The SOHP Collection houses a 1974 interview with Fritz Hollings, South Carolina's former Governor, U.S. Senator, and a Democrat. He considered his views moderate, at least in comparison to his Republican colleague Strom Thurmond (Hollings still voted against the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court and against the Family and Medical Leave Act). Yet, Hollings cared deeply about the poor and particularly about hunger. In the interview he described how he came to understand that being poor and hungry was not related to a "character deficiency," in his words. He said: "it makes me mad still that...they think that the hungry are just a bunch of dead beats... [Go see] nine children in an empty cold shack and you can't tell them about work or anything else, they are just listless, they are staring out into space. I mean you have got to see hunger and then you will know how outrageous it is to talk about the work effort to this segment of society." Hollings, conservative as he was, gave himself the freedom and seized the responsibility to look this problem of hunger and poverty in the face, heard stories from hungry and poor families, and exposed the lie behind his opponents' "character deficiency" reasoning.
The stories in SOHP's collection-those from the powerful segments of society and those from the powerless-demonstrate the need for free inquiry into the nation's intractable problems. Hollings didn't specifically address the University's culture of free inquiry in his interview, but without the freedom to challenge the status quo, he could not have conducted his anti-poverty campaign. His influence gave him that freedom, while at the University, we provide that freedom to those who do not have his kind of influence. When the UNC Board of Governors closed the UNC-CH Law School's Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, many at UNC and elsewhere began to question whether we could still exercise that freedom.
Hollings's story demonstrated that free inquiry isn't a right, nor is it a privilege-it's a responsibility. Academic freedom means that at the University, we can investigate problems that no one else is willing to look at, and look at them from all sides, using all available evidence, in unflinching terms. Academic freedom does not allow us the liberty to do and say whatever we want. Instead, it binds the University community-and all who work within it and for it-to a symbolic contract that emphasizes responsibility, not just liberty. We are responsible for achieving sound conclusions based on evidence that is derived from tested and proven research methods. We are then responsible for presenting those findings in service to others; if we fear repercussions from those who might find those conclusions offensive or inconvenient, we cannot fulfill our responsibility. When we join this community as teachers, staff, researchers, students, donors, and administrators, we all figuratively sign that contract. SOHP's work is not possible without this contract that defines our responsibility.
From academic freedom flows all the benefits that North Carolina enjoys from its universities; we serve in so many ways-through education, healthcare, economic development, artistic endeavors-because we exercise this responsibility to address our citizens' needs. Our students and alumni at UNC have a long history of taking this responsibility seriously; SOHP's undergraduate interns documented one significant threat to academic freedom that occurred fifty years ago, the legendary Speaker Ban Law. They interviewed nine individuals who had been involved in the protests between 1965 and 1968, now memorialized on a plaque on McCorkle Place and in a performance by SOHP students. Just last month, students who protested the Board of Governors' decision to close the Poverty Center wore duct tape over their mouths, with the words "Speaker Ban 2015" printed on them.
Over and over in his interview, Senator Fritz Hollings referred to the role that colleges played in solving the problem of poverty and hunger. He talked about schooling that prepared people to work, degrees in nutrition, and Agricultural Extension workers directly helping families solve their own hunger challenges. If universities cannot exercise the responsibility of academic freedom, two things happen: the public's needs go unmet, and legacies like Fritz Hollings's personal war on hunger are forgotten.
--Malinda Maynor Lowery