Records Show Bias Against Conservative Groups at UNC

Last week in a blog post over at Civitas Review, I commented on the Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom’s (CLF) recent pursuit of public records from the University of North Carolina. The records we sought were internal communications between UNC-Chapel Hill administration and staff members. The university planned a dinner featuring high-ranking university officials and several student groups to foster a discussion on diversity. However, many conservative-leaning groups were excluded from the conversation. Upon learning this, CLF immediately filed a public records request to determine the extent to which conservative groups were purposefully excluded from the event.

More than three months after the filing of our request, we had received no records, leading us to respectfully but firmly threaten litigation. UNC then proceeded to fulfill our request on May 26. After reviewing the responsive records, it seems clear that the event’s planners and UNC’s administration were biased against including conservative groups in the discussion.

The invitation to the dinner event, sent from Chancellor Carol Folt and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp, made clear that the purpose of the dinner was to “create and support opportunities for respectful dialogue and progress” around the issues of “race, justice and diversity.” To that end, the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor (SACC) and the university’s administration were to plan a dinner event facilitating conversations on these topics.

The subject of the event was not the source of the controversy. No one should be surprised at a conversation about diversity on an American college campus. Rather, problems arose when it came to the guest list and who it did – and didn’t – include.

On January 22, Anna Medley, assistant to Chancellor Folt, sent the following email to a member of the student advisory committee.

[Chancellor] Carol [Folt] and [Vice Chancellor] Winston [Crisp] are actively working on the guest list … since this is hosted by Chancellor Folt and facilitated through SACC, we want this done correctly – and people included in the conversation because not only your group thought they should, but also the Chancellor invited them to do so.

Apparently, Folt did not approve of the first proposed guest list that she received. After reviewing the list, she had her assistant send a follow-up email to SACC:

Thank you for your list that you handed me yesterday. The Chancellor would like some more names added – for example, Hillel, fraternity council, panhellenic council, athletics, Carolina Latino initiative – as well as LGBT. If possible – if we could have those named by this morning – and any other on campus.

The point here is not the exact groups being mentioned in these emails. The point is that from Folt all the way to student groups, a great deal of thought was put into who would be invited to this event.

Ultimately, nearly 40 student leaders from various organizations were invited to dine with the university’s administration at this “diversity”-themed event. This is where the controversy arose. Not a single conservative-leaning group was invited – including UNC College Republicans, Carolina Students for Life, UNC Young Americans for Liberty, the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club, Christians United For Israel, and Carolina Review.

Soon after the event, Folt heard from a (presumably) conservative student who was upset at the lack of a conservative viewpoint at an event billed as “diverse.” In a Jan. 28 email, the student wrote:

[A] conservative viewpoint is often absent in discussions on these topics, but, nonetheless, should be sought out and heard by anyone who truly values academic diversity and the democratic principles of competing ideas. This is why I was puzzled as to why, to the best of my knowledge, the UNC College Republicans, the Carolina Review, Christians United for Israel, Carolina Students for Life, UNC Young Americans for Liberty, and all other conservative student organizations were not invited to participate in this discussion.

Folt responded by stating that the event was “just the beginning of a campus wide dialogue,” and that “intellectual diversity is a hallmark” of UNC’s campus culture. Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications Rick White then made the following claim to UNC’s Director of Public Affairs:

So you’re aware … no campus groups who identified themselves as political groups were invited to the meeting. That may come later. The Young Republicans are trying to manufacture an issue.

Unfortunately, Mr. White’s claim does not hold up to scrutiny. As evidence, here are just a few of the ostensibly “non-political” groups that were invited to the event:

  • Sexuality and Gender Alliance – An organization that “strives to connect, inform, and advance LGBTIQ-individuals and their allies.” The organization realizes, however, “that oppression does not happen in isolation and actively work[s] to promote social justice wherever such systematic oppression occurs.”
  • Real Silent Sam – The group intends to “ensure that we acknowledge our wrongs to gain the perspective necessary to collectively build a more just future.” They further “aim to achieve these goals by providing access to information that goes beyond standard narratives and challenges our community to think critically about how the legacy of the past shapes the present and what sort of future we want to create.”
  • The Campus Y – This organization states that its mission “is the pursuit of social justice through promoting pluralism.” The group’s mission statement then bemoans the YMCA’s Christian origins, stating, “The organization has journeyed far from its origins as a young men’s Christian fellowship group, to become a pluralistic, diverse institution that champions civil and human rights not just in North Carolina but across the world.
  • I Have a Dream – A photo campaign with the mission of creating “a universal awareness that students at UNC (regardless of background, socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, identity, etc) have dreams and passions that exist above and beyond the common stereotypes about them.” Note that this is not a comment on the merits of this group’s work. But it seems unlikely that a group focusing on such issues as socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation is not politically active.
  • DICE – Among other things, the group seeks to create “surveys to gauge students’ awareness of issues such as race, class, disability, privilege, etc.”

In addition to these blatantly political and left-leaning groups being invited to the event, several of the conservative-leaning groups are non-political in nature – including Carolina Review, the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club, and Christians United for Israel. In reality, the reason that the invited groups were considered “non-political” by the administration is simple: their activities have the blessing of the university’s establishment, while others do not.

Those concerned with social justice, pluralism, and conversations about privilege are not considered “political” because university administrators agree with their goals. Unfortunately, this event is one more example of how the conversation about “diversity” on college campuses specifically excludes those who do not agree with the higher education establishment.

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