Op-Ed

At UNC-CH, embarrassing pasts hidden in plain sight

News & Observer file photo

At the behest of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and Chancellor Carol Folt, a Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History is now hard at work on a number of projects designed to improve the quality and fullness of the campus' understanding and presentation of its history. Needless to say, the really hard work that lies ahead is not to polish the good more brightly but to bring the bad into the light.

Much attention naturally focuses on McCorkle Place, where Silent Sam stands, and on buildings that bear the names of people tainted by involvement with slavery.

 Just this week, I learned of a story that signals the breadth of the task my campus has undertaken.

 Anyone who has ever gone to an event at the Dean Dome or visited the UNC Hospitals is familiar with Manning Drive. It was named for Isaac Hall Manning, the dean of UNC's medical school from 1905 to 1933. By all accounts, he was as devoted to his school and the university as a person could be. He increased the size and prestige of the medical school, positioning it to make the crucial transition from a two-year program to a four-year program that could better serve the health needs of the state.

Like most professional schools in the United States at the time, UNC's medical school had a quota for Jewish students during Manning's tenure. In an incoming class of 40 students, no more than four could be Jews. The justification for the policy, according to Manning, was that UNC, as a two-year program, felt an obligation to transfer all of its graduates to a four-year medical school for the final two years of training. Because those schools did not want many Jewish students, four was the largest number  Manning believed he could successfully place each year. The number had to be four (or at least an even number), Manning explained, because a Gentile and a Jew would not make suitable lab partners.

In 1933, a UNC undergraduate named Morris Krasny applied for admission to the medical school. Dean Manning (who handled admissions alone) rejected him because the entering class already had four Jews. Krasny appealed to UNC President Frank Porter Graham. Manning explained the situation to Graham, but the president overruled the dean, saying that the university could not turn away an otherwise qualified student simply because of his religious faith. Manning objected, telling Graham that if the school were to open its doors to many Jews, it might as well close down because then Gentiles would not want to attend. Graham was unmoved and ordered Krasny's admission.

Manning resigned the deanship in protest.

 Manning Drive was not named in his honor then; the road did not yet exist. The honor wasn't conferred until 20 years later, in 1953, when the road was built.

I have been at UNC for almost 18 years now. As a Jewish member of the community, I find it incredible that I have driven up and down Manning Drive countless times without ever encountering even a hint of this history. The medical school's summary of its history lauds Dean Manning but omits the controversy about the Jewish quota that led to his resignation. NCpedia, the State Library's online encyclopedia of North Carolina, notes that Manning "resigned following a disagreement with Dr. Frank Porter Graham," but doesn't mentioned what they disagreed about.

 Learning this one little story leads me to wonder: What other embarrassing pasts hide in plain sight on our streets, our walkways, our buildings and our plaques and monuments? And will we have the courage to name and confront them?

Eric L. Muller is a professor of jurisprudence and ethics and director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  Comments