UNC-Chapel Hill board adopts pledge of ‘decency,’ recommends creation of new school

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees on Thursday adopted a resolution committing board members to “civic duty, decency and decorum.”

The resolution says the board will seek collaboration with faculty, staff and students to “consider establishing such a pledge” for the entire university.

After board members voted to approve the resolution, they, along with UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, signed a copy of the text.

The resolution, which was introduced in the board’s strategic initiatives committee meeting Wednesday, highlights “the free exchange of ideas” and says board members will “pledge to treat all students, faculty, staff, and our entire University community with respect, dignity, courtesy, and generosity of spirit.”

“I acknowledge the value of varying backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and opinions among the members of our diverse university community,” the resolution’s pledge for members reads, in part.

Trustees Gene Davis, Ramsey White and Taliajah Vann, who is also the UNC student body president, were key players in drafting the resolution after the board’s fall retreat, committee chair Perrin Jones said in Wednesday’s meeting.

Jones said the resolution continues the board’s work to support free speech and expression on campus. At a meeting last July, the board adopted a resolution affirming academic freedom and freedom of speech at the university.

The commitment was voluntary for members to sign.

Trustee Marty Kotis said in committee that he “wouldn’t ever want someone to feel like they’re compelled to sign a pledge or do anything that they don’t want to do.”

Members of the UNC System Board of Governors’ university governance committee, at a meeting last week, approved a policy against compelled speech in hiring, promotion and admissions processes. The full system board is expected to consider and vote on that policy at its next meeting, in February.

Kotis said he would like to see something similar to the resolution on decency added to the university’s honor code, a system followed by students, faculty and administrators that “embodies the ideals of academic honesty, integrity, and responsible citizenship” and prohibits cheating or unauthorized assistance on academic assignments.

School of Civic Life and Leadership

Also at Thursday’s full board meeting, board chair David Boliek introduced a resolution to create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership at the university. The board unanimously approved the resolution at the end of the meeting.

The school, as described in the board’s resolution, would build off principles and ideals promoted in the university’s Program for Public Discourse. Housed in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, that program aims to increase “students’ capacities for debate and deliberation, enabling them to be better citizens, civic leaders, and stewards of our democracy.”

The program, which officially launched in 2019, was met in its planning stages with controversy over alleged conservative leanings, influences and funding sources.

Board members said Thursday that while the Program for Public Discourse was originally intended to be “robust,” it has, in practice, operated more as a campus speaker series. Last fall, the program hosted a fireside chat between former political opponents U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham.

Establishing the School of Civic Life and Leadership, Boliek said, would allow for in-classroom instruction to teach the ideals and skills behind the program, and eventually offer “degree-oriented programs” in those areas, as described in the resolution.

“The Program for Public Discourse is not embedded as sort of where you’re taking classes and actually getting instruction and dealing with professors,” Boliek said during discussion of the resolution.

The resolution requests that university administration “accelerate its development” of the school, which the resolution says should have “a goal of a minimum of 20 dedicated faculty members.”

The school could be “nested within an existing college or school” at the university, the resolution says.

“We’re not necessarily talking about standing up a building,” Boliek said Thursday.

It is unclear how long the full development of the school would take. The university’s School of Data Science and Society launched last fall, more than two years after plans for the school began. That school does not yet offer undergraduate degree programs.