What in the World Is Happening in North Carolina?

You may have heard about the current witch hunt fiscal deliberations happening right now in North Carolina.  As the New York Times reported a few days ago, the university system’s Board of Governors has been considering significant budget cuts for institutionally-affiliated centers for several months.  The list began with approximately 240 centers and by December a special task force had cut it down to the 34 that the board was considering for closure.  Ultimately, the full board will vote on a proposal to close 3 of the centers and to subject the rest to further review.

On the list from the beginning, and landing in the final proposal as well, is UNC’s Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE).  In fact, there are three centers focusing on education that are on the list of 34, but–as someone whose professional life is intertwined with teaching and learning in higher education–I am particularly appalled at the inclusion of the highly regarded CFE on this list.  Although I am never surprised when conservative politicians slash public funding for higher education (as we’ve seen recently with Wisconsin and Illinois), it is amazing to me that the Board of Governors would even consider putting on the chopping block a center focused on effective teaching at their flagship campus.  When will they realize that teaching is at the heart of everything that happens at the university?  To see teaching as something that only happens in the classroom is to discount all of the co- and extra-curricular activities that help to shape the successful lives and careers of college students.  Even more, it ignores the very real pedagogical value of research.  After all, we do not simply create new knowledge through research; we seek to communicate its value and importance to others.

Centers for teaching and learning have come under threat quite a bit lately.  Yes, overall the field is growing, but we have recently lost centers at Endicott College and Western Kentucky University.  Both of these centers fell victim to budget cuts that were confined to their own campuses.  Still, their losses were deeply felt by all of us who work in CTLs nationwide.  The CFE is being threatened by a larger-scale effort to dismantle public education, though, and I believe we must be vigilant.  If we cannot even make the case to others that effective teaching is an essential part of the mission of our colleges and universities, what can we do?  I don’t have easy answers for this, but I do think that we need to publicize the great work our centers do more prominently and that we need to improve with respect to telling our story and communicating our value.  What do you think?  How can we do better?