CURRENT UNC TRUSTEES MUST ACT ON HANNAH-JONES TENURE: The current trustees should act on Hannah-Jones’ tenure before the end of June. This board should not avoid its responsibility. Hannah-Jones deserves a vote, up or down, on the tenure request. North Carolinians and those committed to academic freedom should demand it. Failure to act on, much less grant, the request for tenure has sparked a controversy that has become both the preeminent debate in the nation over academic and intellectual freedom as well as more fodder for the mis-informed partisan outrage over critical race theory. Current trustees chair Richard Stevens, whose appointment expires June 30, has a demonstrable life-long commitment to the university. There’s hardly a top UNC campus committee on which he hasn’t played a key role. He should not leave this important task unresolved.
NC MUST TEACH PUBLIC SCHOOL CHILDREN THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR HISTORY, AND NOT SUGARCOAT IT: Some in conservative media are attacking resources like the 1619 Project. Critics weaponize language misconstruing the intent of educators seeking to provide accurate information. These voices are loud. They threaten progress made toward racial and economic equity in our public schools. They seek to undermine public education by shifting resources toward private education and for-profit charter schools where taxpayers have little to no oversight of curricula. So, we should ask ourselves these questions: Why are strong public schools and critical discussions about our shared history so threatening? What is gained by sugarcoating our past and downplaying current social challenges that stem from that history? American public education is a key democratizing force, and its soul faces a new threat. On the heels of a pandemic, racial inflection points, and an attempted insurrection, we cannot allow critics to cancel inconvenient facts from our public schools. Please reach out to your public school board members, the Department of Public Instruction and State Board of Education, and our General Assembly lawmakers with your support for teaching truth to our children.
A BUDGET SHOULD REFLECT ASPIRATION TO EXCELLENCE, NOT MEDIOCRITY: When the state treasury is blessed with a large surplus, as it is now, that doesn’t mean the state has been taxing too much or too little. Nor does it mean that the state is spending too much or too little. What it does mean is that leaders must look closely at what the state does promise to provide its citizens and assess whether it is devoting the resources necessary to fulfill that commitment. For much of the last decade our schools, our public health, our infrastructure, public lands, have not had the attention and resources to keep up, much less provide the excellence citizens deserve and that should be the goal. The first reaction to a surplus should be to examine what needs are unmet. What obligations are unfulfilled, what has been neglected or so well-worn that it needs repair and renewal. The budget state Senate leaders have proposed doesn’t reflect that obligation.
A WAR ON TRUTH IS RAGING. NOT EVERYONE RECOGNIZES WE'RE IN IT: Americans are no longer so naive about foreign attacks on our information space. The news media, the government and the public did a better job of recognizing and resisting information warfare from outside adversaries in 2020 than four years earlier. But what if a far larger, more sophisticated and more ruthless disinformation campaign against American democracy originated within the United States? Would we recognize and respond to the threat? The answer so far is no — or, at best, only partially. Most people regard Republicans’ #StopTheSteal campaign, also known as the “big lie,” as an attempt to re-litigate the 2020 election and pander to a radicalized, Trumpy base. It is that, but it is also a massive and devastatingly effective deployment of Russian-style information warfare against American democracy — by Americans themselves — with an eye toward the future. We should think of it not as a momentary partisan outburst but a kind of epistemic 9/11: a moment when a menace that has been developing for years reaches maturity and displays its full prowess. The digital era raised the stakes by making misinformation easy to spread. GamerGate and online trolls refined viral outrage. Anti-vaccine groups pioneered digitally amplified misinformation. Russia spread divisive hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Misinformation became weaponized as disinformation — not a mistake but an intentional obfuscation created by those with interests at stake. For years, Americans have been targeted with epistemic warfare — that is, with attacks on the credibility of the mainstream media, academia, government agencies, and other institutions and professionals we rely on to keep us collectively moored to facts. Those doing the targeting are nameable individuals and organizations, including Trump, conservative media outlets, Republican politicians, anti-vaccine groups and Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
STOP HOPING THE GOP WILL PLAY BALL: I am truly baffled as to why Democrats continue to search for bipartisan support that has not only been illusory, but nonexistent — with the exception of a predictable few and only on a few issues with them. Democrats: Republicans don’t want you to win. It’s that simple. They want no successes on your watch, and they certainly don’t want to participate in said victories. And yet the reports keep pouring in of Democrats bending over backward and gutting their bills in a desperate effort to win Republican support. It seems to me that this has all been a performance, a going through the motions, a checking of the boxes, so that Democrats could say that they tried, that they extended a hand but were rebuffed. Democrats always seem to want to win the moral advantage, to say that they played the game with honor. Republicans are in win-at-all-costs mode. They don’t really care how they sound today or will be judged by history. The only thing that matters is winning and retaining power, defending the narrative of America that white people created and protecting the power and wealth they accrued because of it. Last week, Senator Joe Manchin offered some changes and reductions to the voter rights bill called the For the People Act, changes that he could support and that he hoped would win some Republican support. His compromised stance was quickly rebuffed by Republicans. I say dispense with the phony, wish-driven narrative Democrats are selling. Go down screaming and fighting. Much of the Democratic agenda may be stalled, but never stop reminding voters why it is: not because Democrats haven’t compromised enough, but because they could never compromise enough. The current status quo is an unwinnable negotiation, because it isn’t a negotiation. This is a war. And in it, all is fair.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
LIZ KISZELY: USE SURPLUS TO PROPERLY FUND MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT: North Carolina will have a $6.5 billion budget surplus over the next two years. That makes it an opportune time for the state to demonstrate some altruism regarding issues that are often kicked down the road for lack of long-term funding or glamorous press. Now is the right time to fund mental health facilities for N.C. residents and their families. Akin to the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics’ treatment of our physical bodies, North Carolina could become a leader in the nation for treatment of mental health issues. The nation continues to allow mass shootings and other violence to go unchecked, often attributing it to the mental health of those who commit the crimes. Most of us are also well aware of the destructive effects opioid and other drugs have on communities. These factors provide additional incentives for the state to use its $6.5 billion surplus to do something about a difficult issue — mental health — which affects everyone.
LEANNA MURPHY: BURR AND TILLIS SHOULD AT LEAST ALLOW DEBATE ON VOTING RIGHTS BILL: Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis should vote “yes” to open debate on Senate Bill 1 on voter access. Voting is the bedrock of our representative democracy. We need our senators to have a vigorous debate and discussion. There are so many ideas that would increase voting participation. Personally, I’d like to see Election Day as a paid federal holiday so every citizen will be free to vote — and volunteer at the polls. I also fully support automatic registration upon getting a driver’s license. Voters want to hear everyone’s ideas, and to do that we need to have the debate in the Senate.
ALISON GREENE: HARNETT COUNTY SHOULD TAKE COVID MORE SERIOUSLY: Regarding “NC school district no longer requires masks for students,” (June 13): Wearing masks significantly reduces the spread of COVID. Vaccination is the best way to stop the pandemic, but only 28% of residents in Harnett County are fully vaccinated, far short of herd immunity. With the more virulent Delta strain circulating, the outlook for Harnett is grim. People in Harnett County public schools are particularly endangered by the school board’s recent decision to make face coverings optional for all people at its summer school program, including students. The virus will spread far beyond that community. As a fellow North Carolinian, I urge all residents of Harnett County to get vaccinated to save lives. I ask the Harnett County school board to reconsider this deadly decision.