John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education


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House Bill 2: Déjà vu All Over Again

April 22, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

I write to share some reflections and report on actions taken with respect to the controversial legislation recently adopted by the North Carolina legislature regarding what the proponents are describing as privacy and safety protection in public toilets and what opponents would describe much differently. As one who has been championing for social justice since I was a college student in the 1960’s, this is all a very bitter pill to swallow.

And because I am the appointed leader of a non-profit organization that serves the national and international higher education community, I wanted to report on what actions our organization has taken in response to the recent legislative action which has been found by so many in our fellow higher education community as offensive and probably –and hopefully- illegal.

I refer to what is known in North Carolina as House Bill 2, which restricts the use of public restrooms by transgendered persons to the gender indicated on their birth certificates and not their gender identity; and which prohibits anyone from seeking legal relief related to North Carolina workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation; and which prohibits any municipality in North Carolina from raising the minimum wage above the state proscribed minimum (currently the Federal minimum); and which forbids any North Carolina municipality from adopting policy to provide anti-discrimination protection beyond what is currently provided in state statute.

Actions Taken

In light of these new restrictions being imposed in North Carolina, I would want it known hereby that the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education:

  • Will continue to obey all State of North Carolina statutes and policies and those of the United States government as they may pertain to the operation of our legally constituted corporation.
  • Strongly opposes these legislative provisions.
  • Believes these provisions violate the fundamental values of our organization, which have been to promote social justice and equality of treatment and rights for all undergraduate college students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, physical condition, religion, creed, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation and/or identity.
  • Has successfully been able to cancel lodging space and related arrangements for the annual, legally mandated meeting of the Institute’s Board of Directors, which was to have been held in North Carolina and will now be held out of the state of North Carolina.
  • Is not able to move the locations of four professional meetings our Institute has previously entered into prior to this legislative action for legally contracted hotel space in North Carolina for events scheduled for June, July, and October of 2016, because of significant financial damages we would incur that would be unacceptable for a small, non-profit organization such as ours. We must honor our contracts.
  • Will not book, organize, or host any more professional meetings in the state of North Carolina, other than the four referenced above, until this legislation is rescinded by the North Carolina legislature or invalidated by the Federal courts.
  • Will respect any of our colleagues in higher education who may choose not to participate in any of our remaining events hosted in North Carolina because of their personal, moral, opposition to this legislation.
  • Understands and accept, of course, any of our higher education colleagues who are forbidden by state or city policy from the use of their public funds to travel to North Carolina in an official state employment capacity because of this legislation and hence cannot participate in any of these remaining events in North Carolina.
  • Profoundly regrets these legislative actions and their outcomes for North Carolina citizens and the state’s economy, for which we are certainly not responsible.
  • Believe that the majority of our fellow North Carolinians agree with us that any form of discrimination against others based on sexual orientation or gender identity is inappropriate and a moral affront to the dignity of all persons.
  • Implores the supporters of and participants in the various works of the Gardner Institute to bear with us as we do the best we can under these circumstances, which we did not create, and to continue to grant us their respect and support.
  • Has posted a public statement to this effect on the home page of our Institute website:


I was raised in a lily white, affluent suburb of New York City, New Canaan, Connecticut. I was a child of privilege. I know represent what sociologists have long called “downward social mobility.” I like many Americans learned prejudice at home, although I know I never translated that into discrimination.

My own undergraduate experience was truly intellectually liberating and to the extent possible it enabled me to unlearn, rethink, the culturally acquired prejudices I may have acquired in my family and my country. I am so appreciative of my own liberal arts college, Marietta College, where I received the intellectual and professional foundation for my career work to promote social justice.

My military experience on active duty in the United States Air Force further demonstrated the power of government to provide an environment where all members of the society can be treated equally and where all can flourish.

While on active duty, I served in South Carolina, arriving 2.5 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I had the opportunity there for 32.5 years to observe the transformation of a formally de jure segregated political region, in part through higher education open to all citizens.

As a country we stopped restricting toilet use as a function of race and ethnicity in 1964. This new legislation adopted by my adopted state of North Carolina returns us to an era I had thought we had long left behind. Now we are restricting the rights of our latest scapegoat cohort, transgendered people, to use the toilets of their chosen identity. So, in fifty years we have moved from suppressing the rights of blacks and women, and then of gay persons, and undocumented immigrants, and now transgendered persons. The game is the same. Only the people being attacked and suffering are different. And sadly, many of the proponents of this newest version of Jim Crow, are the same: disproportionately, older, southern, white, men.

One of the most basic human functions and what should be a right, is where you go to the bathroom. Government aspiring to provide equality for all should not be restricting this basic human right.

I learned firsthand that those who advocate for social justice and civil rights for all Americans can and do pay a price. I was fired (or as we euphemistically say in higher education speak “non renewed) from Winthrop College in 1969 for my activities in establishing a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In that action I naively participated in legal action taken against a local business owner that was prominently connected to the governing board of my employer. Not very smart John. I did not have tenure. Contrary to what many outside the higher education community say, we still do need tenure! Thankfully, I was able to secure a faculty appointment at the University of South Carolina, which always protected my privilege of academic freedom and allowed me the opportunity to do work of socially redeeming value to promote social justice for all, for the next nearly five decades.

As a country, we have made progress. We are making progress, albeit too slowly. I have made progress. As I wrote initially, this latest action is a setback, especially for North Carolina, but also for our country as it reflects so poorly on us abroad—and hence is a bitter pill to swallow.

I Escape to New Zealand: But What About our Students?

March 7, 2016huhnInsights0

John Gardner

John Gardner copyI write this during an “escape” from the winter 2016 political primary season and all the crazy, vitriolic, anti immigrant, anti Hispanic, misogynist, hateful anger brought to the fore by Trump, Cruz, Rubio and other figures in the Republican party. My escape is for two weeks, mostly in New Zealand and several days in Australia on the way home. My wife, Betsy Barefoot is my partner on this escape, and everything else. This is our third visit to New Zealand in five years. I need to just remind myself what a different kind of life and culture can be produced by another former British colony and English speaking society, which has made very different choices than us.

I have the professional, personal, financial, and calendar freedom to escape.  This differentiates me from most all of our college and university students. And given the freedom afforded by the internet, SKYPE, global phones, I can work from New Zealand—and am—almost as effectively as I can and do from the United States. And all without loosing any aspects of my livelihood or letting down any of my professional responsibilities.

For our students who are as disturbed as I am by the current discourse in our Republic, how can they escape, reflect, re-center, get some detachment and insight and resolve to push on to make a difference? What are their outlets for escape?

  • conversation with fellow students and faculty staff
  • sleep
  • music—listening and/or performing
  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • the arts – patronizing or creating
  • service work/volunteering
  • weekend drill in the National Guard
  • spring break travel for service, learning and/or debauchery
  • reading
  • surfing—either on the internet or in an ocean
  • vigorous physical exercise
  • going “home” (for residential students)
  • taking on the troubles of others
  • eating
  • gambling
  • watching intercollegiate and pro sports
  • playing sports themselves
  • hunting
  • fishing
  • prayer
  • yoga
  • retreating as in retreats
  • playing board games
  • power watching TV and films

Are you offering your students any opportunities for time out?

  • For reflection?
  • For quiet?
  • For peace?
  • For solitude?
  • To talk with you to help sort our all the craziness in our national order these days?

How do you extend such invitations to your students?  Individually, en masse, directly, obliquely, generally?

Where do you offer them campus space for reflection, peace and quiet?

I remember how important it was for me as an undergraduate to be invited by my professors to their offices for conversation and/or their homes for a meal with their families.

I had a lot on my mind. Trying to decide on how to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War without fleeing the country. Trying to decide what to do about several very important relationships. Trying to find something to study in graduate school for a draft deferment when I did not have a major as an undergraduate.

I found the ideal graduate field for a no major guy like me: American Studies. And the draft found me anyway and so I volunteered for the US Air Force and did my duty!

So I have escaped to New Zealand again. What appeals about this place to me:

Like us, they have two main political parties, one more conservative than the other. But the dialogue is civil.

  • There is universal health coverage.
  • The country is safe.
  • No one is allowed to have handguns or automatic weapons.
  • There is no “concealed carry” or “open carry” or “permits” for legal possession of handguns. In my county of 30,000 people in the US there are over 1600 such permits.
  • Abortion is legal.
  • Capital punishment has been abolished. And homicide rates are very low.
  • Little if any visible evidence of poverty.
  • No mobile homes.
  • Very few churches (is there a correlation here?).
  • Businesses aren’t using Christian slogans to sell anything. There truly is separation of church and state.
  • Almost every yard is neat and well cared for no matter what the standard of the dwelling
  • There is no litter on the roads—amazng!
  • American music and films everywhere.
  • New Zealanders are fascinated by the Oscars (which I can easily live without).
  • They are fanatically anti-nuclear and pacifist.
  • They remember when the British generals made dumb decisions and sacrificed thousands of young New Zealand men to die in World War I and are resolved not to get into entangling alliances again.
  • They are so “left” they even drive on the left side of the road.
  • No one is talking about building a wall to keep immigrants out—although there is a strict immigration control.
  • The government executed a national act of reconciliation for its abuse of indigenous persons (which we have never done towards our own Native Americans or descendants of our former slaves.
  • The government also formally apologized to one nation’s, (China) mistreated immigrants to New Zealand during the gold mining boom era.
  • The place is truly beautiful. An outdoor person’s paradise.
  • And the climate, for the most part, more gentle than ours. And it’s their summer during our winter.
  • There is a guaranteed minimum wage of around $15 an hour.
  • Restaurant servers don’t need to depend on tips. And hence tipping is not de rigeur.
  • Workers are guaranteed a month’s vacation with pay.
  • The population is visibly less overweight than ours.
  • People describe their identity in terms of what they do outside work, not through their work.
  • Like me, people are amazed and disturbed that the level of US political discourse has sunk to hitherto unimaginable levels. What we do, say, create, matters to these people.
  • The police are largely invisible.
  • Everyone is very polite. And I mean really polite.
  • I can go to a concert of Australian aboriginal music, performed by aboriginal musicians playing to an entire audience of raving and cheering whites.
  • National arts treasures, like the national museum in Wellington do not charge admissions fees.

And there’s more. I will return for another visit-and probably another “escape.”

So this is what I went to college for. So I could have the sense to select a mate of comparable education and interests to mutually appreciate an escape like this.

To be able to afford a two week escape ten thousand miles away from home.

To have a career where I could “work” from New Zealand on those occasions when the spirit moved me.

I am going to return home somewhat restored and resolved to do what I can in my own personal and professional spheres of influence to further the cause of attaining social justice for more American college and university students.

We all need healthy escapes, including our students—as occasions for reflection, regeneration, recommitment and resolve.

Sometimes Good Does Come From Bad

February 16, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

John Gardner copyI have been through many US presidential elections but I can’t remember one that had so many presidential wannabees appealing to our most base instincts: fear, prejudice, xenophobia, jingoism, and intolerance. Am trying to not let myself become preoccupied with worry about where this may all end up. In this state of mind I am even more inclined to be on the lookout for some good coming from some bad. I found an illustration the other night.

The occasion was a fund-raiser for a local non-profit charitable organization in Brevard, North Carolina, where Betsy Barefoot and I reside and have an office for our own non-profit organization. The event we attended was to raise money for a local program known as “Rise and Shine.” This is an after school enrichment, tutoring, support, and motivational intervention for local children who are from economically distressed families. This organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It currently enrolls 50 kids, elementary school through high school. Each one has his/her own personal tutor and advocate daily. Virtually every kid in this program for the past two decades has gone on to college. What odds against that!

This initiative grew out of a reaction led by one woman to a march in 1988 by the Klu Klux Klan, right here in this beautiful little mountain town of 6000 where I live in this now very red state. This is also the town that had the first high school in the state to racially integrate. But it is in a county that has two high schools which only exist for historical reasons, each one lacking the desirable economy of scale. One is for the more rural end of the country and enrolls no black students at all. The other is in the town itself, which is racially diverse, thank goodness. We maintain two of them to perpetuate de facto segregation. As I look around this peaceful little place I find it hard to imagine the Klan marching here less than 30 years ago. But it did. And some of those marchers are probably alive and well around me.

Anyway, this lone woman of conscience pulled together a band of folks who wanted to start something to promote racial and social justice as the antithesis to the Klan actions. And this non-profit Rise and Shine was born.

This is the language of Rise and Shine today and I commend it for my readers’ consideration as a living testimony to what can result when our citizens say enough is enough; and when we act on a positive vision instead to overcome the barriers of race, class, poverty, prejudice, intolerance and fear of displacement by societal factors beyond our control.


You Matter
Your needs, your wishes, and your opinions count

We Believe in You
We are here for you every day because we have faith in who you are and who you will become

Dream Big
Let your dreams inspire you to work hard and reach high.”

So what’s your message to inspire your students to help them achieve social justice?