Dear Professors Meinhold, Members of the UNCW Faculty Senate Steering Committee:
I am in receipt of your brief 69-word statement, which was sent on November 23rd, 2016 to the entire faculty, staff, and student population at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. The statement, which was made in response to a recent free speech controversy, is problematic for a number of reasons.
Let me begin by saying that I respect many of the members of the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. That is why I am so disappointed with your brief statement, which is predicated on a misapprehension of facts, wrought with political bias, and lacking in logic cohesion. I begin my critique by recapitulating your brief statement:
The Faculty of the University of North Carolina Wilmington are committed to creating a positive learning environment for students to pursue academic excellence.
Public remarks by professors about a student’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, age, disability, political affiliation, or sexual orientation are inconsistent with our values.
Professor of Political Science
The problems that flow from your statement are numerous. I will stick with five:
1. The statement is asymmetrical and thus encourages defamation. Your statement only suggests that it is improper for a professor to make public remarks about a student’s demographics, but not that it would be improper for a student to make public remarks about a professor’s demographics. Such a rule invites defamation. Imagine, for example, that a white heterosexual Christian male student tried to get a lesbian atheist feminist professor fired and did so publicly while repeatedly remarking on her demographic characteristics. In such a scenario, would you have the audacity to suggest that the lesbian atheist feminist professor could not mention in public the demographic characteristics of the person attacking her – given their obvious relevance to the attacker’s motivation?
2. The statement is overly broad. Take a moment to peruse the university website (www.uncw.edu). When you do, you will notice that we have publicly praised numerous students in conjunction with various academic and service awards. In the process, we often remark publicly on their demographic characteristics – e.g., “accomplished female scholar.” Moreover, we often give those awards on the basis of demographics. Let me ask you to consider how we could possibly praise our most outstanding African American students and give them minority achievement awards without reference to their demographics. Your lack of consideration probably has something to do with the lack of diversity on your committee. When I consulted a list of members of the committee that wrote the 69-word statement I noticed that your membership is all white. Perhaps this lack of demographic diversity explains why you want to avoid public commentary on demographic characteristics. Clearly, it is time for you to start inviting minorities into the ranks of the senate leadership.
3. The statement has not been applied on a viewpoint-neutral basis. Perhaps your careless statement was really only meant to ban criticism (as opposed to praise) of students based on demographics. But that cannot be so. One of your predecessors, Faculty Senate President Dick Veit, attacked the student leadership of the College Republicans publicly in the Wilmington Star News – falsely dubbing them racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic. When he did so, he specifically referred to demographic characteristics like political affiliation that you just said were off limits for public commentary.
Of course, he was a liberal professor attacking conservative students. Therefore, you did not respond to him. You gave him a pass. In contrast, your present statement is a rebuke made in response to conservative speech. Obviously, political bias and viewpoint discrimination are among your cherished faculty values.
4. The statement contradicts the committee’s position on HB2. Last spring, you authored a statement condemning HB2. You did so presumably because you think university personnel should be forced to honor the demographic characteristics students choose to form the basis of their identity. In six months, you’ve gone from saying we have to use the demographic characteristics students choose for themselves to saying we are banned from doing so. Please make up your mind before making sweeping moral pronouncements.
5. The statement would negate many of our diversity initiatives. When we sponsor the “tunnel of oppression” and when we do “micro-aggression training” in orientation we often call students out for their “white privilege.” In other words, we publicly comment on their demographic characteristics. This has always bothered me. I’m glad you now consider this practice to run counter to our faculty values.
In closing, let me give you an opportunity to rescind this careless statement. If you refuse to do so, I will be forced to submit a series of proposals that will ensure compliance with your stated values. They will result in massive cuts to the budget. Accordingly, they may cause great turmoil within the ranks of the administration. On second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
… To be continued.