An air of illiberalism has taken hold at a prominent school within UNC-
Chapel Hill, America’s oldest public university. If unchecked, the pattern
threatens a liberal arts education’s very foundation: the freedom to
Last year, UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health adopted a
“strategic plan tied to the Gillings School’s mission and values,” called
the Inclusive Excellence Action Plan (IEAP). The 2021 document shows that
Gillings premises hiring and tenure decisions on faculty performance in
“antiracism” and “equity” trainings. The connection between social justice
dogma and career advancement is explicit in the IEAP’s list of strategic
action items: “Link (antiracism) training expectations to promotion and
tenure for tenure-track faculty.”
Elsewhere in the same document, the IEAP explains that “Gillings Human
Resources” is building “an improved tracking system,” and the team
continues to “link training expectations to promotion, tenure, and annual
Antiracism and social justice doctrine is an ideology, and a controversial
one. It reaches far beyond basic principles of nondiscrimination. One of
the most prominent works on the subject, Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an
Antiracist,” teaches that “the only remedy to past discrimination is
present discrimination.” Kendi writes that being “not racist” is actually
“a mask for racism.”
Columbia University professor and prominent Black intellectual John
McWhorter calls the doctrine not an ideology but a “religion” because of
“a certain fervency in how this ideology is conducted.”
Lest there be any question about the ideological nature of the antiracism
training, the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal published in full the
Gillings School’s faculty retreat seminar. It is dripping with the race
essentialism that defines social justice and antiracist ideology.
For example, the seminar warns faculty against “featuring white guest
lectures (sic) who describe research with communities of color.” A public
university, then, would withhold an expert lecturer because of her skin
Say a tenure-track professor raised his hand during the critical race
theory section of the faculty retreat and, quoting Columbia’s McWhorter,
said, “In the name of helping black people, I believe this philosophy
often harms Black people instead.” Is there any question his career would
be in jeopardy?
A university that premises promotion and tenure on adherence to an
ideology — or a religion — is a seminary, not a liberal arts institution.
And the purification of Gillings may go deeper. The IEAP lists just two
organizations that conduct its social justice trainings. One, Durham-based
“We Are,” just launched a social media campaign called
The group says it seeks “to hold our education profession to a higher
standard, removing those who should not be in schools due to their racist
thoughts or actions.” Of course, We Are doesn’t define what constitutes a
racist thought or action, or who has the power to judge.
Thus, the organization the Gillings School hired to train its staff is
leading an effort to purge faculty who think the wrong way, all while
Gillings explicitly “links training expectations to promotion and tenure.”
And Gillings isn’t the only school at UNC to embrace illiberalism. In a
2020 memorandum, the now-former dean of the Hussman School of Journalism
wrote the school intends to “revisit diversity of viewpoint in our
definition of diversity” because “racial equity and diversity of
thought…cannot sit side by side without coming into conflict.”
It’s difficult to square this dogmatism with the university’s purported
embrace of the Chicago Principles, which state, “It is for the individual
members of the University community, not for the University as an
institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those
judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously
contesting the ideas that they oppose.”
UNC declined to answer questions about premising career advancement on
performance for antiracism training.
Whether the other schools within UNC-CH choose the Chicago Principles or
the intellectual suffocation on display at Gillings remains to be seen. If
left unchecked, illiberalism may come to define America’s oldest public
Contributing columnist Pat Ryan is a former spokesperson for N.C. Senate
leader Phil Berger.
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