Concerns about faculty freedom at other schools
One of our faculty members emailed me an article by Michelle Goldberg in The Nation which recounted the termination of two faculty members from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. The article described Professors Hopper and Vance as accomplished public intellectuals who’d made major contributions to their fields. In fact, they work on the kinds of issues that public health professionals have championed—health care for homeless people and the intersection of gender, health and human rights. Many schools of public health have faculty members studying and advocating on these topics. However, when the professors’ grant funding lapsed, readers may infer from the article that being outspoken and unfunded was a fatal combination. (I have no particular information about the cases and have learned how complicated these situations can be. One of the downsides of fixed term faculty appointments for these faculty is that at the end of their contract periods, nothing requires renewal.)
Although it has decreased significantly over the last several years, at UNC, we continue to receive funding from the state of North Carolina and are grateful for it. That allows us to view faculty members in a more holistic way. Yes, it is a crisis when grant funding declines, because it is central to our operations – but we also recognize that many faculty members’ grant funding tends to rise and fall in a rhythmic way. We want people to receive grants, because it allows them to answer cutting-edge, important questions that may lead to improved public health. We also know that few people have sustained magnificent grant funding records without any lean years. And today, times are tough.