As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention on that hot summer day in Philadelphia in 1787, a woman asked him, “What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin?” He famously replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” House Bill 96 — the REACH Act — would help ensure we “keep” our republic. 

By its nature, a free republic requires a virtuous and educated citizenry to survive. Unfortunately, knowledge of America’s founding principles and government is at an all-time low — even among those with a college degree. For example, one recent survey from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni showed that 10% of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the U.S. Supreme Court. And a third of Americans can’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment. 

Knowledge of America’s first principles is not an innate characteristic. Rather, these principles must be taught and learned. That’s why it’s critical that we teach students the founding documents where these principles are enshrined. Documents like the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, and others. 

You’d think it would be a given that colleges would require students to study American government — since part of a college’s mission is to train good citizens for society, after all. But if you thought that, you’d be mistaken. In the University of North Carolina System, not a single college requires American government to graduate. 

For the absence of such a critical course, you’d think it must be because degree requirements are jammed packed with other critical courses in subjects like English, engineering, or STEM. But that’s not the case. UNC Chapel Hill, for example, requires ALL students to complete a three-credit-hour class on “global understanding.” It also requires ALL students to complete a three-credit-hour class in “power, difference, and inequality.” N.C. State, for its own part, requires ALL students to complete a class in “global knowledge” and a similar requirement on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

H.B. 96 would ensure all colleges in the UNC System and the Community College System require bachelor’s and associate’s degree-seeking students complete just one course on American government and America’s founding documents. Most people would think this a reasonable proposal.  

But hundreds of UNC Chapel Hill professors have come unglued. They say this is out of the scope of the legislature and that it infringes upon “campus autonomy” and “academic freedom.” Yet they fail to point out with any specifics how a required American government course violates academic freedom. They also call it, “ideological force-feeding.” They did not state whether they think their own required diversity classes are “ideological force-feeding.” UNC was created by state law. It’s absurd these professors think the public may not have input on a public entity that the public created in the first place. 

I am in favor of the General Assembly delegating most of its authority to UNC System for it to govern itself. But out of a standard 120-credit hour bachelor’s degree, it is not unreasonable for the legislature to mandate just one three-credit-hour course — or 2.5% of the degree — in American government. 

At least eight other states have similar laws mandating that colleges require students to take an American government course. In 2021, for example, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the nonpartisan SC REACH Act into law. Almost identical to the NC REACH Act, it passed the S.C. Senate 45-0 and the SC House 91-12. The presidents of both the University of South Carolina and Clemson University publicly endorsed it. Even the faculty at University of South Carolina passed a resolution in 2020 to implement the required class before it became law a year later in 2021. 

Contrast that to the kicking and screaming of the UNC Chapel Hill faculty who can’t be bothered with teaching students about citizenship because it might get in the way with classes like, “Global Environmental Justice” or “Comparative Queer Politics,” both of which fulfill multiple general education requirements.  

Freedom is not passed in the bloodstream. Rather, it must be consciously passed on to each generation. H.B. 96 will help do that by educating college students on their nation’s history so they can graduate as productive citizens in our state. If passed, an estimated 345,000 N.C. college students will take this class every year. In just three years, the equivalent of 10% of the state will have taken this class.  

In July of 1776, 56 Americans “pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” for the principle that “all men are created equal.” American servicemen and women give their lives for our freedom. But it’s all for naught if we can’t maintain our freedom here at home. Let’s hope the Senate passes H.B. 96 so we can keep our republic.