and robust debate without fear of reprisal, censure, or cancelation. ACTA encourages universities to broaden intellectual diversity on campus through its Oases of Excellence initiative, a network of academic programs dedicated to educating students for informed citizenship in a free society. Today, 85 programs at institutions across the nation bear ACTA’s designation as an Oasis of Excellence.

Chair Boliek observed, “The School of Civic Life and Leadership will invigorate our university with new ideas and perspectives and provide a forum for thoughtful, balanced exploration of issues at the very heart of America’s history and institutions. The board retreat led by ACTA in November was one of the sparks that got the board thinking about the need for UNC–Chapel Hill to have a strong, independent center to promote intellectual diversity and deep engagement with American civic thought and values.”

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff had high praise for the board: “The UNC–Chapel Hill board has perceived the problems and has unhesitatingly embraced solutions. The future of our nation is imperiled if we fail to produce informed and engaged citizens, ready to approach the complexities of our world with open minds and the habits of open discourse and debate. Overall, higher education has not done its part, but the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill has. A few months ago, it reaffirmed its commitment to the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression and adopted the Kalven Committee’s guidance for maintaining institutional neutrality. Now, with the resolution to form the School of Civic Life and Leadership, the board is making a balanced, intellectually diverse exploration of the American experience a signature of this storied place of learning.”

Representative Jon Hardister, the state’s House Majority Whip, greeted the news by saying, “I am delighted to see our state flagship show deep commitment to the values dear to North Carolina and to the principles that undergird America and will sustain its future.”

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