BOONE – Appalachian State University faculty members met on April 28 to hear an address on faculty empowerment in an age of authoritarianism from guest speaker Gene Nichol.
Nichol — a distinguished professor of law, former dean of UNC Law School and former President of the College of William and Mary — spoke to faculty members about issues present during this time in the UNC system.
From his time in the UNC system, Nichol said that he had personally seen many ways that the Board of Governors handled various situations.
“They’ve shown a powerful willingness to go after anybody that opposes them time and time again,” he said.
In reference to the Board of Governors, Nichol said that they “trample upon the fundamental values, core tenets, and essential traditions of American public universities. We are governed by an occupying force, not partners.”
Nichol said that to save the future of the education system, faculty needed to take bold and non-traditional steps.
According to Nichol, they removed a UNC professor from the UNC Press Board without warning, even after he had been unanimously endorsed for reappointment.
Nichol said that the Board of Governors had even gone as far as to close the Law School Poverty Center at Chapel Hill after he had received three years of threats from legislators when he refused to stop publishing articles in the Raleigh News and Observer. Nichol was advocating for anti-poverty measures.
UNC President Tom Ross was asked to leave by the Board of Governors, and Nichol said that this was yet another example of what they do when people don’t agree with their beliefs.
Nichol said that if they can’t stand up for even the health and wellbeing of faculty and students, what do they stand for?
“One day it’s engaging in unconstitutional race discrimination. The next day, it’s trashing academic freedom. The next day, it’s subsidizing white supremacists,” he said. “The next, it’s seizing faculty emails and the next dissembling about the dangers of COVID.”
“I think we’ve got to learn some things that aren’t really in our DNA,” Nichol said. “We have to learn to organize, we have to learn to support one another. Even when we don’t precisely agree with each other on all fronts.”
Nichol encouraged Appalachian State faculty members to use the power and participation that they have to foster academic freedom.