UNC Students Convicted!

Press from the Independent Weekly: UNC protesters guilty, but sweat-free: UNC still fails to adequately address whether its apparel is made in sweatshops

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The No. 1 reason why UNC sucks (Duke Chronicle)

By James Tager, Issue Date: 8/27/08
The average Duke student has many reasons to feel poorly disposed towards his Tar Heel neighbors: their uncomfortably competitive basketball team, their lackluster shade of blue and the fact that Tyler Hansbrough killed a man in cold blood in 2004 (no, I can’t prove that).

But to me there’s a far more compelling reason to be disappointed in our rivals, and it has nothing to do with the students at UNC, at all, but everything to do with UNC’s administration. The number one reason that UNC sucks: They eat their own young.

Let me explain. This past May, UNC students staged a two-week sit-in in one of the campus buildings. They were protesting UNC Chancellor James Moeser’s decision not to endorse the Designated Suppliers Program, which is designed to make sure that university apparel isn’t made in sweatshops. The sit-in was broken up when the chancellor ordered the UNC police to arrest the protesters. Five of the protesters were convicted this month in Chapel Hill District Court, for “failure to disperse.”

So let me recap: The UNC administration, instead of supporting its student’s activism and high ethical standards, had them arrested. They pressed charges, even after the sit-in was over. Why? To send a message to other students not to threaten the approximately $3 million per year that UNC makes from selling Tar Heel-licensed clothes? Universities are supposed to demonstrate to their students the importance of principles over profit. In a shameful betrayal, Chancellor Moeser instead decided to sacrifice his own students so that the college would still be able to exploit sweatshop conditions for those producing their clothes.

It’s worth pointing out that Duke, along with 43 other schools, has adopted the DSP. In fact, Duke was at the forefront of the anti-sweatshop movement on university campuses. In 1999, Duke students had a sit-in to protest sweatshop policies, as well. What did the Duke administration do? They agreed to an anti-sweatshop code of conduct!

Duke’s record for supporting student activism isn’t perfect. In 1968, student protesters sat in the Allen Building to protest Duke’s racial inequality. Then-President Douglas Knight sent the police in to break up the protests. But that was forty years ago, and history has remembered the students, not the administration, as the heroes.

Chancellor Moeser hasn’t learned that lesson, it seems. In fact, Moeser’s tenure as Chancellor ended this June, meaning that his legacy will be tainted by his dictatorial disregard for the welfare of his wards. Perhaps he believes that history and the UNC student body will vindicate him, for arresting his own students and, worse yet, going on to prosecute them. The actions of UNC’s administration make a mockery of any university’s ideals. These were motivated, ethically aware students, who were determined to use their education for noble ends, who dared to hold their University to a high moral standard. Any Duke professor would have been proud to have them in his or her class. I would have been proud to take a class with them.

Of course, in the whirlwind of righteous indignation surrounding the students’ arrests, it’s easy to forget what started this whole ordeal in the first place. These students were working for an end to UNC’s profiting from sweatshop labor. There are some who argue that UNC’s punishment of its protesters is more symbolic than actual; that the protesters received little more than an elaborate slap on the wrist. But if that’s the case, what do the administration’s actions symbolize? That UNC refuses to end its participation in a sweatshop system, even if its students and faculty find it to be morally repulsive.

The UNC administration has refused to take a principled stand against sweatshop labor, and have crushed peaceful dissent and meaningful student activism on their campus, in one blow. Our disgust at Chancellor Moeser’s actions should have nothing to do with the Duke-UNC rivalry, and everything to do with right for students to meaningfully impact the decisions of their own university. UNC has a lot of well-meaning students and faculty, who happen to wear the wrong shade of blue. But it’s Chancellor Moeser’s twin decisions to refuse adopting the DSP, and to sacrifice his own students, that are truly embarrassing for UNC. We should hold them to account, not because they’re our rivals, but because they are our neighbors and our fellow students and faculty.

Go to Hell, Carolina! But first, stop sacrificing your students, who merely had the courage to stand up for what is right, and to hold their University to the same high standards that any University expects of its students. Maybe Tar Heel basketball will do well this year. But that doesn’t erase the stain of a University administration that has selfishly attacked those they should be supporting.

James Tager is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.

Support UNC Students Arrested During Anti-Sweatshop Sit-in!

Link to press release in plain text format, image below