A Letter Regarding English 72: The ‘Literature of 9/11’ First-Year Seminar

September 11, 2015

Today, we remember 9/11 across the University.  It is a solemn day that has affected the canvas of our nation in many ways.  Recently, as many know, a first-year seminar course entitled Literature of 9/11 came under scrutiny.  Provost Jim Dean penned an email to concerned people who wrote to the University.  It provides some facts that we gathered over the past week that we’d like to share more widely.

——————–

Thank you for sharing your concerns about our First-Year Seminar, English 72: “The Literature of 9/11.” Chancellor Folt was also troubled when she first learned what was being reported about this class. She immediately asked me to investigate and gather the facts.

Here is some of what we’ve learned:

  • The original Internet article was a blog post written by a new first-year UNC-Chapel Hill student who has publicly acknowledged that he isn’t enrolled in the seminar and didn’t read the books on the course list. We respect his right to express his opinions. However, the article was misleading and inaccurate.
  • This first-year seminar is not required and has been offered every year since 2010. New students choose to take this popular course. Twenty-five students registered for this fall’s seminar – one more than the normal limit – from a total first-year class of about 4,000 students.
  • The readings cover a broad range of materials providing different opinions including the perspectives of residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, and excerpts from the non-partisan 9/11 Commission Report. The full list includes national and international prize-winning books and best-sellers, as well as a book made into a movie. I encourage you to visit http://lit911.web.unc.edu/schedule/ for a full description of the seminar and materials.
  • Students who have taken the course say it does not attempt to indoctrinate them. For example, one student posted this online comment: “the entire course was in the style of ‘this is what this certain people believe/ how they responded’ and not ‘this is what you ought to believe.’ In no way did I come out of the class feeling pushed to believe the US was imperialistic, nor feeling in any way sympathetic toward terrorism.
  • Other students and alumni have raised their own concerns about the accuracy of the original article. This comment is representative: “As someone who took this class at UNC, I strongly disagree with this article. The class would be more aptly named, “The Cultural Impact of 9/11,” and considering the class as I took it in 2011, much of this article is untrue.” 
  • The faculty member is in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and has taught this same seminar five previous times. He is highly rated by his students in end-of-semester course evaluations. More specifically, they cite how he treats all students with respect and effectively encourages them to participate in class.

Chancellor Folt and I share your horror over the tragic events of 9/11. The Carolina community lost several members on that day, and our campus came together to honor them by creating a memorial garden to permanently celebrate their lives. On a personal level, I recently visited the 9/11 Shrine and Chapel in the Pentagon, and was moved to tears thinking about the innocent civilians and military men and women who lost their lives there that day.

Over the past several years, the University has significantly strengthened support for the military. We currently enroll the largest number of veterans since post World War II and have many active duty and retired military members involved in our campus programs. Faculty teach more than 60 courses exploring military history, and our ROTC program is strong and well respected. We recently launched the UNC Core program to provide an online option for service members at in-state tuition rates. They can take general education requirements online and transfer the credits to any UNC system university. The Kenan-Flagler Business School teaches executive development programs for senior leaders from all military services to accelerate transitions to new executive leadership roles. Those are just a few highlights from a rapidly growing list of programs and initiatives now focusing intensely on supporting members of the military. We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made on this front, and are encouraged about future opportunities to do even more.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns. I hope you find this information reassuring.

Sincerely,

James W. Dean, Jr.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

 

Letter to the Editor of The Daily Tar Heel

September 4, 2015

On September 3, The Daily Tar Heel wrote an editorial regarding the state of North Carolina’s One State, One Rate policy.  Chancellor Carol L. Folt provided a statement at the request of the editorial staff the day prior to its publication, but it was not included.  Joel Curran, vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, wrote this letter in response; it was published Sept. 4, 2015:

TO THE EDITOR: I was surprised to read your editorial “All students deserve aid,” regarding the state of North Carolina’s One State, One Rate policy.

In it, you point to Chancellor Folt’s silence on the issue. But she has been far from silent. Her thoughts on the issue were shared with you early Wednesday afternoon, well ahead of your paper’s deadline. And the editorial board is well aware Chancellor Folt addressed the same issue last month during a speech delivered at the National Press Club. It’s archived on C-SPAN’s web site.

The DTH Editorial Board has apparently chosen to ignore the Chancellor’s voice, the same way it has chosen not to meet with Chancellor Folt since July when I requested an opportunity for her to meet with the board during the first week of school. Editorial Board Editor Sam Schafer replied, “…it would probably be better for the new board to have time to get used to our work process and get a little experience before we meet with the Chancellor. It usually takes a little time to get a new editorial board in the swing of things.”

Seems like the editorial board is already swinging, and in this case, missing.

Since your first edition rolled off your presses on August 14, you have published at least four editorials that would have benefited from Chancellor Carol Folt’s position, but no request was made. Her invitation still stands, but the DTH’s silence is, well, deafening.

Chancellor Folt’s response: “Nothing is more important to me than providing access to a great education that is affordable for our students. I speak about this often and quite strongly. My entire administration is working hard to identify financial support for these efforts, particularly those focused on first generation students, students from low income families and students entering from non-traditional backgrounds, like community colleges. Not only have I spoken at the White House on this issue several times and increased financial support for initiatives like the Carolina Covenant and Carolina Advising Corps, I recently spent an hour with the National Press Club speaking about this issue.

As the chancellor of a public university, I am bound by current state and federal law, and North Carolina is not one of the states that forgives out-of-state tuition for undocumented students. For these students, we must use funds that we raise via philanthropy to help academically qualified students cover out-of-state rates, and we are working every day to increase these funds.

Some states have adopted a different approach to charging tuition for undocumented students in the last couple of years. Our State now makes it possible for all active duty military personnel to have in-state rates, and that too is another undeserved population that I strongly support. This is a positive step in the right direction.”

Joel Curran

Vice Chancellor of Communications and Public Affairs

Providing context

September 3, 2015

Today, we introduce a new avenue to provide University information to the Carolina community and beyond.  “UNC-Chapel Hill On The Record” allows us to provide context about issues and stories involving the University, and we expect to provide responses to articles, additional clarifying information and outreach on important topics.  Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to explain our unique perspective, and we hope that it will inform your discussions about Carolina.