Faculty Executive Committee addresses Duke-UNC Middle East program and other issues

Faculty Executive Committee addresses Duke-UNC Middle East program and other issues

Read in The Daily Tar Heel 9/23/2019

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin emphasized the importance of academic freedom in curriculum development and said the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies has a “pretty good balance” of perspectives at the Faculty Executive Committee meeting Monday. 

Blouin also said the University must be faithful to what the purpose of the funding is for Title VI-supported programs. His statement was in response to a recently-published letter in which the Department of Education threatened to withdraw $235,000 in grant money from Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies for possible violation of Title VI agreements. 

Director of Carolina Public Humanities and Interim Chairperson of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer said the controversy calls into question the rights of academic independence and free speech. The University has since issued a response letter and is awaiting a resolution. 

Power Balance 

Responding to the upcoming election of the faculty chairperson, representatives of each department discussed how best to approach the power balance between medical and academic affairs. Suzanne Gulledge, University government committee member, and Secretary of the Faculty Vin Steponaitis were in attendance.

Data on the current UNC staff notes that 58.7 percent of the faculty works in medicine and health subjects, while the remaining 41.3 percent fall under academic affairs — humanities, law and the arts. 

“If you look at the numbers, there is an inequity here,” Deb Aikat, associate professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said. 

Aikat said he is concerned that the size difference between each subset of the faculty could be contributing to a bias towards health and medicine in the distribution of resources and high-level decision making. 

Professor Eric Muller, representing the law school, agreed. He proposed implementing a system with both a chairperson and vice chairperson. In Muller’s plan, the executive nominee with the highest vote would be granted the position, while the runner-up from the opposite curriculum would become vice chairperson. Many in the room, including Aikat, supported this idea. 

But, Nursing Professor Meg Zomorodi and Pharmacy Professor Wendy Cox said they saw a need for more data. 

“Would it be worth doing some benchmarking to find out what other schools are doing?” Zomorodi asked.

Still, making a significant change to the structure of the Faculty Executive Committee poses challenges. Steponaitis said the advisory committee can’t unilaterally change the code without amendments to the group constitution. A two-part leadership ladder like Muller suggested might be possible with time, he said, but is not a viable option for the quickly-approaching election. 

“In any electoral system, certain constituencies will have more voters than others,” Steponaitis said. 

Digital Delivery

Student Store representatives Chuck Sockell and Michele Gretch Carter talked about the growth of the digital delivery program that began in fall 2018. 

“We save students over $2 million each year off of industry and standard retail,” Gretch Carter said. 

Student Stores has received complaints from Student Government on the program’s opt-in-only policy and the continuation of blind fees for students after they enroll in a class. The team maintains its commitment to affordability and accessibility for students, Gretch Carter said, empowering them to make decisions best for their education. 

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