by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Schalin of the Martin Center focuses on efforts to boost the level of civil discourse at UNC-Chapel Hill.
An important new front in the culture war has opened up at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one with major implications about intellectual diversity and how universities in North Carolina are to be governed.
The controversy concerns plans for a new “Program on Civic Virtue and Civil Discourse,” scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021. The idea initiated with the UNC system’s Board of Governors and was further developed in discussions with Princeton University professor Robert George. George heads the James Madison Program in American Ideals at Princeton. George has been influential in the program’s creation, giving one address to the UNC system’s Board of Governors, and engaging in a public discussion about the importance of maintaining civil discourse with his colleague Cornel West at Duke University.
Goerge has consulted on the matter regularly with Chris Clemens, another principal actor in the new program. Clemens, who now serves as the senior associate dean for research and innovation at the UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, will be the program’s inaugural director until a full-time director is hired. Funding has been offered by anonymous donors, whose identities are being protected by the UNC Foundation.
It sounds like a very positive development for UNC-Chapel Hill. Knowledge of citizenship appears to be diminishing nationally, and the crucial concept of civil discourse seems to be in disarray in academia. The inability to engage in civil discourse has led to such phenomena as “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings.” Even moderate conservative invited speakers are shouted down and chased away. “Twitter mobs” hound any student who voices an unpopular opinion.
On the UNC campus, civil discourse is indeed threatened. Consider that the last major campus controversy—the removal of Silent Sam, a statue of a Confederate soldier—was essentially settled by the actions of a violent mob rather than through due process. And that authorities feel so threatened by even mentioning the topic that they have continually postponed its final resolution.