The UNC Board of Governors goes after one of its critics. So much for free speech on campus.

·3 min read

The campaign to destroy the University of North Carolina is picking up steam. With the UNC-CH Board of Trustees’ decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones still making headlines across the globe, the Board of Governors decided, once again, to directly enter the fray.

This time, Eric Muller, one of the university’s most accomplished scholars and teachers, was removed as a member of the governing board of UNC Press. Muller, board chair for the last six years, had been unanimously endorsed for reappointment by the Press’ board members. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz approved the nomination and forwarded it to the BOG. Without explanation, in late May, the BOG’s University Governance Committee nixed Muller’s appointment. Peter Hans’ spokesman said he couldn’t “speculate” on the Committee’s motives. It was reportedly the first time a recommendation by the campus nominating committee and Chancellor had been cast aside. New day.

One (unnamed) BOG member explained to NC Policy Watch:

“Muller has had a target on his back for a couple of years. There was a lot of anger that a prominent law professor (would criticize) the deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans” over Silent Sam. “Professors are supposed to be teaching classes and not making statements to the press about what we do.”

It’s interesting to recall that, in 2017, the General Assembly passed the “Restore and Preserve Free Speech on Campuses Act” – giving the BOG enhanced powers, and obligations, to enforce the First Amendment. It was like putting Donald Trump in charge of a truth squad.

The BOG’s move was, no doubt, a slap at both Muller and UNC Press. Our political overseers are again striking high. The Journalism School, which got the back of the hand in the Hannah-Jones decision, is one of the top ten in the nation. The UNC Press is one of the most famed, accomplished, pathbreaking and venerated institutions affiliated with the University of North Carolina. Sort of like our basketball teams.

The Press, founded in 1922, was the first university press in the South and is one of the oldest in the nation. It is the greatest publisher of works about North Carolina and the American South. Closely tied to Howard Odum and the Institute for Research in Social Science, it was one of the first publishers to establish a continuing program about African-American and, later, Women and, then, Native American studies. It has published over 6,000 titles and won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize. I’m not aware of any prizes the BOG has won. These Republicans have odd notions of “meritocracy”.

My colleague Eric Muller has been on the law faculty for almost a quarter century. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II. His three books on the internment have notably changed our understanding of that tragic era. He received the Patterson Prize in western history. His research, with Sally Greene, convinced the NC Supreme Court to remove the dominating portrait of Thomas Ruffin from its courtroom. And, of course, the opinion he proffered on the illegality of the multi-million dollar Sons of Confederate Veterans giveaway, that got him bounced by the angered BOG, turned out to be precisely true.

Muller is a rare academic of brilliance, generosity and courage. That won’t be tolerated by this venomous Board of Governors. The throbbing heart of the nation’s first public university is in mortal danger.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol in a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

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