National Issues Catch Attention of UNC Board of Trustees Chair

Chair of the UNC Board of Trustees Dwight Stone mentioned fairly standard topics during the chairman’s remarks at the board meeting last week – he laid out the committee leadership on the board for the next academic year, spoke about a dinner hosted by UNC System President Margaret Spellings with the chairs from Boards of Trustees across the system – but then his tone changed.

Stone thanked the campus leadership for providing an environment where productive discussions around tense topics could be held. Stone then said he wished that could be said for more of the country.

“Like most of you in this room, I’ve been deeply troubled by the events that have gone on in our country over the last several weeks and months,” Stone told those in attendance.

Stone was referring to recent shootings across the country involving police officers – separate incidents of African-American men being killed by law enforcement officers and then officers subsequently being targeted in other instances.

Stone said he was “scared for our society.”

“When friends tell me they sit down with their children [and] discuss how to handle a traffic stop by police, when they tell me of the fear that they have that something could cause harm to their child or themselves, by a very small percentage of misguided people, because of the color of their skin…there’s a certain loss of innocence in talks like that and it’s disturbing to me.

“I don’t understand what that’s like.”

Stone said he was also disturbed that police officers – who he described as “good, decent people” – were now nervous about going to work.

“When those same policemen are targeted by a few ideologically impaired people,” Stone said, “I don’t understand what that’s like.”

Stone extended his remarks to call for discussions around issues that can be contentious at times.

“Regardless of the color of our skin, or whether we are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or whatever,” Stone said, “we all have certain human rights.”

And Stone went on to quote legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, who was known as much for his work involved with civil rights as his success on the court.

“There comes a time in every contest when simply standing on the sidelines is not an option,” Stone quoted. “Now is that time.

“We need to have earnest, intentional, honest conversations so that we can understand each other better.”

During the meeting’s intermission, Stone emphasized why he felt it was important to address these topics at the board meeting.

“Without having those kind of conversations and understanding each other, that’s what leads to breakdowns,” Stone said. “And it has been on my mind – both from a national level and a level here at the university – that I wanted to make sure that I spoke, on behalf of the Board of Trustees and myself, saying that we’re open to those conversations and that we know that those are things that we need to do from an understanding standpoint.”

Chancellor Carol Folt said the university would be working to ramp up efforts with Carolina Conversations, which began last year in an attempt to foster talks among the campus community.

“We’ve already started accelerating plans for that to happen more often and really advertise them,” Folt said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of work done in orientation – and not just about safety issues, but also about conversation and what it means to join suddenly in a new community; it’s not your hometown; all that we see as really critical.

“There have been people working on it all summer, and I’m really pretty excited about what I think will take place here in the fall.”

UNC Vice Chancellor Discuss Mental Illness

Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp updated members of UNC’s Board of Trustees on how the university handles mental illness in a committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“What we are not, and what we don’t do and I want to be clear, is provide long term therapeutic counseling for students,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity for that. What we do is short term crisis stabilization and then we work hard to connect people who need long term therapeutic care and make sure they’re getting that therapeutic care.”

The issue of mental illness has been discussed recently after Priya Balagopal, a 2014 graduate of UNC, committed suicide on January 10.

“Anytime something tragic like what happened to Priya happens, that’s what you see so it raises a lot of questions,” Crisp said. “We don’t do enough. We’ll never do enough as far as I’m concerned.”

UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, offers therapy and walk-in appointments to students and faculty in need. Crisp said the demand for these services is growing and the counseling center at UNC is at capacity every day.

“Huge amounts of our resources and time and energy go towards trying to train people,” he said. “Trying to train students, trying to train faculty and others as to what to look for, signs to look for in students and try to engage students in the kind of services and resources they need.”

Board member Charles Duckett said providing resources for CAPS is a priority of the trustees.

“We have no intention of trying to cut CAPS,” he said. “We want to find ways to increase it. We do a lot better than the vast majority. Our healthcare here at Chapel Hill is way beyond most college and university offerings, but it vital that we not just make the statement and sit there and live on it.”

Crisp said although the university does a good job of dealing with these problems, challenges still remain because people access these resources different based on culture or socioeconomic status.

“We not only have to run a clinic that people can be expected to walk into and say ‘I need help,’ but we need to figure out how to reach people who just aren’t going to come,” Crisp said.

To learn more about Priya Balagopal and her struggle with mental illness, visit her GoFundMe page.

Board of Trustees Discuss Student Stores Privatization

Matt Fajack, vice chancellor for finance and administration, told members of the Board of Trustees why the university was investigating the possibility of privatizing the Student Stores in a committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“It appears that most bookstores of our size and prestige should have a profit of two to four million dollars,” he said. “So it looked like there was an opportunity to at least explore other models.”

All profits from the Student Stores go directly to scholarships and last year the stores made around 425,000 dollars in profit.

“Our primary goal for this is to raise money for need-based aid,” he said. “We’ve also asked the people that work in the Student Stores to put together a business plan that they could increase profits.”

Student Stores employees have raised concerns about the effect a potential change would have on their job security, but Fajack said he doesn’t think this is how the private companies would increase profits.

“A lot of people say ‘well we’re going to cut employees or cut employee pay,'” Fajack said. “At least in my discussions with them that’s not where the addition contribution to scholarships would come from.”

The university started looking into privatization after Fallett approached UNC with an unsolicited offer this summer. In order to investigate the matter more thoroughly, the university is currently accepting applications to privatize the stores.

Fallett and Barnes and Noble are the largest campus bookstore companies, running nearly 2,000 across the United States between the two of them.

Fajack said this experience might make the Student Stores more profitable.

“Since they manage so many stores they have retail gurus who know where to place things, how to place things, what to look at, when to do sales,” he said. “Another place they can dramatically increase revenues is it appears they are much better than us at online sales.”

Interested businesses have until February 18 to submit their proposals to UNC, which is trying to have this resolved by the beginning of July.

UNC Board of Trustees Discuss Connect NC Bond

House Representative Dean Arp briefed the UNC Board of Trustees on the Connect NC bond that will be on the ballot across North Carolina in March.

“We believe this is a proactive and fiscally sound plan,” he said.

The total investment will add up to $4.36 billion with the $2 billion bond proposal and the $2.36 billion that will be paid in cash for transportation needs over the next six years.

The bond will go towards building and infrastructure needs.

Projects across the UNC System, including the Medical Education Building Replacement at Chapel Hill, are included in the proposal, which is the first general obligation bond issued in the last 15 years.

“We’re very excited about the bond package,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said. “It’s a huge investment in the state. It’s great for the universities. Ours goes directly to increasing the number of physicians so we can increase the number of lives saved.”

Arp added that even with borrowing $2 billion, the state would still be 25 percent below the recommended debt limit.

So trustee Hari Nath asked why just $2 billion instead of a bond that would fund more capital need projects?

“I’m a positive guy and I like to focus on the positive things,” Arp answered. “Two billion is what we could get passed.”

Arp said that after looking at the financial standing of the state, the General Assembly would be open to a higher bond number. But Arp said that he had encountered opposition to the initial number of the bond proposal but he added that those groups have warmed to the idea.

“It provides not only an economic benefit to the citizens of North Carolina, but it makes financial sense,” said Dwight Stone, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “If we address those messages I think the citizens of North Carolina are going to go along with it.”

The bond proposal will be on the ballot across the Tar Heel state during the election primary on March 15.

UNC History Task Force Presents to Trustees

The Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill’s History presented their plans further discussion about race on campus to members of the Board of Trustees on Wednesday.

“We want to make sure this exercise teaches our community and any other interested people about our complete past, including things people might consider good and bad,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp

Crisp is a member of the task force, which was created after the renaming of Saunders hall to examine race and history at the university.

To start, a plaque will be placed on Carolina Hall, formerly Saunders Hall, on November 23.

The plaque will read, “We honor and remember all of those who have suffered injustices at the hands of those who denied them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The committee is also working to place an exhibit inside the building.

“It’s a rough concept at the moment, but the general idea is it will have three points of focus,” said task force member and UNC history professor James Leloudis. “The first is reconstruction and Williams Saunders’ role in that tumultuous time. The second on the 1920s and the social, political and racial context in which the trustees in 1922 decided to name the building for William Saunders. And then finally a discussion of the contemporary era.”

He said the timeline for the creation of the exhibit will be around 7 months and estimated the budget will be 10 to 15 thousand dollars.

There is no specific design for the exhibit and Leloudis said the task force was unsure where exactly it would be placed within the building.

In the spring the board requested an audit of all buildings, monuments, memorials and landscapes, in order to get a better understanding of the historical context of the campus.

“I don’t have at the moment a real ability to tell you how long it’s going to be before we finish that,” Crisp said. “But that is underway.”

The task force is also working on historical markers to put in McCorkle place and is still in the early stages of developing ideas for the markers.

Crisp said the task force is looking for input from the community and is creating a website to make more information available to the public.

He encouraged the public to reach out to the task force via email at

UNC Trustees Get Update on Preventing Another Academic Scandal

The academic scandal uncovered at UNC by the Wainstein report dominated a Wednesday afternoon Board of Trustees meeting, at which the faculty chair offered an apology.

“The events that occurred over a nearly 20-year time period are simply unacceptable,” said Faculty Chair Bruce Cairns. “Suffice it to say, we are very disappointed. And as a faculty, we let down our students, we let down the university.

In his apology to members of the UNC Board of Trustees during a late-afternoon meeting at Rizzo Conference Center, Cairns also acknowledged the people of North Carolina that are served by the university.

Cairns added that the Wainstein report on phony so-called “paper classes” offered for nearly two decades to 3,100 students — many of them athletes –had a lot of implications for UNC’s faculty.

He said that a lot of “soul searching” needs to happen right now.

“Our focus needs to remain on our students,” said Cairns, “and making sure that we fulfill our obligation to them, whether they are in athletics or not.”

Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Jim Dean updated the Board on reforms that have taken place over the past few years.

Changes have been made to the advising system, to tailor academic planning more specifically to each student athlete’s needs.

There’s a new computer system that more closely monitors grade changes, course renumbering, and faculty workload.

Independent study reforms have also been implemented. One such reform limits faculty members to supervising two students per term. Required documentation includes learning contracts, and course syllabi are monitored more closely as well.

Measures are taken to ensure that a faculty is actually teaching each independent study course.

An informal Student Athlete Initiative Working Group is tracking experiences of student athletes at UNC, starting with recruiting.

Student Body President Andrew Powell said that while he agrees the reforms are necessary, he’s concerned that a fear of teaching independent study courses is developing among faculty in the wake of the paper-class scandal.

Powell said that continuing support of independent studies should perhaps be included in a UNC policy statement.

Dean said he agreed with Powell about independent studies, adding that UNC Chancellor Carol Folt does, too.

“Independent study courses are a really important element of education,” said Dean. “We can’t get to everything we want to get to through the existing courses.”

Dean added that an independent study course he took as an undergrad actually set him on the path to his academic career.

Powell also expressed disappointment in the way he’s seen some students treating athletes since the scandal broke – for instance, expressing reluctance to have a student athlete join a group project for a class.

Right before the meeting went into closed session, Powell spoke to WCHL about what student government is doing to make the situation better, adding that most students still treat all others with respect.

“We think that all students at Carolina should feel part of an inclusive community – that they’re supported by their peers and professors,” said Powell. “We’ve held a number of student forums where people can speak openly about these things.”

Powell said that UNC will celebrate an Athlete Appreciation Day on Dec. 2.

UNC AD Reacts To Ruling That Northwestern University Football Players Can Unionize

UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said “that these are interesting times” for college athletics—that in response to a federal agency’s ruling Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first union of college athletes.

The decision, which could revolutionize college sports, was made by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago.

When asked about the ruling during the UNC Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Cunningham said that he believed the decision, which categorizes the student athletes as employees, would be appealed.

“But I think that is going to create all kinds of other challenges. How this all plays out in the next couple of years will be interesting to watch. I think if we focus on what is important—education and opportunities—I think we are going to provide those opportunities for students. I don’t want to sound ‘Pollyanna-ish,’ but you have to think about what your philosophy is and then deliver on that philosophy,” Cunningham said.

Northwestern University officials said that they plan to appeal to the full labor board in Washington, D.C, according to the Associated Press.

Marcus Paige, Fellow Students Athletes Share Challenges & Triumphs During UNC Academic Experience

UNC basketball’s Marcus Paige was joined by five other student athletes Thursday to share testimony about the challenges and triumphs they have experienced during their academic careers at the University, which was in sharp contrast to the claims made earlier this week by two former Carolina football players.

Paige, a star point guard and second-team Academic All-American, spoke during the presentation called “A day in the life of a student athlete,” before the UNC Board of Trustees. He was joined by three UNC football players, Ryan Switzer, Tim Scott and Kemmi Pettway, gymnast Michelle Ikoma, and softball great, pitcher Lori Spingola.

“We know how hard we work in the classroom. It is not fair to us to get all of that negative attention when we spend so much time working so hard to get a degree just like everyone else,” Paige said.

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said it was a chance to give the Trustees “a representation” of the more than 800 student athletes who attend UNC.

“We frequently just view [student athletes] when they are competing, but this is another opportunity to get them off the fields, out of gyms, and talk to them as real students,” Cunningham said.

The athletes gave positive reviews of the academic support they have received so far, championing various leadership programs and tutoring initiatives, such as MAP, or “My Academic Plan,” which provides additional academic support for athletes who need it.

That was not the same sentiment shared this week regarding UNC’s academic influence on its athletes. On Tuesday, two new, former Carolina football players, Deunta Williams and Byron Bishop, said, each on separate HBO and ESPN programs, that they were encouraged to take no-show classes in order to retain their athletic eligibility during their collegiate careers.

Along with Williams, whistle-blower Mary Willingham, a former athletic tutor, also appeared in the ESPN documentary.

Cunningham did not directly comment on the two specials that aired this week, saying that he wanted to focus on the students currently enrolled at UNC. He said that he wanted to concentrate on providing the maximum number of opportunities for athletes to play collegiate sports and creating a solid educational experience for student athletes once enrolled.

Paige shared that he and his teammates tried to not pay attention to the negative press swirling around UNC, adding that “we all can read and write.”

“There was definitely no one telling us what we had to do or what classes [to take], or even pushing us or suggesting a major,” Paige said.

Trustee Dwight Stone said the school has taken some “undeserved shots in the media” regarding athletic/academic relations. He said that no one could realize the time and effort it takes to be a student athlete at Carolina unless they “walked in their shoes.”

In January, Willingham raised questions about the literacy levels of past Tar Heel basketball and football players as documented in the now infamous CNN article. Her research also prompted concerns about past admission guidelines under which many athletes were enrolled.

In response, UNC officials said then that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” policy in judging applicants and that some students are admitted for their “special talents.”

Switzer shared that football provided him the chance to go to Carolina that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

“I am not ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t be at a university like this is if it weren’t for my athletic ability,” Switzer. “I was a decent student in high school, but this University is so high that I couldn’t get here on academics alone. Football has created a lot of opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t play it.”

Switzer said that is was often “a struggle” to manage both roles as a student and an athlete, but he thought that his fellow student athletes were some of the “most disciplined” people he had ever met.

He also said that he originally wanted to major in nursing but decided not to because of the time commitment.

Cunningham said that “time,” or lack of it for student athletes, was another concern.

“I think we should really take a hard look at time and see if there is a better way to organize the day so that student [athletes] can get a full educational experience,” Cunningham said.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said that all student athletes struggle with time constraints. She said that the University’s mission is to help them find balance.

“My goal is to help them find a way to get the classes and the majors that they want, while also being able to achieve the excellence that they want,” Folt said.

Folt and Willingham To Meet

Folt confirmed that Willingham had contacted her about setting up a time to meet, to which Folt agreed.

“She gave me an agenda and said that she would like to share her personal story with me and that she would like to share her opinion with me about athletics and academics,” Folt said.

UNC Considers New Approach In Measuring University’s Academic Performance

UNC leaders are proposing a new approach to measuring the University’s overall academic status.

Provost Jim Dean, who acts as the chief academic officer on campus, introduced the “The Carolina Metrics Project,” which seeks to build a set of guidelines to assess the University’s academic standing and set targets for improvement.

“We are moving toward an answer to the question, ‘How is the University performing academically?” Dean said during a UNC Board of Trustees committee meeting.

In an operation as vast as UNC, Dean said it can be challenging to measure academic performance accurately.

This push toward transparency on a broader level comes at a pivotal time for Carolina, as its reputation continues to undergo scrutiny for the past academic fraud scandals involving student athletes.

This week, two new, former UNC football players have come forward, on nationally televised sports programs, to say that they were encouraged to take no-show classes in order to retain their athletic eligibility during their collegiate careers.

Dean did not comment on those testimonials.

Dr. Ronald P. Strauss, UNC’s Executive Vice Provost and Chief International Officer, was also behind the proposed performance measurements.

He said the five factors that could be used to determine academic performance include measures of the quality of faculty members, the campus environment, the quality of the student body, and benefits to the public from the University.

“Our goals are pretty clear. We want to build a set of accessible, visible metrics to measure academic status. We also wanted to transform it into some form of a dashboard that is visible to stakeholders, our audiences and our constituencies,” he said.

Strauss said he solicited feedback from many campus groups in formulating the framework for academic performance, adding that he wants it to portray a realistic representation of the University.

“The cautionary tale is that, at least the educational advisory board felt that, some universities have taken this as a self-promotional endeavor and the only variables [that are shared] are the variables that compliment the reputation of the university. That is not what we are seeking to do here,” Strauss said.

 The full Board of Trustees meets Thursday, during which UNC Director of Athletics, Bubba Cunningham, will speak about the daily lives of student athletes.

UNC Provost To Speak On Academic Performance Standards Wednesday

UNC Provost Jim Dean, who helped lead the campus through the recent student athlete literacy scandal, will present suggestions to University leaders Wednesday that could be used as a framework for measuring Chapel Hill’s academic status.

“The Carolina Metrics Project” seeks to build a set of guidelines to measure academic performance and set targets for improvement. Dean will deliver the presentation during a Board of Trustees University Affairs Committee meeting.

This comes in the wake of the academic and athletic controversies that have haunted the University for more than three years. Those controversies continued in early January when former UNC athletic tutor, Mary Willingham, told CNN that a majority of Carolina’s basketball and football student-athletes which she studied read at a level no higher than the eighth grade.

Following the release of that article and the resulting media super storm, University leaders went into defense mode, refuting Willingham’s claims.

UNC has since changed its sentiments slightly, switching from defense to acceptance. At a meeting of the Board of Trustees in late January, Folt said the University takes responsibility for past misdeeds regarding academic oversight, including the fraudulent classes within UNC’s African Studies Department. But she also said she supports UNC’s current course of action to ensure those misdeeds don’t recur in the future.

In February, UNC retained lawyer and veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, Kenneth Wainstein, to address “any questions left unanswered” from previous reviews of course irregularities in the African Studies Department.

UNC has also continued to address the issues surrounding academics and athletics internally. That includes a working group led by Dean and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham.

The University Affairs Committee meets from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Wednesday at the Carolina Inn.