A new UNC System policy could bring changes to how universities join and leave athletic conferences.

An update to the policy on intercollegiate athletics would require chancellors to submit a financial plan and get approval from both the UNC System President Peter Hans and the Board of Governors.

In the past, UNC System schools have changed conferences with no input from the Board.

For example, North Carolina A&T State University has changed conferences twice in the past five years, leaving the MEAC for the Big South in 2021, and then joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2022.

The Board is now looking to implement this policy as rumors have swirled around the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference and whether UNC-Chapel Hill could be enticed to leave. Conference realignment has been a hot topic in college sports in recent years. Beginning next fall, Stanford and Cal — along with Southern Methodist University — will start competing in the ACC after the implosion of the Pac-12. UNC-Chapel Hill voted against adding those three members last year, while N.C. State voted for it. In December, another ACC member, Florida State, sued the conference in an attempt to leave it.

 An endzone pylon with an ACC logo at a Duke football game on Nov. 13, 2022.
An endzone pylon with an ACC logo at a Duke football game on Nov. 13, 2022.

The policy states that chancellors must show that joining a different conference would benefit their university financially.

Such a plan would first go to the president and — if he approves it — to the Board of Governors. The board could decide to vote up or down on the policy, said Andrew Tripp, the UNC System’s senior vice president for legal affairs.

“That vote down would cause the campus to make a determination on what to bring back to the Board of Governors and the President and that process would play itself out until consensus could be reached,” Tripp said.

The policy change is not official until the full board approves it. That vote is scheduled to happen in February.

SAT, ACT Testing

The Board of Governors also discussed another policy — universities waiving student SAT and ACT scores.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the board had voted to allow schools to waive test scores. The waiver will end with the upcoming fall of 2024 class, unless the board passes another action to prolong it.

The board’s educational planning, policies, and programs committee consulted a psychology professor from the University of Minnesota about the effectiveness of SAT and ACT tests.

The professor, Nathan Kuncel, said standardized testing is associated with students having more advanced courses, taking more difficult courses and being less likely to switch out of challenging majors when they enter college.

His presentation said GPAs, letters of recommendation and college interviews are not significant indicators of success.

“Where we’re at in higher education admissions is lagging 100 years behind. And essays and personal statements are arguably even worse,” Kuncel said “They provide very low, almost non-existent correlations and relationships with subsequent outcomes. Even evaluations of faculty of whether a student is mastering their material and has a good understanding of the topic.”

His presentation led to several committee members speaking out against standardized testing, noting personal experiences where test scores have not been indicative of how hard students work.

“I do believe in the importance of data,” said committee member Gene Davis. “But… I think in the end, in any admission situation, we want to look at the whole person for all that they are. And who they are and how they can make each of our university institutions – how they can enrich those individual university communities.”

The board will continue discussions about the SAT and ACT testing requirements at a later meeting.

Foundations of American Democracy Curriculum

The same committee also discussed making changes to the curriculum for all of its public universities. The board would like to add a “Foundations of American Democracy” requirement.

In order to graduate, students would be required to take a course (or courses) teaching the founding of America, how the government functions and “the nation’s ideals.”

“We’ve all seen the troubling decline in baseline knowledge of democratic principles in our society, both among the public at large, and in the students, we serve,” said Wade Maki, chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly.

“These concerns are widely shared amongst faculty, lawmakers, members of this board, and among the people of our state,” Maki continued. “And it is out of that shared concern that we believe should come the possibility of shared action.”

Students would work with documents like the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Federalist Papers, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address and Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

The board will continue to discuss the implementation of this requirement at its next meeting in February. They hope to bring the curriculum to the full board for a vote in April.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow, working in partnership with Open Campus.