(Columbia) The State. Nov. 23, 2021.

Editorial: Ending tenure at South Carolina’s universities will harm students

Academic freedom isn’t some new concept in this country.

In 1819, however, when former President Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, his was a radical notion.

“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it,” Jefferson said.

Take a moment to digest Jefferson’s words.

He spoke of the limitless potential of our minds to learn, to study, to understand, to question.

American universities have rightly followed that model, but increasingly American politicians seem adverse to the notion.

The latest group to seek to limit academic freedom is a group of 23 Republican members of the South Carolina legislature who support House Bill 4522, better known as the “Cancelling Professor Tenure Act.”

The bill would prohibit public colleges and universities from awarding tenure to employees hired in 2023 or later. Instead, faculty members would be offered contracts no longer than five years.

It would also eliminate tenure if there are no more tenured employees at an institution as of December 2022.

A similar effort failed earlier this year in Iowa.

The American Association of University Professors defines tenure as “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.”

Rep. Bill Taylor, the bill’s sponsor, told our reporter Lucas Daprile that “There are no guarantees of lifelong employment. The question is always why professors in higher education are the single exception. In my view, each of us needs to demonstrate their work.”

But Taylor ignores why tenure exists.

Consider Jefferson’s quote again.

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Imagine a college or university campus where professors are afraid to introduce new ideas, research or theories or to combat those who spew misinformation in their place simply because they might be controversial or unpopular.

Tenure gives professors the freedom to tackle issues, topics, histories and controversies without fear of reprisals or reprimand.

It allows ideas to be shared in our classrooms where students and faculty can interact, reason and debate.

“If HB 4522 bill becomes law, it would do irreparable damage to the quality of education in the South Carolina public university system by destroying the means by which academic freedom is protected, which is tenure. The principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is indispensable for the quality of teaching and research in higher education,” Kelly Benjamin, spokesperson for the American Association of University Professors wrote in an email Tuesday to The State Editorial Board.

Kelly added, “In service of the common good, tenure allows faculty members to pursue research and innovation, and to draw evidence-based conclusions free from corporate, religious, or political pressure. At reputable institutions of higher education, academic freedom is protected because tenured professors can be dismissed only for reasons related to professional fitness and only after a hearing before a faculty body at which the administration must make its case that the faculty member’s conduct or performance warrants dismissal.”

“If passed, HB 4522 would put into place a system that will shift the burden of proof from an institution’s administration (to show cause for dismissal) to the individual faculty member (to show cause why he or she should be retained,” Kelly wrote.

At a time when schools across the country, including in South Carolina, are debating banning books and limiting what history should be taught, we must stand up for the right of our children to learn and for our teachers to teach all the world has to offer.

We urge the legislature to reject Taylor’s bill, which at its heart would give university professors reason to stay silent rather than “follow truth wherever it may lead.”

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The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Nov. 23 2021.

Editorial: Lowcountry Food Bank helps ensure we all have reason to give thanks

The Lowcountry Food Bank is distributing almost 50 tons of turkey (5,500 whole birds; 2,600 breasts) to families in need across coastal South Carolina this week, and that’s not simply because these birds are a good source of protein. As the nonprofit’s motto states, its work is about more than feeding people; it’s also about advocating for them and empowering them.

And the families who receive a turkey won’t just be fed for a day (perhaps much longer if they’re savvy with leftovers). They will feel as if they are participating in our uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving. Without it, they understandably might feel even more marginalized than they already are.

But the story of this year’s turkey distribution also underscores another important reality: As the pandemic and its economic ripple effects continue, the Lowcountry Food Bank is having to be more adaptive and resilient than ever — and its success continues to hinge on those of us able to provide our support.

Food Bank President and CEO Nick Osborne said he felt it necessary to expand the nonprofit’s order for turkeys in March this year — eight months before the nonprofit distributes them. The extra reflected a lesson learned: The bank struggled last year to find sufficient birds closer to Thanksgiving, as COVID-19 continued to wreak its havoc on our economy as well as our health.

“This year has been a year of adaptation, whereas last year was a year of uncertainty,” he tells us. “We’ve had to pivot and adjust, and that will continue into the year ahead.”

That’s where the fortunate among us come in. The Lowcountry Food Bank receives much of its support from direct donations of food from regional and national donors, grocery stores, U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, other federal help and local food drives.

But it also relies on financial support — cash and in-kind donations other than food — to function well, which this year will involve distributing about 40 million pounds of food, water and essential items to about 185,000 people, more than 12% of the population in the 10 coastal counties it serves. The bank works with more than 250 churches, nonprofits and other partners to get the food out, while its 15 trucks drive a quarter-million miles across the area.

These nonfood donations add up to about $12 million a year and help the Food Bank buy the necessary food it cannot otherwise obtain: About 6% of all its food last year was bought. Currently, the Food Bank is feeling the same pinch that most of us are with higher food costs, gas prices and other inflationary pressures, including the shortage of truck drivers.

That’s why the Lowcountry Food Bank’s year-end financial appeal is important, and why we must help where we can. Demand for its help remains at a record high (the 40 million pounds being distributed this year is up from the 39.7 million pounds given out last year, which eclipsed the 32 million in 2019).

The nonprofit has been a good steward of the support it has received. It recently launched a new GIS program to ensure its distribution trucks are taking the shortest, most efficient routes possible. In the big picture, its work has helped prevent our health crisis of the past 1½ years from becoming a humanitarian crisis, at least in our corner of the world. As we give thanks this week, we should pause and be thankful for that.

And those of us who have the most to be grateful for should consider giving the Food Bank more than just our thanks. To a family in need, a turkey at Thanksgiving can provide a sense of dignity. To families able to afford a feast with all the trimmings, giving back can provide a different but equally satisfying sense.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. Nov. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Recognizing Native American contributions

November is Native American Heritage Month.

Didn’t know there was such a month? Native Americans say that’s part of the problem. Too little focus is given by government, media and people in general to them as a minority and issues pertaining to Native Americans. They contend not enough is known and taught about their history.

South Carolina officially recognizes locally the Santee Indian Organization and the Beaver Creek Indians, as well as the Pine Hill Indian Community Development Initiative. In addition to the Catawbas and the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe of South Carolina, the others are:

• The PeeDee Indian Nation of Upper South Carolina

• The PAIA Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina

• The Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians

• The Waccamaw Indian People

• The Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians

The Catawbas are the largest tribe in South Carolina and the only federally recognized tribe.

There is news regarding three of the tribes to share during this special month.

Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina’s 1st District wants a second tribe to have federal recognition. She has introduced legislation to extend recognition to the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe.

“As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, I’m introducing legislation to federally recognize a distinguished group of indigenous people in our district,” Mace said. “The Natchez-Kusso tribe have been a part of this land long before America existed as a country.”

“This is a long overdue first step in granting recognition this Lowcountry tribe deserves.”

Meanwhile, 6th District Congressman James Clyburn is sponsoring the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act that reaffirms the Department of the Interior’s recognition of Catawba Indian Nation’s historical and ancestral ties to the lands in Kings Mountain and the Catawba Nation’s right to conduct gaming operations on those lands under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

And on a sad note, the Santee Indian Chief Randy Anthony Crummie, 62, of Holly Hill, died on Oct. 25.

For November’s observance, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s proclamation acknowledged the contributions of Native Americans to the state and country, vowing to maintain their history, culture, lifestyles and unique heritage.

South Carolinians should be aware they can do more to make that reality.

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