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UNC academics protest effort requiring students to read American historical documents as ‘ideological force-feeding’


“Reading the original texts of historical documents, especially a nation’s core documents, does more than just increase academic understanding. It helps readers become better citizens and gives them the tools they need to discern truth — especially in an era when “re-imagining” history through the Marxist lens of race, gender, class, and economics has become de rigueur among the university and political classes.”


This week, 673 University of North Carolina (UNC) professors signed a petition that says a proposed bill to require students to take a three-hour class on American history or government is “ideological force-feeding” and undermines their “intellectual expertise.”

Quick Facts

HB 96 would mandate that all University of North Carolina (UNC) institutions include an American history or American government class as a required course in order to be awarded an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. The legislation stipulates that the class should require students to read the following documents:

HB 96 states that there must be a final exam on the principles in the documents and should comprise at least 20 percent of the student’s total course grade and substantially “on the provisions and principles” of the original documents, the “perspectives of the authors of the documents,” and “the relevant historic contexts at the time the documents were written.”

The class requirement does not add any credit hours to the degree.

In the petition, the signatories write, “HB 96 violates core principles of academic freedom. It substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”

At the most recent UNC Faculty Council meeting of the academic year, held last week, Provost Chris Clemens said the bill was “not constructive,” arguing that “the bigger problem is it reaches into a place where we have declared and consistently said it is not appropriate. The faculty determines the curriculum of the university. Even in a sketchy format that stipulates reading for a particular class, it might be appropriate for high school, but it is not appropriate for higher ed. I think it begins to erode what we think higher education is for and what it is we do.”

It wasn’t only this bill the professors protested. Also listed was HB 715. This legislation requires a minimum enrollment standard in order for a class to proceed, among other provisions. The most hotly contested provision is the elimination of tenure. HB 715 mandates that faculty be on one- to four-year contracts.

At the Faculty Council meeting, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “Eliminating tenure would be disastrous to our universities and our efforts to retain and recruit the world-class faculty that we enjoy here at Chapel Hill. And, in my opinion, it would be disastrous for the state of North Carolina.”

The petition also criticized actions by UNC’s Board of Governors, specifically its “ongoing assault on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts at UNC schools.” This likely refers to the recent vote to ban DEI statements from its hiring, tenure, admissions, and promotion processes.

In addition, the professors criticized the Board of Trustees’ proposal for the School of Civic Life and Leadership that will permit students to “explore American civic values with the full freedom of expression, intellectual diversity, and open inquiry that such studies require.”

The faculty argues that it is a violation of “established principle that faculty, not politicians, are responsible for a college’s curriculum.”

They stated, “Our leaders continue to disregard campus autonomy, attack the expertise and independence of world-class faculty, and seek to force students’ educations into pre-approved ideological containers. We must protect the principles of academic freedom and shared governance which have long made UNC a leader in public education.”

It’s important to acknowledge that the legislature is requiring that young Americans read original documents that detail the founding and history of their country. How could that possibly be construed as “ideological force-feeding?”

Too few Americans read America’s original founding texts, despite the fact that word-for-word transcripts are easily found online or given away for free at political events. In today’s academic environment, most students read about the founding — typically from a textbook author.

Reading original texts has immense value to students. For one, it gives direct insight into the mind of the author or authors. Author C.S. Lewis warned against relying only on modern interpretations of historical events and stories, stating, “If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”

In other subjects, there is no argument that reading original texts is better than reading a summary of the plot or facts or merely listening to a professor’s interpretation. For example, no professor would tell a student to read the CliffsNotes of, say, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth rather than the actual play.

But reading the original texts of historical documents, especially a nation’s core documents, does more than just increase academic understanding. It helps readers become better citizens and gives them the tools they need to discern truth — especially in an era when “re-imagining” history through the Marxist lens of race, gender, class, and economics has become de rigueur among the university and political classes.

A student who has read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which banned the expansion of slavery into the U.S.’s newly acquired territories, would be unlikely to blindly accept the conclusions of, say, the “1619 Project.”

This class would have a positive effect. Not only would it teach students about the nation they live in and what their individual rights and responsibilities are, but it would also teach them how to tolerate and live in harmony with those who have different views.

Unfortunately, today’s leftist academics would rather indoctrinate students to hate the Constitution and attempt to strip the free-expression rights of those who dissent from what the left says is right — this is the real “ideological force-feeding” going on at America’s educational institutions.

In Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the crafty and more experienced demon Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood,

“Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages, there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.”

Many professors would have students believe that they cannot learn anything from those who came before them and should instead look only to current, progressive “experts.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Students need to seek wisdom — wisdom from those like the Founding Fathers who experienced the tyranny of government and created a new exceptional form of self-governance. Study of the founding documents is needed to protect the freedom they promise.

Ecclesiastes 7:12 says,

“For wisdom is protection just as money is protection. But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of its possessors.”

Far from being ideological force-feeding, such a course would open the minds of students and help them to value the ideals America was founded on — and to recognize when those ideals are at risk.

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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