Uncovered emails from senior officials at the University of North Carolina revealed the government affairs team worked behind the scenes to stop college constitutional literacy legislation called the REACH Act, according to emails obtained in a recent public records request. I requested the records to see what discussions the UNC System lobbyists might be having on the bill, which I authored. And I was disappointed by what I found.
“We tried to slow this down…It was a ‘wrap yourself in the flag’ type bill,” said Bart Goodson, UNC’s senior vice president of government affairs in an April 3 email. Goodson’s annual salary is $305,000.
In another email, Goodson called the legislation “red-meat theater.”
If passed, the REACH Act will require all North Carolina public college students to take a three-credit-hour class on American government, the U.S. Constitution, and other foundational American documents including the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Who could object to that?
The REACH Act was written to improve college-level American government literacy, which is likely a good idea since 10% of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the U.S. Supreme Court.
It will also balance the UNC System’s globalist curriculum, where course credits in “global understanding” are often required, while not a single college in the UNC System requires American government.
UNC lobbies against the bill
Emails show Austen Nowell, UNC’s assistant vice president of state government relations; and David English, UNC’s acting senior vice president for academic affairs, also worked with Goodson to lobby legislators against the importance of studying the Constitution in college.
Undeterred by UNC’s efforts to block college students from taking a required American government class, Rep. Hardister led the state House passage of H.B. 96, which passed with a bipartisan vote of 69-47 vote on March 22.
In an interview with WNCT Greenville, Rep Hardister stated, “It’s not a Democratic or Republican bill. It’s not meant to be partisan at all. It’s to make sure we understand U.S. history and civics.”
After realizing they were losing in the N.C. House, the uncovered emails show the UNC System staff pivoted to fighting the bill in the state Senate.
“I was in the House Clerk’s office today and Rep. Pickett [co-chair of House Education- Universities Committee] walked in to be added as a bill sponsor to that bill with Kidwell and Hardister,” Goodson told UNC System President Hans in a Feb. 14 email. “Couldn’t persuade him to reconsider.”
In the same email, Goodson told President Hans that he sent another UNC lobbyist, Eric Naisbitt, to “have a conversation” with Senate Education Chairman Michael Lee to kill the bill. Naisbitt is an assistant vice president of state government relations and receives an annual salary of $107,000.
Goodson lamented that Naisbitt learned “from the conversation that Sen. Lee likes the bill as well.”
In a later April 3 email to UNC staff, Goodson said he hoped they could “slow [it] down on the Senate side. We’ll see.”
UNC staff willing to undermine Board of Governors
Additional emails suggest the UNC System staff worked to undermine the chairman of the Board of Governors, or at least was acting without complete knowledge of their wishes.
The UNC System is governed by a statewide Board of Governors elected by the legislature to oversee operations of 17 public colleges.
Goodson told President Hans that if Ramsey “was truly supportive, we may need to alter our approach” to stop the bill.
As demonstrated by eight similar laws in other states, the N.C. legislature has the power to require that UNC System professors teach students a class on American government to graduate.
“Our public universities should provide each student with an understanding of these foundational documents which shaped the birth of our nation. Average North Carolinians provide billions of dollars to fund our public university system and the system belongs to them,” said Sen Jim Perry, sponsor of the Senate version.
If it becomes law, an estimated 345,000 N.C. college students would read America’s founding documents for themselves as part of a college-level class every year. In three years, the equivalent of 10% of the state will have taken this class. Let’s hope the Senate passes the REACH Act.