News & Record, Aug. 11, 2002
CHAPEL HILL — Caught between demands to back up the principle of academic freedom, complaints about religious freedom and a skeptical Legislature in the middle of budget decisions, the state university system’s governing board opted against taking any stand.
The UNC System Board of Governors on Friday narrowly voted down a resolution supporting academic freedom, then decided minutes later to study the matter in more depth.
The moves came two days after a legislative committee voted to block the use of public money for a UNC-Chapel Hill program in which 4,200 new students are to read a book interpreting Islam’s main religious text.
University system UNC board members found they, like many in North Carolina, were unsure about the appropriate place of religion in public education. Some were wary of antagonizing legislators and jeopardizing the university’s share of a tight state budget.
In his proposed resolution, board member Ray S. Farris of Charlotte asked the board to endorse a statement backing academic freedom at its 16 member institutions. The resolution avoided direct reference to the legislature, the reading requirement or Islam.
The measure was supported 18 to 10, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required under board rules. The board then rescinded its vote and asked a committee to consider the issue this fall.
Board member Craig Souza of Raleigh said the resolution could bruise relations with legislators at a sensitive time.
But board member Jim Phillips of Greensboro said it was important to weigh in quickly on issues of academic freedom that have been raised in the summer reading controversy“>summer reading controversy.