Letter: A public response from ‘The BOG 4’
Femi Shittu With the support of Irving Allen, Jen Myers and Madeleine Scanlon “The BOG 4”
On Jan. 26, 2016, the UNC System’s Board of Governors held their meeting at The Center for School Leadership Development building on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This public meeting is held every six weeks and rotates among the 16 colleges and universities of the UNC System.
The UNC System is made up of:
1. Appalachian State University
2. East Carolina University
3. Elizabeth City State University
4. Fayetteville State University
5. North Carolina A&T State University
6. North Carolina Central University
7. North Carolina State University
8. UNC Asheville
9. UNC Chapel Hill
10. UNC Charlotte
11. UNC Greensboro
12. UNC Pembroke
13. UNC Wilmington
14. UNC School of the Arts
15. Western Carolina University
16. Winston Salem State University One public residential high school for “gifted” students:
17. NC School of Science and Mathematics
Considered one of the most prestigious college systems in the nation, as you can see, the system is made of top schools such as UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and North Carolina State. It holds some of the most profound HBCUs such as North Carolina Central University, Winston Salem Sate University, and the nation’s largest HBCU, NC A&T State University.
Now that we have gotten all the credentials out of the way, it needs to be said that the Board of Governors, the prominent decision makers over this system, in NO WAY reflects the students that make up this college system. The Board of Governors is made of 33 individuals in which 4 are Black. Of course, the average face of this board is an older upper class white man.
In the past few years the Board of Governors have faced intense scrutiny in several ways, but in three concentrated areas.
1. The untransparent decision to make Margaret Spellings the next president of the UNC System. Spellings is a product of the right wing and has served several positions under George W. Bush including Secretary of Education. She was also one of the principal proponents of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
2. The cutting of programs, mainly from Humanities/Liberal Arts departments all while large raises are being given to those higher in the towers such as chancellors.
3. The overall lack of care and support of the HBCUs in the UNC System.
It is important to note that there are 5 HBCUs in the UNC System and the state of North Carolina has the most HBCUs of any other state. We hold up Fayetteville State University and Elizabeth City State University as the HBCUs who have had to carry the bulk of the violence by the UNC System. Both HBCUs have faced millions of dollars in cuts in the past couple of years mainly due to “drops in enrollment”. Ironically, drops in enrollment are due mostly to the lack of resources and funding for these schools over the past decade. Specifically, Elizabeth State University has suffered through tumultuous times including some of the worst cuts in the entire system while having 3 chancellors within the past approximate 3 years.
Concerning the cuts on Humanities Departments across the system I will start with my personal experience. I attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a double major in Psychology and African American and African Diaspora Studies (AADS). Both programs are profound and rewarding programs. However, my AADS program is now running off of $3500 for an ENTIRE school year while the Psychology department has remained untouched. This is astonishingly 1/3 of what the program was running on in 2010. Though both fall under the liberal arts spectrum, we all know simply just how white the academic world of Psychology is. My experience reflects the closing of the Poverty Center at UNC Chapel Hill, the removal of the entire Spanish program at NC A&T State University, the cutting of Women and Gender Studies at NC State University and the new announcement of the cutting of Liberal Arts programs at East Carolina which sparked the clapback at January’s Board of Governors meeting.
Out of the 33 people who are on the Board of Governors, approximately 10 were present at the first meeting of the New Year. Someone commented it was because some were still dealing with the effects of the massive snow storm the East Coast had endured within the past week. With that held, it was still baffling and created tense energy for so many members of the board to not be present. One of the 4 Black people on the board was in attendance. The meeting went on like these meetings usually do: old uppity white folks sitting around talking nonsense and believing that they are actually doing work. Dozens of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and general supporters listened in on the meeting. We were pretty much “respectful” as we sat there periodically commenting to each other on the bullshit and giving the occasional loud yawn to show our disapproval with the boring nature of the meeting which is ultimately about our education and future. Then, someone on the Board dropped the statistic that education majors are down a staggering 30%. This sucked the air out of the room. We all understood that this is a direct correlation of the state of teaching in North Carolina. North Carolina, deemed the worst place to teach in 2015, has some of the poorest paid teachers of public education in the nation. This statistic was ruthlessly followed with a unanimous vote from the Board of Governors to cut from the liberal arts department at East Carolina University. When one of the board members asked if anyone disagreed we all yelled “NAY!” and so it began.
After standing and proudly voting to cut the futures of many ECU students, the members were asked to take their seats. Since there were so many empty seats at the Board of Governors table, because none of them showed up, someone said “yeah, let’s take our seats” and we began to fill up the empty seats and started to chant.
I want to close with saying that the action we took symbolized our collective power and how decisions about our future should involve US. Why don’t we deserve a seat at your table as you discuss our education? We will not sit there as you flippantly cut programs as if you are reading from the daily paper. We will continue to shut your meetings down until you listen to the the students of the UNC System instead of making decisions for us that are hurting our people on the ground. We understand this attack on HBCUs and the Liberal Arts programs as a component of the larger Right Wing takeover the state of North Carolina has been enduring since 2012. That is me saying “MOVE!” and “I need to see him!”. They were shoving Irving in a corner, trying to force him on the ground, and trying to close the door. I feared something would happened to that Black Man if they closed that door with just him and 10 officers. The videos ends as I am told to put my hands behind my back.
The cops were physically violent and we do not agree with how they reacted in the space. All four of us were wrongfully arrested and we find it our right to put pressure on those who hold our education in their hands.
NO Justice. NO Peace.