Opinion

We need more conservative professors. Here's how we can do that at UNC.

The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

As UNC-Chapel Hill business professor Michael Jacobs recently wrote in The News & Observer, there is evidence that the university is one-sided philosophically. This should not come as a surprise since the top research universities in the country suffer from what has been described as “intellectual monoculture” or a lack of “viewpoint diversity.”

Academic excellence suffers in an intellectual monoculture. With intellectual unanimity comes intellectual ennui. If everyone agrees, then there is nothing left to debate. There can be phony debates of course, like an election in Cuba, but real debate requires real disagreement.

So, if we have a problem, how do we fix it? At the heart of the conundrum is the concept of academic freedom. We, over the course of centuries, have built elaborate protections for academic freedom because all freedom is forever under attack—especially freedom of thought and expression.

If scholars are not free, the search for Truth is over and with that goes the value of the individual, the sanctity of conscience, freedom of speech, religion, and Western civilization itself. We are not running a business in which new owners routinely fire old staff and hire new employees to execute a new business plan. The university is not a bank or chain of stores.

So, if we cannot tell our scholars what to conclude, and if those scholars are tenured and duty bound to seek truth as they see it, we seem to be caught in a conundrum.

I believe we can fix this problem. The flagship school in the UNC system is a world-renown center of academic excellence. Because of its long established academic stature, it has a unique ability to attract elite scholars and teachers.

My proposal is that we establish at our flagship university an Honors College with the stated purpose of bringing to North Carolina the best, most respected and accomplished scholars in the world who love and defend Western civilization.

Once established in their own College, free from bureaucratic interference and control by the existing faculty, these scholars can articulately and respectfully begin the debate that has been missing. These scholars, without fear of having their classes disallowed, changed to include “approved” texts or forced to submit to majority norms, can teach and defend the glories and roots of Western civilization and culture as they see fit.

The existing faculty will continue to be free to criticize and teach the shortcomings and failures of our culture and will continue to propose what they consider to be better alternatives. The only difference is that no view on either side would go unchallenged.

The Honors College would be able to hire and fire, grant or deny tenure, accept or reject students according to the college’s own standards and judgments without any input, veto, or bureaucratic delay or control from the existing faculty. The new Honors College would have its own dean who would answer only to the provost.

The university would enforce absolute standards of civility and respectful discourse. The students would be able to take courses from both the existing and the new faculty and then compare notes. The best liberal scholars in the country could expound and defend their views, but not without being answered by the best conservative minds in the country. That is education!

Dr. Robert George of Princeton University has agreed to be part of a steering committee for such a new endeavor. He will ensure academic rigor and scholastic accomplishment. A national educational resurgence can begin right here in North Carolina.

The only risk is we settle for half measures. The existing faculty might well agree to the hiring of five or ten new professors, but they will insist on keeping them under the authority of the existing faculty. Eventually, the existing faculty will find a way through their overwhelming majority to silence the new champions of Western civilization. Without a separate college, we might be able to get some professors but not the very best. The professors we want are not going to leave their current position and place themselves under a bureaucracy openly hostile to their views.

An independent structure is necessary if we are to have independent thought and expression—and we can do it here.



Joe Knott is a Raleigh lawyer and a member of the UNC Board of Governors.
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