Monday, June 21, 2021

Muller's Nonreappointment to the UNC Press Board

[We have the following statement by Eric L. Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at UNC Law, on the decision of the  Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System not to approve his reappointment to the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina Press.  DRE]

It has been an honor to serve for many years on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina Press and for the last six years as its Chair. A year shy of its 100th birthday, the Press is one of the preeminent academic publishers in the world, renowned equally for the scholarly rigor and for the beautiful design of its books. The awards and prizes won by its authors would themselves fill a book.

I'm proud to have chaired the search that brought our talented Director, John Sherer, down from Basic Books in New York. It has been a privilege to help the Press expand its commitment to the UNC System and the people of our state, as with the Office of Scholarly Publishing Services, which provides low-cost publishing services to academic communities across the whole UNC System. We've also diversified our Board by appointing members from two previously unrepresented UNC System schools, Appalachian State and North Carolina A&T, so that now the Board can boast of representation from six System universities. Finally, the Board today benefits from the greatest racial, ethnic, and gender representation it has ever known, a result I am proud of helping the Board achieve.

Twice appointed to five-year terms by the System Board of Governors, I was looking forward to a smooth reappointment, as all such UNC Press Board appointments have been across the decades at the level of the System Board. I was therefore surprised and disappointed to hear that the System Board would not be acting on my reappointment, even while reappointing the two colleagues nominated alongside me.

If there is a reason for singling me out in this unprecedented way, the System Board has not shared it with me or with the UNC Press Board.

I would hate to think it had something to do with my public commentary in recent years on matters of law, race, and history, such as the law on removal of Confederate monuments, the abortive $2.5 million legal settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the moratorium on renaming UNC buildings, or the removal of the portrait of slave-trading Judge Thomas Ruffin from the courtroom of our state's highest court. I would hate to think it had something to do with my focusing public attention on ways in which the law has ignored and harmed the interests of African Americans--and still does.  These are matters within my expertise as a legal scholar and historian, the very stuff of the work I do as a university professor.

It would be an ominous sign for the values of a leading research university and of a celebrated academic press if our System’s Board of Governors were to single out faculty members for punishment for voicing their views on matters within their expertise and research.

Did they do that here?  I’d like to hope not.  But they knew nothing else about me.  They never asked about my service as a Press Board member.  They never asked about my leadership as Chair.  So it's hard to imagine a different reason.