A recent revision to a plan to require social justice instruction in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine retains several of the original plan’s most controversial components.
The update kept a requirement that instructors seeking tenure demonstrate a commitment to “anti-racism,” as well as a rule that faculty must “explain the difference between sex and gender and how specific organs and cells do not belong to specific genders.”
But med school leaders have walked back a few of its social justice proposals after initial news reports on the plan were published, including The College Fix’s Jan. 5 report: “UNC Med School moves ahead with plans to root instruction in DEI, teach organs aren’t gender-specific.”
In late 2020, the UNC “Task Force to Integrate Social Justice Into the Curriculum” issued a report recommending 42 changes to implement social justice into the medical school’s curriculum.
Among the report’s recommendations was creation of a mechanism by which instructors looking either to be hired or promoted must demonstrate a “growth mindset as it relates to social justice.”
According to the new update, the report’s goal of instructors being assessed “regarding their contributions in the domain of social justice and incentivized for such contributions” will stand.
“The School Of Medicine weighs a multitude of factors in Promotion and Tenure Guidelines,” writes the task force in its recent update. “Positive contribution to the School’s teaching mission is the first listed. Other criteria include research accomplishments, scholarship, and professional service and DEI efforts. Faculty efforts are conceptualized in the broadest context, and contributions may extend across research, teaching, service and clinical work.”
The original report also recommended the School of Medicine introduce “multimedia public relations campaigns, inclusive signage, and architectural and design changes in the physical space.”
In January 2022, Dr. Wesley Burks, dean of the Medical School, gave a presentation to the UNC Board of Governors in which he called a previous College Fix story about the task force “misleading” and “sensationalized.”
The College Fix contacted Burks to ask what aspects of the story he found to be misleading.
“We are in receipt of your email, but do not wish to engage with you further on this,” responded Phil Bridges, a UNC Health spokesman.
But following articles by both The College Fix and James Sailer of The James G. Martin Center, the school in February released an “update” to the report. According to Sailer, Burks said the purpose of the revision to the report was to “make sure it reflects the current status of our work in these areas.”
The update lists each of the original report’s recommendations, explaining the progress on each item. For just about every recommendation, the update supports the initial report, providing new context that is both vague and confusing.
For instance, as Sailer points out, the original report required faculty to attend workshops “on how to incorporate outlined core concepts of anti-racism.”
“In response, The Update simply notes, first, that ‘understanding the influence of race and racism on health is vital for physicians to successfully address health equity and improve outcomes for patients,’” Sailer writes, noting that the update does nothing to clarify whether professors will be required to instruct students that “specific organs and cells do not belong to specific genders” or “explicitly include anti-racism content during lectures and small group discussions.”
In 36 of the 42 recommendation updates, the school states the item is “addressed by existing efforts.”
There are, however, some alterations to the initial report.
For instance, a recommendation providing positive rewards for faculty who “demonstrate excellence in their teaching in the domain of social justice above and beyond the typical incentive plans” has been scuttled, with the school saying there are “no plans for implementation” of the recommendation.
This recommendation, which included rotating the endowed chairs within the medical school, was one of the items highlighted by The College Fix in its original story.
Another recommendation that aimed to “Develop a communication strategy system where reflection prompts are widely disseminated to SOM and UNC Health Employees and where high-quality reflections are shared and celebrated,” has also been shelved, as has a plan to appoint a group to “revise advocacy competencies” for medical students.
Nonetheless, the update retains a plan to form a work group to train students to “deploy advocacy skills” on political issues like “realization in statute of health care as a human right,” “restoring US leadership to reverse climate change,” “achieving radical reform of the US criminal justice system,” “ending policies of exclusion and achieving compassionate immigration reform,” “ending hunger and homelessness in the US,” and “ensuring every single person’s vote counts equally.”
The few items that have been rescinded run counter to the task force’s website, which in January reported that every goal it set in the report was “on time” for implementation. The site has since been updated to remove that claim.
“The Update ultimately reaffirms the School of Medicine’s slide toward social justice activism,” wrote Sailer.
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