Gang, we should talk about some of the things I saw at yesterday's #UNC BOT meeting on tenure for #NikoleHannahJones.

I should start by saying my observations are informed by 20 years of professional reporting - covering cops and courts, local and state government, higher ed.
Given the controversy over the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure issue, #UNC had to know there was going to be a large crowd at this meeting and they would see protests.

I wish I was kidding when I tell you I've seen multiple small town boards of aldermen handle protests much better.
I've been to a number of BOT meetings at The Carolina Inn, where they're generally held in one or several large ball rooms. Pre-pandemic, chairs were provided for the public. In the pandemic, those chairs were eliminated. A 75 person cap was in place yesterday, everyone standing.
This may very well be a health and safety issue. If it is, it appears to be the only precaution. Little to no use of masks, little to no social distancing. In practical terms, the lack of space for the public means anyone (not including press) who comes has to stand.
That's fine...I've gotten through a lot of meetings standing.

But yesterday, UNC police kept protesters (students, faculty, alumni) OUT OF THE BUILDING until the meeting began, then moved and kept them outside (in the 90-plus degree heat) during the three hour closed session.
Reporters were allowed to stay inside, enjoying the AC. So were some faculty members without signs who just showed up, went to the bar, had some drinks, then sat in the lobby. Also, some (white) folks who literally walked in off the street. Just no one who looked "protester-y."
At one point several women came inside, into the lobby outside the meeting, and were immediately confronted by police telling them to leave. Behind them, in sight of the officers surrounding them: another person in the lobby with a protest sign. To whom they said nothing.
How they were making these decisions was not apparent. They repeatedly said, "We have orders" and declined to discuss how and why they were doing what they were doing.
This sort of behavior from the governing boards and UNC police isn't new to the pandemic era. I've seen them remove chairs from meeting rooms pre-pandemic, then say there wasn't room for the public. I've seen them deny people available chairs for no reason.
I've had cops get into my face when I point out that these meetings are public and that they do in fact have to let the public attend them unless and until they are disruptive to the meeting. They didn't love my weighing in, wanted to tell me it wasn't my job.
Let me be clear about this: Making sure the public can attend public meetings and that elected officials and their appointees conduct public meetings in a way that is legal and equitable is *very much* a part of every journalist's job.
Here's another thing about being a reporter: It does not grant you superpowers, special rights or privileges. At least legally. I'm just a member of the public who writes for a living. If I can be in a public space, so can you. Anyone saying anything else is snowing you.
Over the course of my career I've stood up for conservatives and liberals who were denied access to public spaces or meetings. I've always asked cops and elected officials to explain closing meetings and public spaces to the public when it would be more comfortable for them.
Now, to the actual protest. In my observation, things only really got tense and a bit out of control when the board went into a closed session.

This is not only common but legally necessary to protect private info of candidates in personnel issues.
But most people who don't follow these things very carefully (which is to say, most people) don't know this. There's no real reason to expect they would. I saw the crowd becoming upset by this coming. If I did, you know UNC PR folks did. But no one did anything to prevent it.
How to easily avoid this: Have a conversation beforehand. Have someone who has some affinity with and respect from the protesters (say, student body president Lamar Richards) explain this to the public beforehand. Explain how the process will work, that any vote will be public.
That wasn't done. So we ended up in a situation where police shoved and forcibly removed Black students from this meeting, where they continued to protest in the hallway. What calmed things: Richards calling them to make the explanation *after* things went sideways.
At this point I hear someone saying: "Well, why is it the responsibility of the board or UNC to manage this protest, to educate the protesters about the process, to avoid an ugly scene? They should have just behaved themselves."
Let's skip right over a lot of replies to that which should come from people smarter than I.

If you're running a meeting it *is in your own best interest* (and everyone's) to keep things calm and the public informed about how you're doing it. No percentage in not doing so.
It's also just a bad look to have your own students, faculty, staff and alumni standing outside in 90-plus degree heat in a NC summer when you have several large and empty ballrooms and lobbies you could offer them. If they disrupt things? Toss 'em. Until then, a little courtesy.
This isn't just the UNC-CH BOT. I've seen it at the UNC Board of Governors meetings as well, also held in a public building. During controversies, students/faculty are regularly barred from accessing not just the meeting but the building. Not barred? Lobbyists. Not a great look.
Last night, I suggested one UNC PR student could have prevented a lot of yesterday's headaches. If they were willing to listen to one.

UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System do have smart, experienced PR pros - some alumni themselves. My guess is their advice isn't getting through.
This is, of course, more than a PR issue. It's a matter of public access - of respect for the students, staff, faculty and alumni who make up the school.

But strictly from a PR perspective, on which I expect broader agreement...they can and should be doing better.
I can now hear a chorus of people saying, "What about the disrespect shown to the trustees? What about the screams, jeers, threats, cursing from the protesters? Shouldn't we be talking about that?"
To that I can only repeat an old maxim handed down to me from political reporting mentors.

"In politics, there are no victims. Just volunteers."

There's no one on any board who didn't put their hand up and ask for the job. Some days it's a tough one.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with JoekillianPW

JoekillianPW Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @JoekillianPW

16 Aug 20
An observation about infection clusters at UNC Schools - Chapel Hill and otherwise: It's been obvious from the beginning of planning there would be infections and clusters. That's why from the beginning students, staff and faculty expressed concerns - particularly w/ dorms. (1/6)
During that same time, the consistent message from administration and the UNC System office has been: Yeah. People are going to get sick. That's why we have isolation/quarantine dorms and, hopefully, enough hospital beds and testing capacity. (2/6)
What we're seeing now isn't an unforeseen event and should not be a shock to those who have been paying attention. It's what it actually looks like when harm prevention is one concern but not the primary concern in a plan of this type and magnitude. (3/6)
Read 6 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!