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Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Faculty Colleagues

This summer has been a tumultuous one for UNC and its faculty.  With findings last spring of a significant and disturbing pattern of academic irregularities in the African and Afro-American Studies Department, and a faculty member still imprisoned in Argentina, I and your other elected faculty leaders have wrestled with how best to respond to the cascading series of troubling issues.

In the midst of all of the news, however, we have heard less about the challenges that have faced our faculty colleagues in the African and Afro-American Studies Department in the last few months.  They, every bit as much as our imprisoned colleague, deserve our vigorous and unequivocal support at this time.  The issues at stake in our failure, thus far, to offer that kind of public support, are vital for us to consider.

I recently participated in a workshop sponsored by UNC’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs on “Teaching So Everyone Can Learn: What’s Race Got to Do with It?”  In a morning panel, a colleague from the AFAM department described some of the trials that his faculty colleagues have endured while their department has been under scrutiny:  repeated inquiries into their teaching practices, syllabi, and records, and—worse—ambush at their homes on a summer Saturday morning by reporters from one of the local television stations.  While the investigations have implicated no one except the former department administrator and the former department chair, a cloud of suspicion seems to have settled over the entire department.  In a few cases, indeed, some have suggested that two individuals’ misdeeds call into question the scholarly rigor and value of the department’s work as a whole.

We must firmly reject such suggestions. To the extent that we fail to do so we give credence to suspicions that we are still perhaps unknowingly swayed by the very biases that partly provided the impetus for the department’s creation and that we are not sincerely persuaded of the values of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

I therefore call upon all members of our community to extend a hand of support and friendship to our faculty colleagues in African and Afro-American Studies, and to resist all efforts to suggest that the actions of a few taint the scholarly pursuits of all.  UNC needs this department, and, right now, this department needs the rest of us.

What else can you do?  This afternoon at 3:00 the first Faculty Council meeting of the year will be held in the Hitchcock Multipurpose Room of—significantly—the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.  As is our tradition here, this first meeting of the year is also a meeting of the so-called “General Faculty”—in which every faculty member is invited to participate.  At this meeting, we will consider a resolution expressing our support for our colleagues in African and Afro-American Studies Department.  Won’t you join us and add your voice?


Jan Boxill

Chair of the Faculty

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